VIP SIM or Fancy Mobile Number Scams: What they are and How to Prevent

VIP SIM or Fancy Mobile Number Scams: What they are and How to Prevent

VIP SIM or Fancy Mobile Number Scams: What they are and How to Prevent

Many individuals and organizations seek VIP numbers, for variety of purposes. VIP numbers are used to flaunt wellness, for business purposes and even by fraudsters to gain credibility. Since these numbers are easy to remember and recall, business owners often display them as Customer Care and other related numbers.

There is a great demand for VIP numbers, especially mirror and symmetric ones. The interested parties want hassles free purchase of these numbers at economical cost. The same is exploited by fraudsters to dupe them. 

Let’s start the discussion with “What are VIP SIMs”.

What are VIP SIMs: 
As the name suggests they are fancy SIM numbers thus are always in demand. These SIMs are easy to learn and are therefore mostly used by business entities. 

VIP numbers contain unique combinations of numbers which are easy to remember or can be read as a specific company or person’s name. Here are some VIP SIM patterns:

  • 10 digit symmetry 
  • 8, 9 digit symmetry 
  • Multiple 0 at last 
  • Zeros with 1 at last 
  • Mirror
  • Semi mirror
  • Couples 
  • Tetra last
  • Tetra middle
  • Tetra two times etc

Thus, similar to fancy license plates, these are sold by several entities at rates higher than normal cost of SIMs. The actual cost depends on how symmetric the number is.  

With rapid growth of Indian economy and flourishing business enterprises in India, their demand is increasing rapidly with time. Scammers are tapping the opportunity to defraud gullible citizens of India. 

How Fraudsters Operate?
In this type of fraud, scammers target customer base of a particular Telecom Service Provider like Airtel, Vodafone, Jio etc. In this scam fraudster claiming to be TSP agents approach individuals or corporates to sell VIP mobile numbers. 

Fraudster even create fake website with domain name giving impression of being genuine VIP SIM provider. The scammer offers these fancy numbers to its victim, claiming that TSP will automatically register a VIP mobile number on their behalf on payment of the prescribed fee. The reason for citing fees can range from pre processing charge, security amount, agent fees, TSPs activation charges etc. 

To gain the trust of the victim fraudsters often share documents purporting them to be TSPs agents, with authorization to sell VIP SIMs.  The amount sought in name of VIP SIMs is usually few thousand rupees, and money is usually credited into money mule accounts specifically created for the purposes. 

Once the victim falls for this scam, they may send unregistered or fraudulent SIM card. In most cases, no SIM card is dispatched to the victim. However, the fraudsters keep on giving false hopes and assurances to the victim, that their number will soon be activated. It’s a matter of time when the victim runs out of patience and realizes that he has been scammed. 

A Real Life VIP SIM Fraud Complaint:
I received a SMS on 9th April 2019 through BV-VVIPNO stating that fancy numbers are available for sale. To avail them I should contact Ayush Kumar on the Number 09022xxxxx or mail at ayush@csairtel.co.in and then received another similar SMS on 4th May 2019.

I called Kumar and he told that fancy number 9000000000 is available for 50000/- and I need to pay online in name of Bharti Airtel Company, State Bank of India, Agra branch, Road Adgaon Account Number – 379553xxxx, IFSC - SBIN0012508 and need to mail the ID proofs  and two photos at accounts@ csairtel.co.in. He further told that it would be a post paid SIM and I will have to purchase a SIM from any Airtel store and then send the picture of the SIM card on his WhatsApp number.

I made the payment in above mentioned bank account and mailed the documents and then he sent me the invoice. But till now my SIM still hasn’t got activated and neither he is answering the calls. Request you to check whether it’s genuine or doing fraud in name of Airtel.

How to Prevent these Frauds?

  • Unsolicited call / message: If you receive any random call / message from stranger about availability of fancy numbers, do not pay heed to them. Especially if you have not been looking for VIP SIM actively. Fraudster usually target hundreds of people through calls and messages in one go, and hope to defraud at least some of them. 
  • Check the documents carefully: The VIP SIM scammers often send documents to prove themselves as agents of TSP, they claim to belong to. Similarly, they may send fake invoices or fabricated details of previous non-existent customers. Therefore, check any document sent by fraudster carefully, to determine its genuineness. You should also seek help from experts, if needed. 
  • Trap / Greed: Do not fall into trap of an awesome / outstanding online deal. In fact, you should always remember that if something appears too good to be true, it probably is and therefore be cautious of extraordinary claims. 
  • Don’t pay: You should not make payment to any agent without having verified the agent in person or from other reliable sources. Similarly, if possible you should visit the office of the agent in person, if possible. 

Since these VIP SIM frauds often involve creation of fake websites too, therefore you should know the methods to spot them. Here are the steps involved: 

  • Use http://viewdns.info/whois website to find the registrant’s details. You should compare the details with information at hand, to find out discrepancies.
  • Use http://whoisology.com website to find other websites linked with the website in question. It helps find link among different websites of the registrant, and thus form an opinion. However, the process won't work if registrant has privacy protection enabled on all the websites.
  • Use Wayback machine https://archive.org/web/ to find the changes done on the website. Any contradictory change is classic sign of fraudulent website. Similarly, multiple and regular changes indicates the website is fishy. 

Here are some other indicators of website being fraudulent:

  • Contradictory content on the website at different places.
  • Absence of “Terms of use” and “Privacy policy” page on the website. 
  • Limited content, thus probably formed as cover for scam. A genuine website displays complete details, to prove it’s credibility and genuineness. If you find crucial details missing, beware! 
  • Lack of professionalism: Grammar and punctuation errors, using stolen or stock images, fake certificates etc are other indicators of being fraudulent.
  • Company doesn't exist at the place cited on the website or as suggested by the registrant’s data. It's one of the surest sign of fraudulent intention.
  • Website reviews: Website reviews should also be taken into consideration. If feedbacks suggest fake/ fraudulent website, do check the authenticity of the website even more seriously. 

What if you are already a Victim of VIP SIM Scam?

The fraudster essentially cheats the victim and dishonestly induces him/ her to transfer money to the fraudster’s account, therefore Section 420 of Indian Penal Code can be applied on the fraudster. 

Section 420 IPC has been reproduced below:
Cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property: Whoever cheats and thereby dishonestly induces the person de¬ceived to deliver any property to any person, or to make, alter or destroy the whole or any part of a valuable security, or anything which is signed or sealed, and which is capable of being converted into a valuable security, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Nature of Offence: Cognizable and Non-bailable 

In these frauds victims mostly present themselves as agents of Telecom Service Providers, therefore it may also be case of cheating by personation. 

Section 419 has been reproduced below: 
Punishment for cheating by personation: Whoever cheats by personation shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
Nature of Offence: Cognizable and Bailable

Similarly, if the fraudster had sent fake and fraudulent identity or documents, then Section 468 of Indian Penal Code would also apply to the case. 

Section 468 IPC has been reproduced below:
Forgery for purpose of cheating: Whoever commits forgery, intending that the document or electronic record forged shall be used for the purpose of cheating, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Nature of Offence: Cognizable and Non-bailable 

Conclusion:
Since Section 419, Section 420 and Section 468 IPC are all cognizable. Therefore, you should approach the nearest police station, or local/ state cyber cell having jurisdiction over your area to lodge an FIR, in accordance with Section 154 of Cr.P.C.

Section 154 in The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973
Information in cognizable cases: 

(1) Every information relating to the commission of a cognizable offence, if given orally to an officer in charge of a police station, shall be reduced to writing by him or under his direction, and be read Over to the informant; and every such information, whether given in writing or reduced to writing as aforesaid, shall be signed by the person giving it, and the substance thereof shall be entered in a book to be kept by such officer in such form as the State Government may prescribe in this behalf.

(2) A copy of the information as recorded under sub- section (1) shall be given forthwith, free of cost, to the informant.

(3) Any person aggrieved by a refusal on the part of an officer in charge of a police station to record the information referred to in subsection (1) may send the substance of such information, in writing and by post, to the Superintendent of Police concerned who, if satisfied that such information discloses the commission of a cognizable offence, shall either investigate the case himself or direct an investigation to be made by any police officer subordinate to him, in the manner provided by this Code, and such officer shall have all the powers of an officer in charge of the police station in relation to that offence.

Will Banks Refund Money in Case of VIP SIM Scams?
Money refund in case of un-authorized electronic banking transactions is governed by RBI circular dated July 06, 2017. 

RBI Notification:
The bank’s (All scheduled commercial banks, Small finance bank and Payment Banks) liability in case of Unauthorized Electronic Banking Transactions is governed by RBI circular - RBI/2017-18/15, DBR.No.Leg.BC.78/09.07.005/2017-18 dated July 06, 2017. 

The Most Important Aspects of the Circular are as follows:
Limited Liablity of a Customer:

1. Zero Liability of a Customer
A customer’s entitlement to zero liability shall arise where the unauthorized transaction occurs in the following events:

  • Contributory fraud/ negligence/ deficiency on the part of the bank (irrespective of whether or not the transaction is reported by the customer).
  • Third party breach where the deficiency lies neither with the bank nor with the customer but lies elsewhere in the system, and the customer notifies the bank within three working days of receiving the communication from the bank regarding the unauthorized transaction.

2. Limited Liability of a Customer:
A customer shall be liable for the loss occurring due to unauthorized transactions in the following cases:

  • In cases where the loss is due to negligence by a customer, such as where he has shared the payment credentials, the customer will bear the entire loss until he reports the unauthorized transaction to the bank. Any loss occurring after the reporting of the unauthorized transaction shall be borne by the bank.
  • In cases where the responsibility for the Unauthorized electronic banking transaction lies neither with the bank nor with the customer, but lies elsewhere in the system and when there is a delay (of four to seven working days after receiving the communication from the bank) on the part of the customer in notifying the bank of such a transaction, the per transaction liability of the customer shall be limited to the transaction value or the amount mentioned in Table, whichever is lower.

Will get Money Refund in these Frauds?
RBI guideline says - In cases where the loss is due to negligence by a customer, such as where he has shared the payment credentials, the customer will bear the entire loss until he reports the unauthorized transaction to the bank. Any loss occurring after the reporting of the unauthorized transaction shall be borne by the bank.

Therefore, if you have transferred the money into the scammer’s account willingly, as per the notification you will have to bear the entire loss. However, any loss occurring after the reporting of the unauthorized transaction shall be borne by the bank concerned.

(Based on inputs by Abhay Kumar Pathak, Special Cell, Delhi Police)