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Malaysian Cellular Operators Black Out India To Check Fraud

M Ahmed  |  BSCAL 

Cellular operators in Malaysia have blocked access to India due to a rise in the number of fraud cases. The access is to be restored after a sophisticated surveillance system called frequency fingerprinting is installed.

The extent of fraud in calls to India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia and Philippines is substantial. Operators had lost millions of dollars in the last three years, executives from Malaysian cellular operating companies said. The access had been blocked to all these countries, they said. Callers will have to use the public switched telephone network (PSTN) instead.

Zamani bin Zakariah, chief of leading Malay mobile operator Mobicom, said his company had blocked out India and a few others in the region after it was found that users took handsets giving false addresses and then hawked airtime at a discount. The large number of labourers from these countries, eager to talk to their relatives, were willing customers.

Touts with cellular phones offering airtime below the cost of a PSTN call to India were a common sight in the main markets of Kuala Lumpur. When the bill was sent a month later, the user simply refused to pay or had changed his address.

One of the highest incidences of unauthorised usage was detected in calls to India and the company decided to block out calls early this year until a way was found to curb this practice, Zakariah added. Pakistan, Indonesia, Philippines and Bangladesh too have been added to the black list.

Zakariah said that, while access to India was generally barred, some users were allowed to call after the operating company verified their bonafides. He said the losses had come down substantially since the blockade.

Zakariah said his company was in the process of finalising a deal with a US defence technology company to instal the frequency fingerprinting system on its network. This system gives real-time user details like location and alerts if heavy calls are made to one destination. He refused to name the US company as it was working in the defence area and this would be the first instance of the electronic fingerprinting system being put to civilian use.

The US technology was developed to track enemy fighter aircraft. The underlying principle behind the technology is that electronic devices operating in the same frequency had some unique characteristics that could be fingerprinted. Even if the frequency was changed, this uniqueness would remain. If a cellphone user changed the subscriber identification module of a handset, the instrument could still be tracked.

First Published: Sat, May 24 1997. 00:00 IST