Hung Up: The Consequences of Sim Card Fraud

13th July 2020 Media Law

We all rely on our mobile 'phones these days. Perhaps more than we care to admit.

The first mobile phone was launched back in 1985, and their evolution into the smartphones we use today has been impressive. 

Given all that we are now able to do using them, the devices which we now carry around in our pockets provide a gateway to all sorts of information about our home and work lives.

That's not just convenient for us, but tremendously appealing to criminals too.

As I've been telling Kenza Bryan of The Sunday Times, myself and my colleagues have found ourselves dealing with an ever increasing number of cases of individuals who've become the victims of something known as “SIM swap fraud”.

It involves scammers convincing mobile networks to swap the numbers of 'phones belonging to legitimate customers to devices which the criminals control.

They're then able to hijack connected bank accounts to steal money from victims as well as exploiting the vast amounts of data contained within our various contacts, e-mails and social media platforms.

Such offences are becoming more frequent. Figures released by the City of London Police’s Action Fraud unit last year showed that it received five times the number of reports during the first 11 months of 2019 than in the whole of 2015.

The sums too are considerable, with more than £9.1 million stolen from bank accounts over the course of the period covered by the unit's study.

As with any other type of fraud, it's extremely likely that those figures are just the tip of the iceberg, as awful as they are.

That's because many finance and law enforcement organisations simply don't compile detailed statistics on the incidence of SIM card fraud.

Many of our clients have found to their cost that it's normally too late to do anything to stop the criminals by the time they discover there's something amiss.

Their concern is not just the money which has been taken - in some cases, five-figure sums.

The loss of control of often very private and personal information on their 'phones is more distressing and incredibly intrusive.

According to the EU's law enforcement agency, Europol, while we've been in a state of lockdown in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus, fraudsters have attempted to profit by taking advantage of the situation to continue SIM crime.

Banks can and do reimburse financial losses but, as we've learnt, mobile networks whose security systems are not robust enough to prevent criminals gaining access to customers' accounts in the first place seem far less willing to tackle the problem as effectively. 

I believe that if those mobile networks' security procedures were tightened up, fraudsters would arguably find it more of a challenge to commit their crimes.

Having amassed a wealth of experience pursuing compensation on behalf of those men and women who have lost out in this way, we're now able to help others in a similar predicament.

If you have also fallen foul of the SIM fraudsters, do get in touch and let us know.

We might not be able to undo the initial damage, but we will do our best to reduce some of the pain which having your mobile hijacked can cause.

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Nick McAleenan is a Partner located in Manchester in our Media & Reputation Management; Data Protection & Privacy department

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