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Articles

SIM Swap Fraud: Can India’s New Portability Rules Strike the Right Balance?

Neil Downing

3 min read

Are the Indian regulators cracking nuts with a sledgehammer? Or are they facing a genuine problem in the market and tackling it head-on?

A couple of news sites have picked up recently the very bold decision taken by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) from the 1st of July to amend the countries’ number portability regulations in the face of our old enemy, SIM Swap fraud. Whilst we applaud any action taken to reduce fraud, this quite bold decision will undoubtedly have an impact on a significant number of Indian consumers.

So, what’s going on?

The rules have been changed so that if you issue a new SIM card against a mobile number, that same number cannot then be ported to a different network until at least 7 days have passed. 

This is bad news for fraudsters, who will often get a new SIM, steal the innocent victims’ number and then quickly move that number to a different network. This act of changing networks will usually increase the amount of time that attacks can be perpetrated, since moving networks will often mean more time before the victim is aware that they are a victim and will also complicate resolution because the victim and real owner of the number has no actual relationship with the new network, only the fraudster does. 

How does this affect people?

Reducing fraud is in everyone’s interests so that’s a good thing, but obviously this has implications for genuine users. On average, at TMT ID we see around 300,000 porting events in India every day, and it’s a good bet that a proportion of these will have lost their phone in the previous week and would therefore have to change their plans since porting would not be allowed for them. 

However, on the positive side, the 7-day period is long enough, in almost every case, that the victim will know that they have become a victim before the number is moved away, thereby reducing at least the severity of attacks if not the frequency of them. 

A hand holding a smartphone displaying a digital map of the world with connecting lines symbolising sim swapping globally.

What makes this interesting?

This stance by the Indian regulator is quite unusual, most regulators currently are choosing not to take a stance on this, despite acknowledging that SIM Swap in most markets remains a persistent (and growing) problem. The interesting thing will be how this plays out over time, and if this reduces the overall instances of SIM Swap in India or at the very least reduces the average cost of each attack. 

What does this mean? 

Looking at the detail behind this, it is encouraging that some regulators are actively taking steps to tackle SIM Swap, but one can’t help but feel that this is really a process ‘band-aid’ which is essentially masking alternative ways to solve the issue. 

Is the problem one that could be more effectively tackled by tightening the process of number portability in India to more carefully screen requests and ensure that they are from the genuine subscriber without inconveniencing everyone? 

Obviously, what this also does is highlight the need for Indian operators to offer SIM Swap checks to organisations who have an interest in verifying their customers are genuine and highlighting those who have changed SIM so that further investigations can be carried out. 

TMT ID will continue to push India and other countries to make this data available, which is one of the most powerful ways that the mobile industry can eliminate the scourge of SIM Swap.

If you wish to read more about this then click on the link below. 

Regulation_14032024.pdf (trai.gov.in)

Last updated on July 9, 2024

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