The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) says it has imposed various sanctions on licenses of operators implicated in “Call Masking’’.

Mr Tony Ojobo, NCC Director of Public Affairs, said this in a statement on Tuesday in Abuja.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Masked Calling is a technique used in e-commerce to protect buyers’ and sellers’ personal phone numbers.

The same technique can also allow the parties to send SMS to each other without revealing their personal phone numbers.

Ojobo said following a painstaking investigation process, which was done in collaboration with the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) and the Department of State Service, the commission imposed a range of sanctions on licensees involved in the fraudulent practice.

The sanctions Ojobo said include Suspension of the Interconnect Clearinghouse License issued to Medallion Communications Limited for a period of 90 (ninety) days, in the first instance.

“Issuance of a strong warning to Interconnect Clearinghouse Nigeria Limited, Disconnection of Information Connectivity Solutions Limited (ICSL), and Solid Interconnectivity Services Limited from all networks, until they regularise their operations.

“Issuance of letters to Exchange Telecoms Limited, NiconnX Limited and Breeze Micro Limited, cautioning them against engaging in the fraudulent practice.

“Barring of over 750,000 numbers assigned to several Private Network Links (PNL) and Local Exchange Operator (LEO) licensees, which number ranges, were found to have been utilised for the practice.

According to Ojobo, NCC has recently been inundated with complaints from service providers and consumers regarding the high incidence of call-masking, call-refilling and SIM-Boxing.

He said there were complaints on disguise of international calls as local calls in order to profit from price differentials between international and local calls.

He said apart from the resultant loss of revenue by service providers, the practice of call masking also had some negative security implications.

Ojobo explained that the sanctioned entities were found to be directly and indirectly complicit in several infractions, including covertly allowing organisations with expired licences to transit calls.

“The entities were also sanctioned for failing to undertake due diligence on parties seeking to interconnect, deliberately turning a blind eye to masking infractions by interconnect partners.

“And using a licence issued to another organisation to bring-in and terminate international calls which were masked as local calls to other operators.

“Regarding the barring of numbers, more than 750,000 individual numbers across the nation, made up of about 31 number ranges have been barred.’’

Ojobo also listed the licensees that their numbers had been barred to include Vezeti Communications Services Limited, Voix Networks Limited, Mobitel Limited, and Peace Global Satellite Communications Limited,

Others are; ABG Communications Limited, Vodacom Business Africa (Nigeria) Limited, Swift Telephone Networks Limited, QVODA Telecoms Limited, Wireless Telecoms Limited and Emcatel Networks Limited.

He said the commission found out that some of the barred numbers were terminating millions of minutes, whereas they only have very few active customers.

“The commission is pleased to note that the incidence of call masking has significantly reduced since it commenced a multi-faceted approach to address the menace.

“The commission hereby informs all stakeholders that the actions so far taken are just the first stage of the exercise.

“The second stage which has now commenced will focus on the Mobile Network Operators and other persons involved in SIM-Boxing.’’

He said the aim of the commission was to completely stamp out the fraudulent practice in the overall interest of all Nigerians.

According to him, every service provider that has been sanctioned still has an opportunity to correct the identified anomalies and satisfy the commission that it should be allowed to continue to operate in Nigeria.

He explained that the commission reserves the right to revoke the licence of such service providers where they fail to take the necessary corrective measures.

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