BusinessCrime & Investigation

INVESTIGATION: Airtel Sim-card Fraud Scandal Deepens

Just hours after ICT Minister Hon Frank Tumwebaze ordered an investigation into sim-card fraud in Uganda; an Airtel client has revealed how money was quietly stolen from the line and transaction records deleted from the system.

Jethro Tindimweba, the Chairman of a cooperative association called Chaapa Cooperative Society Limited, on December 14 obtained a sim-card for Airtel money services (0756061914) for the members.

It was activated for mobile money services.

On January 3, 2018, a member deposited Shs 200,000 on the line (ID 1295917213) and on January 8, Tindimwebwa sent Shs 180,ooo to 0704799416 (ID 1304333030), leaving a balance of Shs 19,000.

“When I checked the account again on January 30, we found the account deactivated and on reactivation it, I discovered that the money was missing,” recalls Tindimwebwa.

“On calling the customer care line, we were told that our line had no records of previous transactions as it had “just been activated.’”

A financial statement of the association seen by ChimpReports Investigation Unit indicates that indeed the Transaction ID was deleted from the records.

Tindimwebwa has since recorded a statement at CIID Headquarters in Kibuli on February 2, 2018, demanding an investigation into the incident.

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It’s understood upon pressuring Airtel; the money was refunded, raising questions about the internal operations of the Telecom body.

“I believe someone inside Airtel is removing small money from multiple accounts because he knows the owners won’t follow it up. They then delete the records to cover up their crime,” alleged Tindimwebwa.

“They refused to acknowledge that money was removed from my account. They didn’t even call me to apologise about the crime,” said Tindimwebwa, adding, “All I received was a simple message saying that my account was “adjusted” by Shs 19,000’”.

Airtel quietly refunded the money but didn’t explain how it was deducted in the first place

Tumwebaze Probe

This development comes in the wake of Tumwebaze’s decision to start an investigation into circumstances under which criminals accessed Airtel lines.

The lines being used by criminals are 0754726842, 0759590647, 0759590674, 0751229471, 0759259730, 0751115388, 0751229473, 0751517819, 0759249058, 0753447942, 0752410752, and 0752281308.

“In accordance with Section 7 of the UCC Act 2013, I hereby direct the Commission to investigate how telecom companies issued these sim-cards in total disregard of the law and standing government policy,” said Tumwebaze in a letter dated February 20, 2018.

The Minister said security agencies had brought to his attention “a list of telephone numbers alleged to have been used by suspected criminals,” adding, “one wonders why these sim-cards exist without proper identification of their holders.”

Contacted to explain how money was fraudulently deducted from the association’s account, Airtel quietly refunded the money.

The telecom then sent us a note: “Thank you for making Airtel aware of a complaint made by one of our esteemed customers. The customer in question expressed concern over a deduction in his account balance via our Airtel Money Platform; we would like thank the customer for his feedback and to assure you that our platform is secure and any concerns raised by the customer have been addressed.”

Observers say an in-depth investigation should be carried out into the operations of Airtel Money and sim-card issuance by the same company.

The telecom operators are currently meeting with UCC Executive Director Eng Godfrey Mutabazi at the Commission headquarters in Bugolobi, Kampala.

Mutabazi says the Commission is already investigating sim-card fraud with some suspects being arrested and jailed.

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