What is SIM swap and how to protect yourself against it?

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Though SIM swapping is a relatively new form of mobile fraud, only dating back as far as 2013, it has become increasingly popular with fraudsters in the UK and around the globe. So much so, that the US Fair Trade Commission noted an increase of 150% in the number of SIM swap offences between 2013 and 2016, and figures for the UK suggest an increase of 60% between 2016 and 2018.

What is SIM Swap?

One of the main attractions of SIM Swap is the simplicity of it. All criminals have to do is to gain some personal information about their potential victim from social media or via a targeted phishing scam or cyber-attack. They then use this information to bypass the security measures of the victim’s mobile operator and request that their number is ‘swapped’ to a blank SIM. This can be done by phone, or face-to-face in a high street store.

Once the number has been swapped to the new SIM, the victim’s SIM will be blocked, and scammers will have access to all of their contacts and messages. This could include password reset links and login codes that are sent via SMS to access online banking and other accounts. This is what allows criminals to commit more sophisticated criminal activity, such as theft and identity fraud. What’s more, criminals behind SIM-swap attacks will often sell the personal details they have on their victims on to the dark web, leaving them vulnerable to further attacks in the future.

Many major mobile operators worldwide have fallen foul of SIM swap fraud, as have some of the biggest high street banks. Notable cases of SIM swapping that have made headlines over the past few years include individuals having lost thousands of pounds within the space of an hour, losing all their savings in seconds.

what is SIM Swap?

Why is it on the increase?

Aside from SIM swapping being a relatively easy score for scammers, it is hard for authorities to trace the culprits. Many of the incidents in the UK are thought to be the work of criminals operating on the ‘Dark Web’, which is notorious for its anonymity. Tracking these gangs down has so far proven to be very difficult.

Social media also has a hand in helping criminals. By monitoring online social activity, it’s easy to identify high-value targets, as well as find out personal information that can be used to help answer commonly asked security questions used by mobile operators and banks, such as the name of your first school, first pet or mother’s maiden name.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, smartphones have evolved from being a convenience to an essential part of everyday life for many of us. It is common for people to have their mobile number linked to their bank account and to use two-factor authentication when logging in to everything from mobile banking to social media and retail accounts. By stealing someone’s mobile number, you can now gain access to many areas of that person’s life, including their financial portfolio. 

What can you do to protect yourself against SIM fraud?

When a SIM migration is followed by a flurry of financial activity, it’s a clear red flag to anyone that is able to monitor this data in real time. If you can spot this activity as soon as it strikes, it becomes possible to block any transactions - as well as the SIM in question.

This is where JT comes in. Working in partnership with major mobile operators, JT provides a suite of APIs that enables changes to mobile subscribers accounts to be monitored in real time. This includes activity such as SIM migrations or swaps.

On the other side of our API, we make this data visible to platform operators in the retail, financial and banking sectors. This allows us to flag potentially fraudulent activity to our customers as soon as it happens.

Our intelligent platform provides a single gateway to access unique operator data, providing a solution against a number of use cases, including account takeover protection, determining whether call forwarding has been applied which is a common technique used in mobile fraud, in addition to number validity and roaming information.

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To learn more about SIM Swap Fraud and how JT is tackling mobile fraud, download our white paper to gain more insight.


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