Hey, where did my cellular phone credits go?
Over the past few months, thousands of complaints have been filed by Indonesian mobile phone customers who were upset about the seemingly mysterious disappearance of their precious mobile phone credits.
As stated by Communications and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring, between July and October 2011, the Indonesian Telecommunication Regulatory Body (BRTI) received over 9,000 complaints about disappearing phone credits from Indonesian mobile phone customers.
Many believe that deceptive content providers, as well as network operators with whom they are working, should be held responsible for these incidents. This has been the case since evidence suggested that phone credit can mysteriously disappear through premium services from some content providers. Customers who have been persuaded, through short messages for example, to subscribe to the premium services of some content providers, were seemingly unable to unsubscribe from these services.
Each time a customer receives an often unsolicited premium message, his or her credit balance will decrease by a higher amount than usual. According to Jakarta Police cybercrime division head Adj. Sr. Comr. Herwaman, it is likely that the perpetrators collude with mobile phone businesses so that stolen phone credits are resold to phone credit sellers.
Whoever these perpetrators are, they exploit a major weakness in our telecommunication technology, which is the human element. Many customers are persuaded simply by a short message to subscribe to premium services. Many behavioral scientists argue that people are becoming emotionally attached to their mobile phones these days.
This often causes them to lack awareness over the harm that their device may be causing to them, including subjecting them to criminal activity. Norton’s recent global cybercrime report revealed that mobile device users are now more vulnerable to attacks from cyber criminals than before. According to a report from the Indonesia Security Incident Response Team on Internet Infrastructure (ID-SIRTII) the growth of internet gadgets such as mobile phones in Indonesia is considered the highest in the ASEAN region.
The cybercriminals are continuously assessing potential victims to find loopholes in order to launch their attacks. Cases of disappearing phone credits in Indonesia show how cybercriminals have deceptively socially engineered their victims into transferring their phone credits to these criminals. Unlike traditional crimes, which are often seen by many criminologists as the result of a convergence of the three factors of victims, offenders and a location without capable guardians, mobile phone crimes often do not need offenders to physically interact with their victims. This increases the effectiveness of the attack.
For crime that relies primarily on social engineering, such as phone credit fraud, the first line of defense should be customer education. Currently, there is growing pressure on the Indonesian Telecommunication Regulatory Body (BRTI) to publicly announce the names of those content providers who have been highlighted as breaking premium service rules by misleading their customers.
As part of these education initiatives, customers should be well informed about the existence of corrupt content providers and how to identify them. In relation to the science of crime prevention, enhancing customer awareness to make customers more immune to crime is part of the tactic of making it harder for would-be criminals to perpetrate an offense.
According to Gatot S. Dewa Broto, the head of the general and public relations division within the Communications and Information Ministry, a major problem in preventing mobile phone-related crime is the apparent lack of access for victims to file complaints to their network operators. According to Gatot, there is already a plan to establish a “single door” call center for all network operators to provide a convenient means for customers to file complaints.
Control from network operators, with whom mobile content providers collaborate, is also important as they are the ones who initially choose which providers are eligible for their networks. When implemented properly, these initiatives will increase the risk of engaging in misleading business practices. Potential offenders will perceive that their actions will be more likely to be immediately uncovered and dealt with.
Reducing the rewards for engaging in misleading business practices is also considered as an effective means to prevent phone credit fraud from occurring. For example, this can be achieved by making it difficult to resell those phone credits that have been fraudulently obtained from customers. As argued by the chief of the National Consumers Protection Agency (BPKN), Suarhatini Hadad, unhealthy competition within the mobile communication industry may have been a factor behind these misleading business practices.
Within such an environment, some participants may be encouraged to resort to unlawful conduct to reap huge profits. But by ensuring that business is conducted fairly, such encouragement can be diminished.
Finally, at least one content provider has denied all allegations regarding premium services. Although the basis of such denial has yet to be determined by the authorities, this implies that removing or minimizing the motivation to commit misleading business practices through, among other things, setting a clear procedure of how to engage in and disengage from a premium service, also deserves consideration in addressing problems associated with phone credit fraud.
The writer is the director of the Center for Forensic Accounting Studies within the Department of Accounting at the Islamic University of Indonesia. He obtained his masters and doctorate in Forensic Accounting from the University of Wollongong, Australia.