In a series of countrywide crackdowns on illegal telephone exchange operators, three such units have come to the fore in Gujarat. It maybe recalled that last week, the Thane unit of ATS busted an illegal telephone exchange that installed equipment which allowed unauthorized domestic and international calls through Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP).
The busting of three such digital exchanges in Gujarat – two in Ahmedabad and one in Anand – over the past year and a half has drawn the attention of the Central Intelligence Bureau (IB).
The investigative agency is now preparing a report on the rackets where international calls made using VoIP (voice over internet protocol) facility are converted into local calls using computer software and equipment like sim boxes, routers, transceivers and servers.
The raids in Gujarat were based on suspicion because, as an investigating officer explained: “The digital exchanges or sim boxes seized had anywhere between 32 to 264 sim cards each. But, this was being run from a specific place and was stationary. If the sim box had been in an urban area, it would not have raised suspicion when 100 sim cards were detected operating in one area. However, if too many sim cards are found operating in secluded places, villages, highways or moving from one place to another, it raises doubts.”
A sim box can route international phone calls as local calls. Each sim box can be fitted with hundreds of GSM sim cards. The exchanges convert an international call from a cellphone to VoIP and then process it through a SIM box which converts the VoIP to a local call.
According to sources in the state police, central agencies, and the department of telecommunications (DoT), these exchanges can be operated from a small room, a car, or even a scooter to make calls for extortion, cyber frauds, or to run an organized crime network.
“As these exchanges threaten national security, the central Intelligence Bureau (IB) along with DoT is preparing a report on such exchanges,” said a home department official.
An officer of a central agency said there are high chances that these exchanges were being used for illegal activities like money laundering, phishing scams, and hawala, which can cause significant financial loss or potentially pose a security threat to the country.
In August 2021, the Anand local crime branch raided Memon Colony in Borsad town of Anand district and arrested two men for running a digital exchange. Police seized four sim boxes and 64 sim cards during the raid.
In December 2021, the Ahmedabad crime branch busted an illegal digital telephone exchange in the CG Road area and arrested Tabrez Kataria, a Sarkhej resident operating the racket. Kataria was running the exchange at the behest of one Sheriyar from Dhaka in Bangladesh.
In February 2022, the Gujarat anti-terrorist squad (ATS) raided a commercial complex on S G Road in Bodakdev and arrested three persons. The trio had taken 150 SIP (session initiation protocol) lines, converting international calls made through the internet to local calls. The exchange was being run under the garb of a customer care centre for a gold firm.