MANILA, Philippines—Local telecom firms lose millions of pesos in revenues annually to hundreds of illegal operators that bypass global payment systems to convert long-distance calls to domestic.
A leading telecom executive on Tuesday described the magnitude of the problem following the arrest on Friday of three Taiwanese nationals and their Filipino cohort for allegedly running a call bypass fraud syndicate from their condo units in Makati City.
The arrests were made by the National Bureau of Immigration on a complaint from Smart Communications Inc.
“It is definitely a substantial amount,” said Smart spokesperson Ramon Isberto, who declined to give figures when asked how much his company has been losing to such syndicates.
Isberto said Smart is monitoring “several hundreds” of possible international call bypass operations mostly based in Metro Manila. The company can look into these activities by checking for unusually heavy usage patterns by individual SIM (subscriber identity module) cards on its network, he said.
Using advanced computer technology, he said, syndicates may be able to bypass the normal payment systems for international calls. As a result, long distance calls are only charged as domestic calls.
Isberto said the criminals tap this technology by selling long-distance call cards overseas. “These cards usually tell users to call a certain number. Then the operators here are able to switch the call to make it seem like a domestic call,” he added.
NBI agents on Friday arrested Taiwanese nationals Wen Shang Yang, Huang Jian Wei and Jang Yuan-JR, as well as Filipino citizen Ruben Vallespin, inside their respective units at Makati Cinema Square Tower on Chino Roces Avenue and at Palm Towers in Barangay San Antonio also in Makati.
Rolando Paruli Jr. of the NBI’s Computer Crimes Unit (CCU) said the raiding teams also seized GSM (global system for mobile) gateway devices, routers, cables and “thousands of assorted SIM cards.”
The suspects were detained at the NBI headquarters in Manila and charged with theft and violation of the Access Devices Act and E-Commerce Act before Makati City prosecutor Analie Brual.
A complaint filed by Smart at NBI-CCU noted the extraordinarily big volume of international calls monitored from the condominium units.
The NBI secured search warrants from Manila Regional Trial Court Executive Judge Marino dela Cruz.
According to Paruli, call bypass syndicates usually contact international gateway operators and offer cheaper termination fees, enabling them to corner deals while using legitimate gateway facility operators like Smart.
While call bypass operations are legal overseas, only a few companies are licensed to operate in the Philippines, the NBI official said.
Both Isberto and Paruli said the government also loses heavily in terms of unpaid taxes due to these illegal operations.