The following post was written by a LATRO employee while working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. LATRO works with telecom operators and law enforcement agencies around the world to geolocate and bust fraudulent SIM Box operations. The following story is a creative imagination of what a day in the life of a fraudster looks like based on LATRO’s experience from the other side. All names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, or products is intended or should be inferred.
(All told in first person perspective from Frank the Fraudster)
BEEP BEEP BEEP! I hear my alarm go off, so I’m out of bed to get ready for another easy but profitable day. Coffee and toast in hand, I head up to the office. I set them both down on my desk and realize I forgot the shipment I brought into the house yesterday. Heading back downstairs, I glance out the window and see some kids playing football in the street. I grab the big, heavy box full of fresh SIM Cards addressed to Frank the Fraudster and carry it slowly back up two flights of stairs, dropping the merchandise next to my desk.
I turn the computer tower around slowly so as not to lose any connections (there are many), to reveal my ingenious SIM Box set up. Three GOIP and two Dinstar SIM Boxes, lights blinking good morning, are connected to a SIM bank containing burned SIMs. I whistle while I work, exchanging the old for the new (all different providers of course), glancing up occasionally as the kids whoop and holler during their game. Once the exchange is complete, I double check the wire connected to the antenna outside the window. It looks like I may have accidentally pulled on the wire, as the antenna appears to have been moved slightly. Finishing my adjustment, my mind already focused on my breakfast, a car catches my eye. I know every car on this street and this one is slightly different. No big deal Frank.
Just a new car, no reason to get jumpy. The car, street and kids are already out my mind as I sit down and configure each box to reflect my SIM Card changes in the bank. After 10 minutes and halfway through my configurations, I realize my coffee is already finished. Heading back downstairs I look out to the kids on the street again, but they are no longer playing. That same new car is driving suspiciously up the street yet again. Wait, what makes it suspicious? It’s a car on a street, nothing crazy about that. I try to ignore the tingling sensation on the back of my neck as I pour the last of my coffee.
I race up the stairs without realizing it, and am back at the window, eyes peeled for the car. Whew. Nowhere in sight. See Frank, you’re jumping at car-shaped shadows. You’ve been running this SIM Box operation for years, raking in the cash without a single inquisition from a neighbor or law enforcement. Relax. It is just another day. 20 minutes later, my belly full of coffee and configurations complete, I can relax and read my book.
As I am reading, I find my neck turning towards the window. Seeing the odd car again, I realize I have dropped my book, hands on the windowsill and heart rate increasing steadily. It does seem to be driving slower than most cars. Why would this car be circling MY block? Sweat is now beading on my forehead as I see a figure exit the vehicle at the end of the street and head away from my house. I breathe a small sigh of relief, as they are at least 100 yards away from me, and likely have nothing to do with me. I head back to my book, reassured I am in the clear.
Despite what I am telling myself, I have reread the same page in my book four times now, my eyes darting to the window and the car parked at the end of the street more times than I care to admit. I see it move and I am back up at the window, this time from an angle as to not be seen watching. The figure is moving alongside the car, not making any strange gestures or movements, just walking. I release my held-in breath, not even realizing I was holding it, as I see the car is now parked right outside my building. The man is in front of my door! I wait with bated breath, eyes locked on the figure and the car. The seconds feel like hours as he pauses for a short time and glances up at my window. Finally, he and the car continue their path and I finally release my grip on the windowsill. The figure gets in the car and they depart.
With the mysterious car and figure gone, I can return to making my easy money. Breakfast turns into lunch. As I finish my meal, I hear a dreadful noise. KNOCK KNOCK. I was not expecting company. I peer through the peephole to see two very serious-looking men outside.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK. I take a calming breath, reminding myself, “Frank, get it together! You’ve never had trouble with law enforcement before, and your set up is too clever if that is what they are here seeking.” I open the door with a confident smile, inquiring as to their knocking and graciously asking how I can assist them. They show me a warrant, claiming fraudulent activity and their right to search my residence. I feel my heart quicken in panic while my face maintains no sense of alarm. I open the door and nod to show my agreement with their search as they enter.
The two law enforcement officers then search my kitchen, living room, foyer, bedroom, and even bathroom! As they make their way to my office upstairs, I can’t help but ask in a painfully shaky voice for them to leave if they haven’t found what they are looking for. They insist on a search of the final room. One man maintains eyes on me at the bottom of the stairs while the other conducts the search. My hands are slick with sweat. Heart pounding, mind racing, knees trembling in anxiety and worry. The officer searching my office shakes his head at the other officer and they descend the staircase, thanking me for my time and apologize for any inconvenience. At last, they leave and I can finally relax in peace. But did they notice my SIM Box set up? I race up the stairs, tripping the antenna wire yet again, and see that despite my haste and the officer’s search, the computer tower is undisturbed. I am safe.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK. My heart leaps through my chest. What now?! I peer through the peephole a second time to see the two men, and now a third – the figure I had previously seen out the window. The figure, now recognized as a serious-looking stranger, is with them! I call out, “Excuse me gentlemen, I have been very forthcoming, but I insist now that this pestering must stop!” KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK. I have no choice but to open my door again.
Without a word, the stranger heads for my stairs and I can barely contain a shout of dismay. I follow him closely behind, not caring or waiting for the officers, to see his actions in my office. He stops at the entrance of my office. He slowly peers from left to right, both concern and confidence written across his face. His eyes land on my computer set up, and he walks straight over. I have a sensation of falling down the stairs, despite remaining still, as he pulls it out of the desk and reveals the five SIM Box operation lights blinking up at him in welcome. I groan as he looks at me with a wry smile, and I feel handcuffs on my wrists as my arms are forced behind me.
I had been so careful. I had worked so hard. I had countermeasures and disguises! How could this have happened?!
I have lost.
This article was originally published on the LATRO Services blog. It has been reproduced with their permission. The photographs shown above are from real simbox busts conducted by telecom operators partnering with LATRO.