It is good to see an old mate generating positive publicity about the fight against fraud. Nixon Wampamba can make a decent claim to the title of “most travelled RA practitioner”. He has been employed by operators in South America, Europe and Africa – and that is before considering all the countries he visited as a globe-trotting consultant. Nixon now spearheads the Revenue Assurance and Fraud Management function at Bharti Airtel Ghana. Even so, making the news must be a new experience for Nixon. Nixon was quoted in this story about unlicensed termination of international calls in Ghana and his insights were reported at length in this account. Nixon gave his expert evaluation of a simbox fraud that resulted in eight arrests:
On the scale of it, the fraudster had over 200 Airtel SIMs. If we use the standard average for simbox fraud, each SIM is generating around $40 a day. Hence the total estimated revenue is $240,000 per month. With government losing $72,000 per month in tax/levy collection.
Operators lose out when fraudsters disguise international calls to look like they originated locally. That said, this story is not just about arresting suspected fraudsters in Ghana. It also touches on the more controversial aspects of how governments intervene in the international telephony market. Ghana’s government levies 19 cents (approximately USD 0.13) per minute on all incoming international calls. They are not the only government to use international traffic as a source of revenue. The practice is arguably a stealth tax because customers are not aware of how much of their bill goes to the government’s coffers. Customers get the impression that operators are exploiting them with high charges, even though some of the charge is unrelated to providing the service or making a business profit.
Two wider economic consequences flow from the government’s revenue generation activities. First, raising the legal price for calls boosts the market for criminals who provide low-quality bypass services. Second, communications is an enabler for the wider economy, so increased call costs is a drag on overall economic growth. As reported in the story, the operators of Ghana are opposed to the government’s monitoring of calls in order to levy surcharges. However, within this bigger context, it is heartening to see some press for the under-appreciated role of the Fraud Manager. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the law, crime is a plague on society, and guys like Nixon fight crime every day.