Spearline Podcast Episode 17: Talking fraud on telecoms networks with Andy Gent

 

In this episode of the Spearline podcast Josh and Kees are delighted to be joined by Andy Gent, CEO of Revector to talk about fraud on telecoms networks. Andy has been in the telecoms industry for over 20 years and set up Revector to combat SIM Box fraud against mobile network operators in 2001.

We talk about Andy’s vast experience in the telecoms industry and we delve into the world of grey routes, fraud on telecoms networks and much more.

Tune in now to catch up with all the latest Spearline news and developments!

Be sure to subscribe for future episodes of the Spearline podcast and you can also listen to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and all your favourite podcast platforms!

For more information, please get in touch with us.

New call-to-action

Transcript of Podcast : 

Josh O’ Farrell:
Andy, thank you very much for coming on. Would you be able to tell us a little bit about yourself, your experiences in the telecoms industry and how the Revector came to be?

Andy Gent:
Thanks for having me on guys. Yeah, just about myself. I started in the telecom industry back in 1970 with effectively The Post Office, which is a British telecom. over the years got involved in design and development of communication products. Getting into the early 90s where after designing a number of products from PCs and Telex Switches joined Merck communications, which is part of the cable and wireless group.

In the mid 90s, I ran a start up in Hong Kong with Hong Kong telecom, and NTT of Japan. then that was involved in PHS technology, which was the same, But in Asia. And within one year Tokyo had 7 million phones and it was a massive growth of micro mobile, after which I went to Pakistan to run Paktel, which was the largest mobile phone company in Pakistan. Then from that point in time, I came interested in fraud.

Andy Gent:
That was going on, on networks. Prior to that, I was director of mobile when we had 50 mobile operations and I won the mobile one license and the week license in both Singapore and France. So that was a lot of mobile background. Again working with people like MTM in the early days, one-to-one in the UK. After which I went to Kuwait and run the internet business, and then a number of other startups in the U.S. and in Ireland.

2001, 2006, I was doing some self-work at home. I started Revector. In 2006, I went out to Afghanistan and found the SIM Box fraud, and I came back and developed a product to address SIM Box fraud. From then to, to date, we’ve worked in over a hundred countries around the world, winning two Queens awards in 2012 for our innovation and for our exports.

Kees Hendrickx: 

Well, it’s safe to say you have a wealth of experience in telecoms. So you set up Revector to tackle fraud. This is something that keeps telecoms managers awake at night. 

How prevalent is fraud and what are the main forms of fraud that are happening on networks today?

Andy Gent:
My view is very similar to what the CFCA comes up with. And there’s a report by the CFCA, which I’ve not read recently,

Kees Hendrickx:
Okay.

Andy Gent:
But it’s X billion, a fraud on the networks around the world.

Kees Hendrickx:
Okay.

Andy Gent:
And it’s getting up to 10% in some places of the revenue. So there’s quite a lot of fraud. Where the fraud that I concentrate on was interconnect fraud and termination fraud, which was basically SIM Box fraud.

And this is where you can have a local termination rate of say 5 cents. But the international termination rate is 20 cents. So there’s a 15 cents difference. That 15 cents different could be breached by a fraudster.

That’s what’s happening in 2006 and we predicted it be two or three years before that disappeared, but it’s still ongoing.

Kees Hendrickx:
Wow.

Andy Gent:
Today in one African country, I still find some days a thousand SIM cards, which are the thousand legal SIM cards, which are illegally transmitting international revenue.

Kees Hendrickx:
Okay.

So how does the refactor detect fraud exactly?

Andy Gent:
Okay. So on the SIM Box fraud, what I did back in 2006, we worked out a system to make telephone calls from all the bad routes around the world.

So basically traffic in the past, going back 20, 30 years between say BT and France telecom or BT and South African telecom, you should just exchange traffic. With the invention of mobile, then mobile traffic, first of all, went directly to each other, but then through brokers and international carriers. There’s a big business in international carriers and then also in gray routes, as well as white routes to different countries.

What we do is make telephone calls over the worst routes we can find, which land in country. And by the techniques that we’ve developed, we can actually find within a second, whether that’s an illegal termination.

Josh O’ Farrell:
Well, that’s really impressive.

Kees Hendrickx:
Yeah, really impressive actually. We’re in a similar space to your company, as we’re both helping people with blind spots in the network. Most companies, they’re not aware of the problems they could be facing on the network until they run into issues or we as a company highlight this to them.

Could you talk about the complexity of this and maybe what your company does to make companies aware?

Andy Gent:
Yeah, so as I say, we worked in over a hundred countries and mainly that’s been through networking PR through our PR company and knowledge at GSMA conferences and both the Barcelona Worldwide Conference. So we do advertise, well we don’t advertise, we go to exhibitions, but mainly it was networking of fraud forums in the telecom operators.

Kees Hendrickx:
Right.

Andy Gent:
Then a lot of it’s by word of mouth, because there’s only a few companies that can actually deliver all the time. So we do make companies aware, however, it’s more and more difficult as telecoms companies get larger. They become different departments such as, there’s a very small fraud department compared to the marketing department.

Kees Hendrickx:
Yeah.

Andy Gent:
So most of the time they don’t have the resources to; A. Find out what the problems are or B. Address the problems. And I found a number of companies who just ignore it and just put it down to general losses.

Kees Hendrickx:
Okay. Probably not the right way to go.

And how does fraud affect the connection for a customer? Does this affect audio quality and the connection quality?

Andy Gent:
Yeah. I could tell you that I’ve made say two and a half million calls to somewhere like Kenya in the last two years, but only 60% of those, or even less arrive in country.

Josh O’ Farrell:
Oh, wow.

Andy Gent:
Yeah. So there’s a lot of calls get disappear, especially on the gray routes. And again, in the early days I was using things like AT&T calling cards. I’d buy a calling card either in New York or online and make three calls and the $5 would disappear, but none of the calls would arrive on my terminal where I was dialing. So a lot of calls get rerouted to different areas.

Andy Gent:
That’s because the gray routes are not true. If you buy, most of the larger companies try to buy white routes, which are guaranteed to go through. But again, it’s a bit like the mortgage crush, where they were mixing bad properties with good properties,

Kees Hendrickx:
Yeah.

Josh O’ Farrell:
Okay.

Andy Gent:
Exactly the same happens, you get lots of gray routes mixed in. In fact, one company that I was dealing with was selling to, I think, the stock exchange quality minutes, and we tested some of those minutes to different countries. And a lot of them came over gray even though they were guaranteeing to be pure.

Josh O’ Farrell:
Okay.

Andy Gent:
So it’s a very complex mix.

Kees Hendrickx:
Definitely.

Would gray routes impact the audio quality then as well?

Andy Gent:
Yeah, the audio quality does go down. However, now with the voice services that are on line, we’re finding, as you probably find in with Facebook or WhatsApp or Skype, the voice qualities is better than GSM if you’re on wifi.

Josh O’ Farrell:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kees Hendrickx:
Yup.

Kees Hendrickx:
So they’re using the latest codecs and quality voice products to pass the traffic, but it can be seen in some countries with delays or with errors coming along. But the quality is mainly, can you get through and are you really getting through to the people at the other end?

Kees Hendrickx:
Right.

Josh O’ Farrell:
Okay. And you are mentioning it lots – gray routes.

I think most of our listeners there know may have heard this term before, some may not, but for those who haven’t, would you be able to explain exactly what a gray route means?

Andy Gent:
Yeah. So a white route for instance, somebody may have agreed connection into Afghanistan, say to Roshan. British telecom would send a call to Roshan, but it would go through the pure routes of France telecom, Monaco telecom, and to Roshan in Afghanistan. A gray route is where somebody like myself set so pay SIM Box or another type of termination in Afghanistan.

Josh O’ Farrell:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Andy Gent:
Offers termination minutes to the market and say, I can deliver minutes to Afghanistan. They make call. It comes to my system, which is somewhere in the cloud, then I send it to Afghanistan and I’ll use a box with local SIM cards in to deliver those calls. And that’s a gray route, and I would sell it at a percentage less than the real price.

Josh O’ Farrell:
Okay.

Andy Gent:
A classic example was say 2006, a call from the UK was 25 cents to Afghanistan per minute. The operator and the government got 20 cents in Afghanistan that was shared in a certain way. They would deliver the minutes. You could though go and buy a local SIM card for 5 cents a minute. I could send it to Afghanistan over a system which costs money, but then deliver it for 5 cents a minute. So there’s a differential of 15 cents.

Josh O’ Farrell:
Wow.

Kees Hendrickx:
Yeah, it’s a big difference.

Josh O’ Farrell:
Very big.

What will be the biggest risks of sending messages through gray routes? And how can somebody tell if messages are going through gray routes?

Andy Gent:
A lot of times people don’t notice it.

Kees Hendrickx:
Yeah.

Andy Gent:
The main things that people do notice is that they don’t get the calling number or they may get a local number instead.

Kees Hendrickx:
Okay.

Andy Gent:
So they’re not getting… So if I’m calling you on my mobile number, you would see Andy Gent’s mobile number. But I might be calling you and you’ll see a number from say, the USA, or you may see no number at all.

Kees Hendrickx:
Yeah.

Andy Gent:
The difficulty is customers, or people may be making calls and people won’t take calls because they don’t see the real number.

Kees Hendrickx:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Andy Gent:
So there’s a lot of spin-offs. The other sort of negatives is that because all these SIM cards are on one cell tower, then the operator has to put more capacity in, which costs more money, and then overall cost more to the customer at the end of the day.

Kees Hendrickx:
Yeah.

Josh O’ Farrell:
Over the last 18 months, traffic has increased significantly and we’ve seen companies invest more in testing numbers to provide a high-quality experience for their customers.

What can go wrong when providers purchase cheap minutes and are they routed over on regulated spaces?

Andy Gent:
The answer to that is lots of things can go wrong, but again, it comes down to the economics.

Josh O’ Farrell:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Andy Gent:
You get, I’ve had one country where there’s four operators and one’s getting the line share of the traffic, the other one isn’t, but he may take in minutes that he knows are gray.

Josh O’ Farrell:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Andy Gent:
Cause then he can pass it on for a termination fee to the leading operator and he’s actually making cash. So he makes some cents, but the operator who’s getting it, should be getting the full interconnect rate from international traffic and he’s losing quite a lot.

So I’ve seen operators play games, and these are risks that happens to all, which at the end of the day, all comes back to what the customer pays for his mobile network.

Josh O’ Farrell:
Okay.

Kees Hendrickx:
Right. I suppose, it’s very important for carriers and providers to know what routes they’re paying for.

How would someone get full transparency over a route? How can they be sure?

Andy Gent:
There are a number of companies which, and some of the major companies, put it in their terms and conditions to buy white routes. But even those companies end up, they buy off somebody.

Kees Hendrickx:
Right.

Andy Gent:
Which may be a major wholesaler like BICS or PCCW or Tata. But each of those have got, they’ve got revenue targets. So they may split some of these out and sell them off.

Kees Hendrickx:
Okay.

Andy Gent:
Some of the African countries may only take in minutes from one of those carriers. They organize that they get a certain percentage all the time. So it really, to get transparency it’s very difficult.

Kees Hendrickx:
Right. Okay.

Josh O’ Farrell:
There was recently a data breach in our health service here in Ireland, which is resulting in many people, receiving automated calls for various scams. It’s very frustrating. But as a result of this many people that stopped answering numbers, they don’t recognize, including myself.

I see a number that comes up and I don’t recognize the number. And I immediately think, okay, it’s either a scam thing or this is just extremely frustrating.

How prevalent is robocall type of fraud? And what are the regulations around these robocalls in North America compared to Europe?

Andy Gent:
Yeah, I think robocalls are massive both in North America and Europe and everywhere,

Andy Gent:
At this point in time. If you look at examples in the past Wangiri fraud was quite large. Again Wangiri fraud, if you don’t know, is based on a Japanese word Wangiri, where it’s a short duration. So you get a call and you’d see a number come in and then it disappears. So you’d get a call from a number and X percent of people will call it back. And when they call it back, it may be ringing so you think it’s ringing, but it’s actually answered, and that’s a false ringing.

So it’s actually billing the person and it might be billing them on a premium rate. That’s one type of fraud. Robocalls now where, as you say, with the national health service saying, this is a COVID line ring it back, or it’s trying to get details onto your computer, where they’re saying we’re Microsoft, and there’s a fault on your IP network, et cetera.

Josh O’ Farrell:
Yeah.

Andy Gent:
These are prevalent and I believe they can all be stopped. It’s just the amount of effort that the operators and the regulators want to put into it.

Kees Hendrickx:
Right.

Andy Gent:
I’ve been to one operator in the UK and seen the Microsoft call and finding out all the numbers are coming from say Bangladesh. But then what do you do with the IP numbers from Bangladesh? How do you stop them? There are ways, but then you pass in legal terms of stopping the people doing it.

Josh O’ Farrell:
Oh okay.

Kees Hendrickx:
Yeah.

Andy Gent:
Exactly the same way is I’ve seen there are systems, quite a few Irish companies as well, of building SMS protection and intelligence that they can go in the network to look for these types of calls.

Kees Hendrickx:
okay.

Andy Gent:
I don’t see why they shouldn’t be used. Effectively if somebody is pushing out an SMS over to the National Health Service, they’re doing it to so many million people. There are systems in place where you can see that same message is going across the network.

Josh O’ Farrell:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Andy Gent:
You know, you should be able to block it.

Kees Hendrickx:
Yeah.

Josh O’ Farrell:
I know that banks are really trying to be careful with that as well. I know that TSB is one of them. They’re constantly saying, we’ll never actually ask for your proper details or anything like that. Go to the website, go to the mobile app and stuff and trying to make it as secure as possible.

Andy Gent:
Yeah. So there’s quite a lot of frauds, from what I’ve been dealing in the last 20 years of termination type fraud to these automated scams, to Wangiri.

Josh O’ Farrell:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Andy Gent:
Then even SIM swapping type of things where I go into an o-two, a Three dealer in Ireland and get your number and swap it onto my phone and then phone up a bank and pretend that I’m you, et cetera.

Josh O’ Farrell:
Yeah.

Andy Gent:
SIM swaps is, was really big in America because of some of the systems that are in place a few years ago, we’re just not very strong. So there is a lot of frauds, but it’s one of my concerns. I’ve said this openly quite a bit. When I was a telecoms operator, I didn’t fully understand it, but now the last 20 years, it’s quite, people are aware,

Josh O’ Farrell:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Andy Gent:
I still think the mobile operators don’t do enough. They don’t put enough manpower in the fraud department. They don’t put enough effort to stop it, to put more into finding customers, free marketing, et cetera, or sales than actually stopping the fraud.

Kees Hendrickx:
Yeah.

Josh O’ Farrell:
It’s very important as well. Like rather than just getting a new customer, new form of revenue, it’s very, very important piece that more companies should be focusing on and prioritizing.

Andy Gent:
Definitely. Again, in the early days, I knew of one company in South America, the CEO got, and all of his team got bonuses for getting customers.

Josh O’ Farrell:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Andy Gent:
For the amount of fraud had grown ridiculously, but they won’t sort of monitored on that.

Kees Hendrickx:
Right.

Andy Gent:
So the bottom line profits in the next few years were actually quite low, but it’s like, the like joke fraud. If you hear a joke once and it’s about a certain type of person or whatever, then a few years later, you read it again in a different form and frauds the same. It comes out in a different fraud in a different way, years later

What kind of regulations are around at the moment? Like for robocalls, let’s say in North America compared to Europe, compared to different areas around the world?

Andy Gent:
I’m not fully up to date. But in North America, the FCC are trying to put in regulations on robocalls and find operators and put in new systems, which to me, seem quite complex.

Kees Hendrickx:
Okay.

Andy Gent:
What I’m actually seeing though, is as I say, this new frauds going on all the time. And I think the GSMA do a lot of work on the fraud forum and things like that. And there is a user fraud user manual within the GSMA to advise the operators and they do get together and work with the operators to make certain they’re all up to date.

Kees Hendrickx:
Okay. You mentioned earlier as well, terminations. I suppose, there’s a lot that can go wrong with terminations as well. And we’ve seen many lanes being terminated to the incorrect number. For example, we had one pharmaceutical company who had their vaccine helpline terminated to an adult phone lane. And only two weeks ago, we had a conference number terminated to a private residence.

So they ended up getting phone calls every half hour from people trying to log in. This would of course affect the company’s brand reputation and our customer experience.

We help with testing of these numbers to make sure they are terminating to the correct number, but how can fraud impact these types of terminations?

Andy Gent:
I have one example where we made calls to a Caribbean island on behalf of the operator from around the world to see where if the calls are all getting there. Most we were calling real numbers in real time during the day. So these people should answer or they should go to their voicemail.

Kees Hendrickx:
Right.

Andy Gent:
We were getting a number of the calls, went to a church line in North America, which was a premium rate. And a number of calls went to a chemist in North America, which wasn’t a premium rate, but it’s basically the gray routes, where making money out of taking the calls.

Kees Hendrickx:
Okay.

Andy Gent:
But then they were pushing them towards our friends who were taking more calls. So that’s one type where it’s purposely terminated on the wrong thing.

Kees Hendrickx:
Right.

Andy Gent:
I think a lot of termination and one that you’re talking about could be just a pure accident.

Kees Hendrickx:
Right.

Andy Gent:
There could be just sabotage, somebody calls in trouble one and secondly to generate revenue.

Kees Hendrickx:
Right.

I don’t know if you have a crystal ball or anything you can see into the future, but what future threats do you think are on the horizon in telecoms providers, really should be mindful of?

Andy Gent:
We saw a couple of years ago, OTT frauds and messaging apps.

Kees Hendrickx:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Josh O’ Farrell:
Okay.

Andy Gent:
And over the TTT, such as Viber, WhatsApp, Skype, one of those companies set up a termination company and you would make a GSM call from the UK and it would arrive as a Viber call in Senegal.

Josh O’ Farrell:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Andy Gent:
And therefore nobody got any revenue in Senegal. It just arrived.

Kees Hendrickx:
Okay.

Andy Gent:
Yeah. You know, I did a test in Malta with a Sri Lankan phone and I called it from my UK phone in Malta and it arrived on the Sri Lankan phone on Viber.

Josh O’ Farrell:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Andy Gent:
So nobody got any revenue.

Kees Hendrickx:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Andy Gent:
Except Viber was effectively passing the call through. That comes and goes and it has been seen all over OTT services. But I think as the world changes, somebody will realize they can make some money in some way. And they will use it for terminating and really that’s where… If there’s any way they can make money, they will do so.

Kees Hendrickx:
Yeah.

Josh O’ Farrell:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Andy Gent:
And different part about it, the threat that I see is the telecom operators don’t react fast enough. The bureaucratic
companies at the end of the day with lines of demarcation between marketing sales and fraud.

Kees Hendrickx:
Yeah.

Andy Gent:
The fraudsters are quite ruthless in making money.

Kees Hendrickx:
I suppose technology moves so fast as well that bigger companies might not be as fast as people committing the fraud.

Andy Gent:
Absolutely. That’s always the case. That’s always the case. I’ve spent 20 years in this fraud and now developing products to actually locate the people. And that’s what I’m concentrating now. We can locate devices that we know are fraudulent. So it’s down to the operators to really put the effort in and put the resources in to stop the fraud.

Kees Hendrickx:
Right. Yeah. Great. Well, thank you, Andy, for coming on the podcast. That was a really interesting conversation before we finish, where can people find out more about Revector?

Andy Gent:
Basically we use our website, www revector.com.

Kees Hendrickx:
Okay.

Andy Gent:
Or myself on LinkedIn is the normal way. You can find us online and that’s the quickest way. Most of our work is developed through networking and what we’re doing today is part of that. I’d like to thank you anyway for letting us have a word with you guys.

Kees Hendrickx:
Yeah. It was a fantastic time. So thanks very much for coming on.

Josh O’ Farrell:
Yeah. Thank you very much, Andy. This is brilliant. Very, very informative.

Andy Gent:
No problem.

Video

What’s at risk?

What’s at risk if your telecommunications fail? See how Spearline can help you ensure outstanding performance.

Read More
Video

Standard Conference Test – Spearline Tests Explained

Do your calls have connection issues – A typical day as a call center agent

Read More
Podcast

Spearline Podcast Episode 17: Talking fraud on telecoms networks with Andy Gent

In the this episode of the Spearline Podcast, Josh and Kees are joined by Andy Gent to explore the world of telecoms fraud.

Read More

Not Ready Yet?

Subscribe for updates