Tamara Booi and Mkhululi Ndamase
UNSCRUPULOUS businesses in Nelson Mandela Bay are cashing in by selling pre- registered sim cards in flagrant disregard of Rica laws – thanks to a loophole in the legislation.
As no limit has been placed on the number of sim cards which can be registered by one individual, vendors can register as many sims as they like and simply sell them on.
When a Herald team visited shops in the city, the illegal sim cards were readily available.
Of the 23 shops visited, only seven asked for identity documents and proof of residence – as required by Rica.
These pre-registered starter packs, from Cell C, MTN and Vodacom, were sold for between R5 and R10 each. When the pre-Rica’d sim cards were checked they were all active on the networks.
A shop owner from Korsten, who would not give his name, said: “It’s only R5 and its already been registered. This is completely legal and the sim card will work.”
Another shop owner, in Traduna Mall in the city centre, handed the reporter a piece of paper and told her to write down her name, ID number and address. No ID document was asked for, although the law clearly requires the seller to make a copy of the buyer’s ID.
“I am going to fill in your information in a Rica form and submit it to the cellphone company a bit later, but you can use the sim card now,” he said.
By law, Rica makes it compulsory for all South Africans to register their cellphone numbers.
Cellphone operators must ask for a copy of the person’s ID document and proof of residence. Copies of both need to be made and kept by the service provider.
Department of Justice spokesperson Tlali Tlali said: “It has been brought to our attention that some members of the public in certain areas have been able to buy sim cards without complying with Section 40 of the Rica Act.
“We understand that these occurrences, however, seem to be limited to a small number of traders who either knowingly or possibly unknowingly contravene the provisions of the Rica Act.”
Tlali said that in some cases people had bought large numbers of sim cards which were “Rica’d” in their own names. “These individuals then sell these sim cards without complying with the Rica Act. These persons, in doing so, commit an offence and can and will be prosecuted.
“They undermine the legislation and jeopardise its aim and objects. The sim cards in question can be traced back to them and they will have to face the consequences of their actions.”
He said it should be kept in mind that the Rica Act, like all other legislation, “is susceptible to undermining by unscrupulous individuals”.
The extent of this type of fraud is not yet known and in efforts to try to find out how widespread the problem is the government will meet service providers to discuss the issue.
“We will engage with all the service providers in terms of how big the problem is,” Deputy Communications Minister Obed Bapela said at a press briefing at the Union Buildings in Pretoria last week.
The meeting, to be attended by all four cellphone service providers and the communications and justice departments, will be held in two weeks’ time.
Deputy Justice Minister Andries Nel has warned that operators selling these sim cards are contravening the Rica law, and would be arrested and prosecuted.
Nel said although cellphone retailers were allowed to buy sim cards in bulk, they had an obligation to record the personal particulars of all those who purchased the cards from them and to pass this information over to the relevant cellphone operator.
He said individuals were also allowed to purchase sim cards for their friends and family, but the recipients had to register their own particulars when they took receipt of the cards.
About 50 million cards have been registered in the country since the extended June 30 deadline.
The act was brought in primarily to guard against the abuse of the country’s telecommunications infrastructure in planning and executing crime.
The process has cost service providers millions.
The hows and whys
ALL the hows and whys about Rica:
Why is it so important to have my phone Rica’d?
Rica is aimed at helping police quickly and accurately trace the owners of cellphones used in crimes. Prior to Rica, police had to call witnesses to court to identify the user of a prepaid cell number. Now they can obtain a court order forcing the cellphone operator to give them the particulars of the owner – including ID number and address.
Why do I have to Rica if I am on a cellphone contract?
The purpose of Rica is to identify the owners of cellphones and sim cards and prevent a situation where anonymous companies or businesses without traceable references hold cellphone contracts.
If I give my phone away with its sim, or it is stolen and used in a crime, will I be prosecuted?
If you give it away, make sure your friend Rica’s it in his/her name. If it is stolen or damaged, you must report it or you will be prosecuted.
Now that my phone is Rica’d, does it mean police can listen to my conversations and monitor my movements?
The police have always been able to monitor your cellphone location, conversation or intercept SMSes – with permission from the court. The only difference with Rica is that customers can no longer legally purchase prepaid sim cards on an anonymous basis.
If I buy a pre-Rica’d sim card without giving the seller my details, can I be prosecuted?
End-users of illegally Rica’d sim cards can be fined up to R60000. Service providers face a fine of R100000 for every day a card is not registered. In some cases the law allows offenders to be jailed.
Can the authorities read my SMSes?
They can, but need court permission.
What must I do if my phone is lost or stolen?
Rica makes it mandatory to report your cellphone stolen, lost or damaged. You can be prosecuted for failing to do so.
Firstly, phone your service provider to have your sim card suspended and your handset blocked. Next, request that your cellphone handset be blacklisted. You will be asked to provide your cellphone network with the handset’s IMEI number. You can determine the IMEI number of your cellphone by dialling *#06#.
You will then be provided with a blacklisting reference number.
You must also report it to the police. You will be given a reference number by your cellphone network provider. This must be given to the police.
Who should I contact to blacklist my stolen, lost or damaged cellphone?
Cell C customers: 140 or 084 140.
MTN customers: 173 or 083 173 (for prepaid), 808 or 083 808 (for contract customers).
Vodacom customers: 111 or 082 111.
8ta customers: 081180.
Virgin customers: 123 or 0861 362 362.