Whistleblower exposes $566m NetOne airtime fraud

A WHILSTLEBLOWER has helped police bust a syndicate of sophisticated criminals behind an airtime fraud scam which could have prejudiced the mobile phone network operator, NetOne, of well over $550 million in what could easily rank as one of the biggest cyber heists in the country.

The arrest of five fraud suspects last week exposed weaknesses in mobile network’s systems, which resulted in the massive loss.

Three NetOne employees, a bulk airtime dealer and his employee have since been arrested and taken to court after duping the State-owned company of US$565 999 964 through the use of a pin-less credit airtime transfer facility.

Primrose Maireti, Faith Ndagurwa, Simbarashe Mandimutsira, James Mwanza and Kumbulani Nyapfumbi last week appeared at Harare Magistrates Court charged with fraud.

They were not asked to plead to the charges and were remanded in custody pending their bail application.

It is the State’s case that on January 25 this year, detectives from CID Commercial Crimes Division Northern Region were tipped off that NetOne Cellular (Private) Limited employees were stealing pin-less credit airtime and supplying dealers.

The State alleges that they would then resell the airtime at a price with a higher discounted margin than NetOne.

On January 26, detectives from CID Commercial Crimes Division Northern Region visited NetOne Cellular management and established that its loss control and fraud management team was already carrying out internal investigations following instructions from the chief executive officer, who, according to the State, had been tipped off.

A joint investigation was carried out and established that James Mwanza, a NetOne dealer, had received $50 000 000 transferred using the pin-less facility.

Upon being interviewed, via a trace back method, Mwanza implicated his employee Primrose Maireti, as the person who had sold him the pin-less airtime using the NetOne’s *171# credit transfer channel.

NetOne Cellular Private Limited then verified all suspicious transactions and established that there were 75 transactions on pin-less credit airtime which was stolen from NetOne’s ZSmart System to NetOne line 0718 733 958 which is registered under the name, Samuel Njanji.

There are no further particulars captured in the NetOne data base.

According to the State, $5 000 000 was sold on December 3 last year, $30 000 000 was then sold on December 5 with $20 000 000 being sold the following day.

About $203 000 000 was sold on December 20 while $307 999 964 was sold on January 19 this year.

Further investigations established that the line 0718 733 958 was activated on December 3 last year at NetOne Julius Nyerere Shop in Harare.

It was also discovered that NetOne Cellular employees were sharing Faith Ndagurwa’s username and password.

They connived to steal pin-less credit air time, which was then loaded on a NetOne line registered in Njanji’s name.

The line was then handed over to Maireti, who was selling the airtime and handing over the money to Mwanza.

After the arrest, a Honda Fit registration (AFW6813) was recovered from one of them while another one is being shipped from Japan.

It is alleged that one of them bought a residential stand, which is yet to be identified, for US$11 000.

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