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India uses AI, facial recognition-based tool to weed out over 3.6 Mn fraudulent phone numbers


India used an artificial intelligence and facial recognition-based solution to disconnect more than 36 lakh mobile connections, which were obtained using fake or forged documents, Union IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said at the launch of the Sanchar Saathi web portal today.

The tool called ASTR (an acronym for Artificial Intelligence and Facial Recognition powered Solution for Telecom SIM Subscriber Verification) was deployed to assess more than 87 crore mobile connections in its ‘first phase’. The objective is to curb the menace of bad actors acquiring mobile connection through fake documents.

Of the 87 crore mobile connections assessed, a total of 40.87 lakh suspected connections were detected, according to the ministry’s press release. After due verification, 36.61 lakh connections were disconnected, whereas the rest are under process.

The ministry also disclosed that 40,123 point of sales (PoS) involved in selling such mobile connections, have been blacklisted by the service providers and more than 150 FIRs have been registered across India.

To process such large data, the government used the Param-Sidhhi supercomputer. The first phase also focused on connections with paper-based KYC.

“The details of disconnected numbers have been shared with banks, payment wallets and social media platforms for disengaging these numbers with their accounts,” the release added.

At the launch, Vaishnaw disclosed that one person had acquired 5,200 connections, but was detected by ASTR. Another person had 6,900 connections.

As far as the Sanchar Sathi platform goes, the citizen-driven portal provides a comprehensive platform for digital protection services. It allows users to track lost/stolen mobile devices. This also facilitates the blocking of lost/stolen mobile devices in the network of all telecom operators so that lost/stolen devices cannot be used in the country. There’s also a module that allows a subscriber to check the number of mobile connections taken in his/her name.

India is one of the largest mobile internet countries in the world. However, mobile internet users are targeted by criminals to commit financial fraud or invade privacy. According to a Truecaller report, India is one of the most spammed countries in the world.

According to a report titled ‘The Anatomy of Fraud 2023’ by Bureau, account-related fraud attacks – like ATOs and fake account registrations – are preferred types of overall fraudulent activity taking place in India.

“Customer journey verification and striking a balance between security and CX are the top challenges businesses face in detecting these account-related fraud types. For example, in financial services account-related fraud makes up ~65% of all types of fraud being perpetrated. In e-commerce, that share equals ~54%,” it said.

Even though unsolicited calls and messages are pretty common, recently fraudsters are now targeting users on popular instant messaging platforms like WhatsApp. Of late, there’s been a surge in people receiving malicious messages and calls on their WhatsApp from random international numbers. The IT ministry has already taken note of it

Vaishnaw today said that the ministry was “actively engaged” with WhatsApp on issues relating to spam calls.

“…We have been actively engaging with the Government to consistently ensure a safe and secure user experience, including weeding out bad actors from the platform. WhatsApp is a leader among end-to-end encrypted services in protecting user safety and we continue to provide several in-built safety tools like Block & Report, Two-step verification, among others, along with regularly driving user safety education and awareness,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement.

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