February 26, 2024

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Vietnam Ramps up Mobile Communication Safety

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The Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) is cracking down on telecom carriers that do not stop junk SIM cards in the market. Mobile network operators have been instructed by the Authority of Telecommunications (AOT) to ensure that all the necessary authentication information of the subscriber is provided when registering.

Telecom carriers need to update procedures and regulations on registering subscribers’ information following Decree 49/2017. In addition, mobile network operators are required to uphold their commitments with MIC and comply with the requests outlined in the legal documents issued by AOT. The agency intends to collaborate with local information and communications departments to oversee and inspect enterprises’ implementation process.

Enterprises that engage in serious violations, such as providing services to new subscribers with insufficient or inaccurate information or selling pre-entered SIM cards with activated mobile services, will be forced to halt the registration of new subscribers, the government has said.

MIC is considering strict punishment like suspending the right to register new subscribers for 3-6 months if telcos are found committing violations of regulations on mobile subscriber management. This is the first time that MIC has put in place heavy sanctions on mobile network operators.

Experts have noted that despite measures to punish violators, junk SIM cards still exist because the regulations are not respected. Despite making repeated promises to prevent the circulation of junk SIM cards, telecom carriers have failed to effectively address the issue and junk SIM cards are still in circulation.

According to MIC, Vietnam has 126 million mobile subscribers, and the market has become saturated. Annually, telecom carriers vie for 800,000 new subscribers, but they cannot alter their market share by simply competing for new subscribers. Hence, it is imperative to strengthen the registration process for new subscribers.

In Ho Chi Minh City, it is not hard to buy a pre-activated SIM card from popular carriers like state-run Viettel for only US$ 3-8.5 without the need to produce identification documents. It can be used instantly when inserted into a mobile phone. The price of a junk SIM card depends on the specific number and current promotion programmes of mobile service providers. For instance, at present, the price for a card from Viettel is US$ 6.8.

By combining junk SIM cards with popular communication apps, criminals can spread fake news or images, building their credibility and gaining the trust of their victims for future scams. The use of virtual phone numbers that are not tied to any specific location or physical device makes managing them extremely challenging. Criminals are exploiting this to activate Over-the-Top (OTT) applications with ease, which can be used for illegal activities.

After 31 March, a large number of mobile subscribers without standardised information will be deactivated. The Deputy Head of the Vietnam Telecommunications Authority explained that it is not feasible to prohibit individuals from owning multiple SIM cards as they may require them for business purposes. However, to limit the use of SIM cards for malicious activities, when an individual wants to own more than three SIM cards, they must sign a contract with the mobile carrier.

The official also highlighted that one of the key priorities of the telecoms industry for 2023 is to fully resolve the problem of SIM cards with incorrect or missing identity information of their owners. Additionally, efforts will be made to raise public awareness about the risks of using junk SIM cards.

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