Fingerprints now on sale

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Common people’s fingerprints are now on sale. One criminal sells these fingerprints to another criminal. These fingerprints are later used to purchase SIM cards for criminal activities which results in harassment of the common people while the actual criminals remain out of reach.

The police recently identified 30 people in a gang involved in the theft of fingerprints based on an advertisement on Facebook last month. Some eight of them have been arrested.

Police claimed that they used to preserve the fingerprints of the people purchasing or replacing SIM cards systematically. The price of each of the SIM cards purchased using the fingerprint of one person is between Tk 1,500 to Tk 2,000.

Fingerprints, photocopy of the national ID card and a picture of the customer are required to purchase a SIM card of local mobile operators.

In 2015, the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology introduced biometric registration (the system of using fingerprints to register) in the country and made it mandatory for purchasing SIM cards.

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Now, it is being seen that the criminals are using SIM cards using the names of common people. The police often end up arresting innocent people, whose fingerprints have been used to purchase SIM cards for criminal activities.

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A similar criminal ring recently posted an advertisement for providing SIM biometrics, call list and information regarding mobile financial services on Facebook last month.

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The Cyber and Special Crime unit of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) first noticed the advertisement on social media. The advertisement was posted from a Facebook page named ‘Digital Service Pro’.

The detective branch of the police started an investigation based on that advertisement. They learned that the members of the ring first take fingerprints from the people purchasing or replacing the SIM cards. Then they ask for fingerprints from the customers again saying the machine couldn’t read their fingerprints on the first attempt. The second fingerprint is taken on another machine. The ring members have their own apps to get the information of the national ID card using the fingerprints they take from the customer. Later, the SIM cards purchased using these fingerprints are sold to criminals without acknowledging the customer.

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The DB police arrested eight members of this ring in separate drives in Dhaka, Kurigram and Rangpur on 11 September. The police have filed a case against them as plaintiffs under the Digital Security Act (DSA) at the Kamrangirchar police station.

Sources relevant to the investigation say the SIM cards illegally registered in the name of common people were sold to criminals at a rate of Tk 1,500 to Tk 2,000 per piece. They used to purchase 13 to 14 SIM cards using one’s fingerprint. They used to earn around Tk 20,000 to 25,000 from a single fingerprint.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, additional deputy commissioner of the Cyber Crime Unit of the DB police Junayet Alam Sarker said they found fingerprints of some 800 people from the arrestees. They had been stealing the fingerprints of the common people for two years. Drives are on to bring the other members of the ring to book.

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According to the sources in the DB police, a man named Md Masud, 22, is the chief of this criminal ring. After passing the HSC exam, he started working as a sales representative of a mobile operator. He is skilled in technology. His associate Mehedy Hasan, 24, can develop software and apps.

Two other sales representatives of another mobile operator named Emon Hossain, 25, and Md Shakil, 25, used to help Masud get the fingerprints. According to the police, Emon and Masud used to collect the fingerprints and sell them to Masud. Nur Alam, 24, another member of the ring used to purchase people’s personal information and fingerprints. He used to buy it from two persons named Al Amin, 26, and Arafat Rahman, 23. Al Amin and Arafat worked at a customer service centre of a mobile operator in Rangpur’s Pirganj.

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Speaking to Prothom Alo, mobile operators’ organisation Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh’s secretary general Lieutenant colonel Mohammad Julfiqar (retired) said, “SIM card related fraudulent activities came down exponentially following the introduction of the biometric registration system. However, if it reappears again with the help of a different method, then we have to think about it again.”

He said, “These sorts of crimes must be curbed through the strict implementation of the laws and by raising awareness among the customers.”

Fingerprint in exchange of 1 kg flour

Police detected a SIM card while investigating a fraud case filed with the Mirpur police station. Later, they found that the SIM card was registered using the fingerprint and personal information of certain Farazul Haque, a resident of Baliadangi in Thakurgaon. A mobile financing account was opened using that SIM card. There are records of abnormal transactions of money using this account.

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In his confessional statement in the court, Farazul said, “Two people went to his village in 2022. They took his fingerprint, photo and a photocopy of his national ID card in the name of government aid. He was given one kg flour in exchange.

Speaking to Prothom Alo over the phone, Farazul said, “They took his fingerprints several times saying the machine was not working properly.”

Police say the members of this ring took fingerprints in the same way from several persons, including Rupali Begum, 44, of Natore, Anwar Sheikh, 77, of Pabna, Nasima, 44, of Thakurgaon and Afroza Begum, 46, from Natore.

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Abu Sayeed Khan, senior policy fellow at the LIRNEasia, a regional telecommunication research organisation, told Prothom Alo, “The government should amend the law allowing registering 15 SIM cards in the name of one person. The number should come down to five. At the same time, the government should have a specific roadmap which will say that one person cannot register more than two SIM cards in his or her name within a specific period of time.

*This report appeared on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu