Mobile firms identify SIMs used by Chinese 'click farm'

Some of the SIMs seized from two houses in Aranyaprathet district in Sa Kaeo on Monday. (Photo by Sawat Ketngam)

ARANYAPRATHET, SA KAEO: Representatives of the three largest mobile phone operators on Saturday visited the notorious Chinese "click farm" in this border province in a further attempt to verify the origins of some 300,000 SIM cards used in the operation.

The trip was arranged by telecom regulators who have been asking a lot of questions since the discovery on Monday of an operation used to boost likes and shares in Chinese social media to spur online sales.

For security reasons, especially after bombings triggered by mobile phones mainly in the South, all SIM cards in Thailand must be registered using ID cards or passports once they are activated. However, there is no limit on how many SIMs a person can own.

The representatives of Advanced Info Service Plc (AIS), Total Access Communication (DTAC) and True Corporation (True Move) initially found mixed results.

Some of the SIMs were properly registered by passports and some by SIM retail vendors. Some had already expired and some were not issued in Thailand.

The National Broadcasting and Telecommuinications Commission (NBTC) asked the operators to summarise the registration information of the SIMs under their respective brands and send reports by Monday.

After checking 105,485 of the SIMs, AIS found most of them were prepaid and activated in border provinces. DTAC representatives also said after checking 104,000 of the SIMs that all were prepaid. True examined 7,000 SIMs by sending the information to its head office for barcode scanning.

The NBTC will have the operators look into the rest of the cards to determine how many had been properly registered, whether any had been used without registering and where the suspects had bought them.

The regulator also found that some retail vendors had registered SIMs under their own names before selling them to customers, which it said was illegal.

The NBTC will charge the suspects with having telecom devices without a licence.

The three Chinese men were arrested in Aranyaprathet district on Monday after police raided one of their houses on suspicion that they were running a call-centre scam. Instead, they found more than 300,000 SIM cards and almost 500 mobile phones in two houses.

The trio claimed they operated a "click farm" by automating the sending of likes and shares for products sold online in China to boost sales. THis was done mainly through the instant messaging app WeChat as Facebook is not available in China.

The suspects were initially charged with overstaying their visas, working without permits and using unregistered SIM cards.

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