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Alleged SMS scammer from Kaikōura formally charged by Department of Internal Affairs

Technology / news
Alleged SMS scammer from Kaikōura formally charged by Department of Internal Affairs
SIM Boxes
Some of the SIM boxes seized by DIA as part of "Operation Cargo"

The Department of Internal Affairs' ongoing "Operation Cargo", part of a nationwide effort to clamp down on text messaging scammers, has seen an unnamed 28-year-old Kaikōura man formally charged.

Over the last few months, the DIA has released more details about "Operation Cargo", although much is being kept under wraps as it's an ongoing investigation.

In 2023, the DIA said it executed 12 search warrants across New Zealand. As part of that, the department said it seized over 4000 items used by the scammers.

This included $35,000 worth of subscriber identity module (SIM) cards; these were used in SIM banks or boxes, to route short messaging service (SMS) texts over the Internet to potential scam victims.

SIM cards seized as part of 'Operation Cargo'. Source: DIA

The DIA also said it seized nearly $10,000 worth of luxury items such as a designer handbag, and skincare products, as well as over $65,000 in cash.

Little is known about the network of scammers targeted by the DIA, apart from it being transnational and responsible for most SMS fraud attempts in New Zealand last year.

In February, The New Zealand Herald reported that two men, aged 18 and 19, had been charged with phishing under "Operation Cargo".

The men are British nationals, and were arrested in central Auckland. Police said they seized laptops, phones, SIM cards and electronics used for the scams, which had been taking part since 2022 and ramped up significantly last year.

After "Operation Cargo" was launched, the DIA said it saw an 83% drop in scams reported to the free 7726 short-code SMS number it runs.

Several government agencies and organisations worked on "Operation Cargo": apart from the DIA, the NZ Police, Customs and CERT NZ were involved, along with telco providers.

Police and DIA advises people who receive suspicious messages to forward them to 7726 for free. If anyone thinks they've fallen victim for a scam, they can report it to the Police on 105 via phone, or over the web.

Update We asked One NZ how the scammers got all the SIM cards, and spokesperson Nicky Preston replied: “the scammers bought SIM cards from a range of telco providers via legitimate reseller channels. We have since worked with the reseller in question to put additional controls into vetting the distributors they sell to, and are implementing strong technology measures to combat this type of phishing scam.”

“Scammers are persistent and increasingly sophisticated. It’s a bit like playing whack-a-mole, and we’re constantly evolving to respond.

“We’re grateful for the work the DIA has done to crack down on the bad actors within Operation Cargo," Preston added.




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Awesome to see something tangible being done to stop these scum.  Not a great advert for vodafONE  how did this loser get all those sim cards?