Clandestine technological networks, illegal procedures committed for years ... Juventud Rebelde expands on the elements that confirm the fraud of this company in Cuba
In October 2014, the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA) blocked a total of 238 prepaid SIM cards contracted by natural persons for use in the national territory. Their deactivation was due to the fact that they were part of an illegal telephone network, set up in a private house in the municipality of Guanabacoa, in Havana.
The clandestine network was organized by citizen Ariel Lores Báez to send and receive text messages and voice calls between our country and the rest of the world, obviating the official rates in force.
The dismantling of the aforementioned network was the second of its kind carried out by the Cuban authorities against Lores Báez. Between January 2010 and April 2011, this citizen had operated a similar network for voice calls, in which he used fixed telephone lines and Wi-Fi networks, according to the records of the Etecsa Anti-Fraud Department, which was accessed by this newspaper .
The goal of Lores Báez, says Etecsa, was to create the basis for operating the company Cuballama in our country, knowing that it was an illegal procedure. This company belongs to one of his personal friends: Víctor Castro Vaquero, who serves as its president.
Recently Cuballama, with its tax office in Canada, has categorically denied having a presence in Cuba. Evidence like this, in the possession of Etecsa, and others that we present below, indicate otherwise.
When publishing the report Cuballama: on the route of telephone frauds, Juventud Rebelde can affirm that we had contacted the company, via the web, to know their impressions on the telephone services that they render to Cuba, and that we had not received any answer.
The investigation carried out by our newspaper, released to the public in our Sunday edition of November 20, exposes the accusations of Etecsa on telephone frauds that occur in the national territory, in violation of Cuban laws, which cause losses to this Company by concept of income left to receive valued at about six million dollars annually.
On Monday, November 21, Cuballama published a statement in its blog, where it says that it had answered JR's questions, and proves it with screenshots showing what was sent electronically as irrefutable proof of it. While not taking into account that a digital capture is not definitive proof, since it is very easy to manipulate with the current technologies, this editor assures that he never received such electronic answers in his mailbox. Supposedly they went astray in cyberspace. It would not be the first time, nor will be the last, in which an email does not reach its destination. What Juventus Rebelde will never do is lie to our readers. We owe them. They have been the raison d'être in these 51 years history.
However, Cuballama's answers to our questions, once made public, encouraged us to return to the subject.
Thus, we wanted to know how correct are the statements of the president of Cuballama, Víctor Castro Vaquero, when he says that his company has no presence inside the Island and adds that "we do not participate, nor have we participated in any of the schemes that the author describes ", referring to the facts presented in the previous report.
Jorge Mario Sacre, head of the Anti-Fraud Department of Etecsa, asserts that Vaquero's statements are totally false. "Cuballama, through natural persons, has organized and implemented fraud structures in the country, which we have deactivated".
In addition to the networks already described, Etecsa provided the newspaper with an investigation carried out by the company explaining how a similar one was dismantled, which operated between March 2011 and September 2012. In that case, illegal SMS shipments were also detected through 23 cell lines registered as prepaid customers by natural persons. The network had been organized by two other friends of the president of Cuballama, who recognized him in subsequent investigations, in which the Etecsa Anti-Fraud Department participated.
It is added that "the blocking of lines detected by Etecsa in the commission of frauds coincided with publications of problems in the services on the Cuballama website, which was justified to its users" for reasons beyond our control " said Sacre.
It does not just happen on the web of this company. We found a publication on the official Cuballama Facebook page dated November 7, 2014, which explains that the SMS service to Cuba was restored, interrupted by causes beyond their control.
The president of Cuballama states in his blog that there is no international law or regulation that requires them to sign a contract with a specific country to offer telecommunications services to it, so it is not required to deal directly with Etecsa. Is this true?
Bery Zas Poppe, lawyer and legal counsel for Etecsa, explains that he is right in part. "Although Cuballama is not obliged to sign a contract with a specific operator and can deliver its services through third parties, all voice traffic or text messages must end up at the telephone exchanges of Etecsa, the only telecommunications operator authorized to provide the Service in Cuba ", he details.
The opinion of this Lawyer is supported by Jorge Mario Sacre. "In these bilateral agreements there are agreed payments for finished voice traffic and SMS balances. What can never happen is that traffic ends in fraudulent structures within the country, evading payments and violating its legal framework.
-In the previous part of this investigation we explained how Cuballama the uses gateway fraud, from data provided by the Etecsa Anti-Fraud Department, can you expand on this?
-Cuba receives the international traffic of calls and text messages through two international telephone exchanges within the country, which are in charge of distributing the content to transit centres, which then direct it to the end user through corresponding centres, details Sacre.
"When entering the country a call or a text message coming from an operator with which Etecsa has a signed agreement, the content transits through these three levels. Cuballama violates this process. The call or text message from outside that uses the services of that company does not travel through the international exchanges of Etecsa.
"It is likely that Cuballama has agreements with operators who buy packages to Cuba and manage SMS, and therefore use this route to route calls and messages to Cuba, concedes Sacre. But on other occasions it directs traffic via the internet directly to a gateway that is part of a fraudulent structure, thus introducing it directly to a local exchange.
"Bypassing Etecsa's international headquarters, the call or text message is directed to operating locations in Cuba, usually located in private homes, such as the one discovered in Guanabacoa. This structure of fraud is detected by Etecsa given the unusual behaviour of the traffic of calls and SMS in the fixed or mobile lines used, which typify certain patterns of fraud and the calls are shown as national, but in fact come from the outside, he said.
"When we look at the traffic of cell lines that are detected with anomalous behaviour, it is noticed that they have sent many calls or messages to national clients for long periods. Even for a time Cuballama users in Cuba, when they answered a call from abroad, the caller ID showed them as a Cuban subscriber. "
This national number in the caller ID, being connected to a manipulated network, can be changed, clarifies Sacre. "Initially users received calls from abroad identified with Cuban numbers and reported to Etecsa, were missed. The method has been refined. Now they change the numbers so they look international. "
The same process occurs with outgoing SMS, adds Sacre. In the Simbox seized by Etecsa – the machines that process the traffic of multiple cell lines at the same time - the lines contained had received messages from national subscribers, then sent them to a computer and, via software, the processor centre of Cuballama on the outside, to be delivered to its recipients.
Etecsa, on the other hand, only receives the traffic of national SMS, for which it charges the rate of nine cents CUC, when the message costs 60 cents CUC, on average. Sacre notes that these messages are not only destined to the United States, they are distributed all over the world.
In its communiqué reply to our news paper, Cuballama also claims that it recently tried to work with Etecsa. Luis Manuel Díaz Naranjo, director of Institutional Communication at Etecsa, contacted for this report, said that they have had no official communication whatsoever.
- With whom does Etecsa have contractual links? What principles do you consider when establishing these relationships, and why has Cuballama not been included in this list?
-When an operator or company approaches Etecsa in an international event or sends a business proposal for the termination of traffic in Cuba, a commercial analysis is carried out. If it is internationally recognized, it evaluates the market share, the final customers it owns, among other requirements. It also analyzes the feasibility of the proposal and responds to the needs and demands of our business plan. We cannot create relationships with companies of dubious origin, says Diaz Naranjo.
Today Etecsa has signed Direct Interconnection Agreements for the exchange of international voice traffic with 39 of the world's leading telecommunications operators, and roaming agreements with another 408 from 163 countries.
In a commentary published in Cuballama's response to Juventud Rebelde's article, a user inquired: "(...) It would be good to know why, if there is a zero operation in Cuba, the relatives there (in our country) are given a number of a local cell phone to respond to the SMS of the relatives here (abroad). Even the caller ID shows the name of the person whose name in Cuba is that number that Cuballama uses (...) ».
Cuballama responded as follows: "That service, like so many others we offer, we buy from a supplier. We do not know exactly how it works, what we can tell you is that before the access numbers were physical numbers that corresponded to two copper cables, but now the telephone numbers are virtual and that we ourselves have virtual numbers from the United States, Canada, and several European countries, so the provider will probably use virtual numbers.
- Can a provider use virtual numbers for the SMS service from Cuba, or are these numbers registered by Etecsa in the name of natural persons?
-We can confirm that the access numbers in Cuba for the communication with Cuballama are real, of the prepaid sector of the mobile service, assigned to natural persons. They are not virtual, "says Diaz Naranjo.
«Cuballama obtains the lines through direct business between its operators in Cuba and natural persons.
They even take up the cost of the line. They also use other tricks to incorporate more lines into their structures, supplanting the identity of people, of whom we have formal complaints in the company. "
Currently, 14 real numbers, hired by natural persons, operate in the illegal Cuballama network in the country. Of these, five were blocked last Thursday, December 8. The other nine, involved in voice and SMS fraud will be tapped from Monday, Etecsa said.
The illegal actions of Cuballama are denounced even by the same users of Etecsa, although they do not know it. In a complaint made to the company, from which we obtained a copy and we will reserve the identity of the subscriber, he expresses nonconformity of text messages that reach that person of the number +17864562764, which contain reference numbers 55008428 and 55008440. Etecsa officials say these numbers are part of Cuballama's illegal network in the country.
There is still more. If we go back to March 4, 2011, on its website Cuballama announced the SMS service to Cuba. Its users could use it if they sent the text messages to the national subscribers 53262661, 53445031 or 53336199. Etecsa provided Juventud Rebeldewith the traffic report of the last subscriber.
Hired by a female person, with legal address in Guanabacoa, La Habana, the report shows numerous outgoing messages to the number 16472719462. This subscriber belongs to Víctor Castro Vaquero.
A report from the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), publicly available on the Internet, shows subscriber 16472719462 as a contact for Vaquero. This is a request for authorization from you, as the owner of Alegro Mobile LLC, to be an international telephony operator.
Despite all this evidence, Sacre comments that Etecsa does not question Cuballama's legal behavior outside Cuba. However, what happens within our territory is not respectful and is unacceptable. "They terminate international traffic in our national networks through gateways and use the networks of our users' services, violating the country's rules", he claims.
"In addition, there are contradictions between what Vaquero claims and then what Cuballama responds, as a company, on his own website. How can he say that he is strict in his legality and then assures that he hires a message provider for Cuba, of which he does not know how it operates? ", emphasizes the specialist.
"Cuballama violates our regulations and harms our users, who are affected in their services by violating clauses of signed contracts. This also affects the image and credibility of the company, "says Sacre.
The solution to a problem like this depends on many factors. Despite the explanations of Etecsa, it is clear that the new technologies change at an accelerated pace and Cuba does not have an updated legal framework for these types of crimes directly.
We also consider price regulation as a very important factor. The comments on the web of our newspaper, about the previous delivery of this report, leave no room for doubt. In that sense, Etecsa insists that it will continue to have a policy to lower prices, as long as economic conditions permit.
We also argue that under no circumstances can the high cost of a service be raised as an argument to justify an illegal activity.
Fraud as a global scourge does not go away with just reducing costs. Contrary to what some consider, it is linked to the ethical-moral values of the people.
Translated by ESTI