Smugglers find new ways to get illegal phones registered

Air travellers complain other mobile phones are being registered on their passport numbers

Salman Siddiqui June 03, 2019

KARACHI: It has been over two months since Rashid Mateen has been running from pillar to post in an effort to get his legally imported mobile phone registered with Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to avoid it getting blocked. However, he has remained unsuccessful so far.

Mateen revealed that his brother, who lives in the US for over a decade now, brought a Samsung phone for him when he visited Karachi in February. “My brother declared the phone at the Customs counter on his arrival at the Karachi airport and Customs officials said the phone had been registered (with PTA).”

In an attempt to curb smuggling, the PTA has announced that it will block unregistered mobile phones. Latest rules and regulations allow international travellers to bring one mobile phone without paying any duty and taxes in a year.

The phone is registered on the travellers’ passport number with the condition that the travellers make a minimum seven-day stay abroad and that the duty exemption is given on one phone if the travellers get the phone registered with PTA within 60 days of arrival in Pakistan.

“I inserted my SIM in the phone and started using it. A couple of weeks later I started receiving messages from PTA to get your phone registered to avoid its blocking,” Mateen said.

“When I contacted PTA officials, they informed me that the phone is not registered with the authority.

“An investigation by PTA officials revealed that the phone my brother had declared at the airport was not registered, but three to four mobile phones not belonging to us had been registered on my brother’s passport number and that was why my duty-free imported phone was denied registration,” he said.

PTA rules allow the registration of a maximum of five phones on one passport in a year. First of the five phones is allowed duty free while the other four can be registered after paying import duty.

“I have lodged a complaint with PTA with documents to prove that those three to four phones registered on my brother’s passport number do not belong to us,” he added.

“The phones were registered days before my brother visited us...Let’s see what happens next,” he said.

Now, to continue using his phone, Mateen has to pay import duty to get the set registered with PTA since it has been over 60 days since his brother brought the device.

A brief investigation revealed that Mateen’s brother was not the only victim of this scam, other travellers too had faced misuse of their travel documents.

The development suggests that phone smugglers have adopted new ways to get their illegally imported or smuggled phones registered with PTA to avoid blocking after the regulator warned that no phones brought into Pakistan through illegal means after January 15 would be allowed to function.

Previously, PTA had extended the deadline for registration at least twice during the fourth quarter (October-December) of previous year.

After the last deadline of January 15 passed, PTA started randomly blocking unregistered imported and smuggled phones.

Sharing a case similar to Mateen’s brother, Muhammad Shahid told The Express Tribune “my brother’s phone has been blocked by PTA.”

“He had bought the phone from Karachi’s leading mobile phone market. The vendor assured him it was a duty-paid mobile phone. He paid over Rs100,000 to buy the high-end phone. The price included nearly Rs38,000 import duty on the phone,” he revealed.

Import duties vary with prices of phones. The fixed import duty begins with a minimum Rs400 per set and goes as high as Rs41,000, according to the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).

An office-bearer of the Karachi Electronic Dealers Association (KEDA) said there were millions of illegally imported mobile phones available in markets. They were at risk of closure. “Buyers need to make sure they are buying a PTA-approved phone,” he said.

“Unapproved phones are mostly available …without phone box and accessories (like charger and hand-free). Such phones are commonly called ‘kits’ in the market,” he said.

He said Pakistan was a more than one million smartphone market a month. “About 40% to 60% of them are smuggled phones,” he estimated.

There are a total of 161 million registered mobile phone numbers (SIMs) working in Pakistan while 67 million of them are 3G/4G mobile internet users, according to PTA.

“Even mobile phone manufacturers registered with PTA have been caught smuggling mobile phones into Pakistan. They did so to avoid paying higher taxes and duties on legal import,” he pointed out.

“The illegally imported or smuggled phones, however, can be registered with PTA by paying the required import duty. This is a must to avoid the blocking of phones,” said a PTA official.

“The blocked phones can also be unblocked by paying the required import/customs duty,” he said.

Only those phones cannot be registered with PTA that are not original or are a copy of original phones. They would ultimately face permanent blocking.

Anyone can check whether his/her phone is registered with PTA or not through sending an SMS carrying a 15-digit IMEI number of the phone to 8484. The IMEI number can be obtained from the mobile phone box, or through typing *#06# from the phone number dialling pad.

If you receive the reply as “PTA compliant”, it means the phone is registered with PTA. But in case, you receive replies like “PTA non-compliant” or “valid”, it means the phone-maker, brand and the model are approved by PTA, but the phone set is not registered. It can be registered through paying import duty.

However, if the reply is “invalid”, it means the device is not an original phone and cannot be registered with PTA. The phone would ultimately be blocked and cannot be unblocked afterwards.

How to get phones registered with PTA

People can register their phones through filling an online form at PTA’s official website or through installing a PTA app called DIRBS (Device Identification, Registration and Blocking System).

The form would demand information such as name, mobile IMEI number, email address, mobile number, CNIC number/passport number/NICOP (for overseas Pakistanis)/B-form number, postal address, etc. The form submission would create a long number called PSID. PTA may send the PSID to the consumer on his/her email address or mobile phone number through SMS. Phone owners need to mention the PSID number in the form to be submitted at the time of paying import duty at a bank counter or through online banking channels.

If all goes well, the consumers will receive an online message from PTA, saying “your device is approved”, it has been learnt.

the writer is a staff correspondent

Published in The Express Tribune, June 3rd, 2019.

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syed bashir ahmed | 5 years ago | Reply Why doesn't the government take strict action against these smugglers and fraudsters? Why the common man has to suffer? The main culprit are the custom officials at the airport who pass on the passengers information to these fraudsters.
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