Representational image
Representational image

Telecom tower fraudsters are on the prowl again. People owning land, house, building or any real estate, especially in towns and semi-urban villages do not exercise caution and fall prey to enticing and attractive advertisements, phone calls or individuals offering high rents, to set up telecom towers on their property.

Telecom service providers, along with Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), is in the process of developing awareness campaigns, to warn the public of tower fraudsters across many cities in India. The number of telecom frauds is very high across states like Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, etc.

Such frauds are a drain not only on such gullible people but also on the telecom industry in India that has invested more than Rs 11.25 lakh crore to set up 5.95 lakh towers. Telecom towers are critical for mounting repeaters for transmitting calls using the licenced spectrum (the authorized airwaves, secured by operators for which they pay fee and share revenue with the government).

“The Telecom industry is committed to providing the best quality of service to its consumers. We would like to inform consumers that a mobile tower is legally installed either by telecom service providers or the authorised Infrastructure Provider (IP-I). Therefore, before considering any such offers and certainly before committing any money, consumers must check the bonafide and authenticity of the persons on the related company website. Our member operators are in the process of implementing various measures as per the instructions from the regulator in this regard.,” said Rajan S Mathews, Director General COAI.

Legally, one can install towers on-premises if it is owned and property is in the person’s name requesting for installation of tower. They can earn anywhere between Rs 10,000 to Rs. 10 lakh per month, but need to always, cross-check with the concerned firms which are registered and authorized by the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) to install them. The cost of installation is free.

Infrastructure Providers (Category-I) operators are licenced to install towers like Indus Towers Ltd. Never approach directly to telecom services providers like Airtel, Jio or Vodafone-Idea Ltd.

The list of authorized firms and the due process to follow is well explained on the DoT website.

But the greed of additional income, huge profit, easy paperwork and lack of complete knowledge about the process of installing towers, is resulting in people experiencing a significant financial loss.

The modus operandi of these tower fraudsters is to lure people through advertisement and calls that promise them a slew of benefits with a lucrative monthly rent. The benefits they offer are high rentals, free installation of tower, waiver of mandatory payment of fees to the local municipal bodies and gifts like a free mobile phone.

In return, they ask the unsuspecting owner of a property to submit in a bank account, mobile wallet or cash an amount as a tax for installing towers. The amount could range from Rs.15, 000-Rs.50, 000. Promptly a receipt is also issued in the name of a fabricated firm, representing, TRAI, DoT or any of the telecom service providers.

Once the payment is made, these fraudsters close down their operations and move to another city or locality to dupe new set of unsuspecting people.

In December 2019, TRAI had informed COAI and Tower and Infrastructure Providers Association (TAIPA) that, it had received about 15 complaints per day regarding telecom tower fraud.

“Our members, the telecom Infrastructure providers have been taking several steps to caution the general public and have devised ways and means to collect the property information from potential vendors through various official channels,” said T R Dua, Director General TAIPA.

Sources in TRAI said that the number of complaints in the last two months is about the same.

“We are in discussion with COAI and other stakeholders like TAIPA to have a slew of measures, like a banner on their websites and apps and a dedicated customer care number that will help clear doubts and get clarity regarding tower installation frauds,” sources in TRAI said.

TRAI has already released advertisements warning people to be safe from the fraudsters. Officials in TRAI reiterated that the regulator is not directly or indirectly involved in leasing/renting of premises for installing mobile towers.

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