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DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - Tanzania's telecoms regulator has disconnected 600,000 mobile phones from mobile networks in an effort to stamp out counterfeit devices that it says are often used for fraudulent transactions on mobile payment systems and in other crimes.

Poorly made counterfeit phones, imported mainly from Asia, are prevalent in many African nations and regulators say they are widely used by criminals because they are difficult to track.

The Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority's (TCRA) communications manager, Innocent Mungy, said that all devices with invalid International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers were disconnected on Thursday. IMEI numbers are most commonly used to deny network access when phones have been reported as stolen.

The watchdog had announced the move in February and launched a campaign to encourage people to switch to non-counterfeit devices, but Thursday's big switch-off came as a shock to many who rely on their handsets to transact business and stay in touch, while mobile operator Vodacom said the reduced telephone and data traffic would hit revenue.

"I woke up to check my phone only to see an indication of 'no service' and I realised my phone was blocked," 
said Amina Juma, a street food vendor in Dar es Salaam, adding that she will find it tough to raise funds to buy a new handset.

Vodacom head of communications Rosalynn Mworia said that the company would suffer financially from the shutdown but that it was too early to quantify the losses.

The company has embarked on a campaign to sell low-priced phones nationwide as a way of mitigating the loss, Mworia said.

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