They also claimed, variously, as much as three quarters of prepay handsets went to box breakers in certain stores in central London.
Store staff at 3, Vodafone, O2 and T-Mobile claimed area and store managers turn a blind eye to the practice, as well as to the tactics used by sales staff to sidestep measures put in place by the networks to prevent the practice.
Staff said they photocopied the barcodes on large quantities of prepay handsets so they could hand over goods to box breakers in a single action, but appear to scan the mobiles through the till at a steady pace during the course of their shifts.
An O2 sales advisor said: “Box breaking is a necessary evil. If we don’t sell to box breakers, then we don’t hit targets, simple as that. We call up box breakers ourselves if we are struggling [to meet targets]. We have a list of contact numbers in our stock room.”
One T-Mobile advisor, who’s target is to sell 114 prepay handsets a month, claimed 75 per cent of sales went to box breakers. “If they disappeared we would really struggle to hit our targets,” he said.
Staff at one 3 store in London’s West End claimed as many as one in two prepay handsets are sold to box breakers. Several London-based Vodafone sales staff said one in 10 went to box breakers.
A box breaker on Oxford Street in London told Mobile News: “We get most of our handsets from Vodafone stores in Oxford Street, Tottenham Court Road and Holborn. We also collect from Phones 4U, O2, Carphone Warehouse and Orange.”
Networks’ attempts to stem box breaking by forcing customers to top-up handsets at point of sale have played into the hands of box breakers too, it was claimed.
“We just sell on the SIM card with the credit and make a £5 profit,” said a box breaker.
Staff from various network retailers reported taking small bribery gifts – including bracelets, lunches, bottles of spirits and soft drinks and even perfume – in a bid to build a bonding relationship between them.
Vodafone and O2 said they were putting measures in place to stamp out the practice.
3 said it was least affected, as its subsidies were slighter.