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Box breakers taking in £60k a fortnight

Michael Garwood
May 12, 2011

Box breakers say business is better than ever to to the rise in demand for smartphones with Apple and BlackBerry providing the greatest profits

Box breakers are earning sums of up to £60,000 for just a few weeks’ work, by targeting non-mobile specialists, with Apple emerging as the biggest target.

The subject of box breaking, which sees handsets purchased from a store, unlocked and sold off for a greater value, has been away from the headlines for the past year or so as a result of network operators cracking down on the practice.

But the opinion of box breakers today is business is better than ever, and with the rise in smartphone popularity the opportunity for higher profit-margins has grown exponentially.

According to box breakers, the strongest demand for devices comes from areas such as the Middle East, South Asia, Dubai and West Africa, where a number of manufacturers do not supply directly. Apple and BlackBerry are the most in demand and generate highest profits, they claim.

Targeted stock includes the BlackBerry 9780, BlackBerry Torch, HTC Desire HD, Samsung Galaxy S and the Google Nexus S.

They claim to be making in excess of 40 and 50 per cent on the higher-value products. UK handset distributors typically earn between two and five per cent on sold devices, relying on volumes to make solid profits, sources claim.

The Apple iPhone 4, which launched in the UK in June, is one of the more popular and profitable devices requested by box breakers, who claim to target Apple stores directly.

Unlocked devices in some international markets are said to fetch up to £800 each for the 32GB version, £188 more the UK retail price.

The Apple iPad and iPad 2 tablet devices have also seen significant demand in the past 12 months since first launched.

The 32GB iPad 2, which launched in the UK on March 25, is the most profitable opportunity for box breakers at present. The retail price at the time of writing is £579 for the 64GB, 3G model.

Other devices from popular manufacturers such as BlackBerry, HTC and Samsung are also continuing to provide solid profit opportunities.

One box breaker said demand for the BlackBerry Torch, which has a handset-only price in the UK of about £450, has seen it fetching about £800 in some markets.

And box breakers claim to be making up to £1,000 when re-selling the iPad 2 in other markets, with particular demand coming from Dubai, and say people are being sent to the UK from these countries to collect devices to bring back.

One source told Mobile News known box breakers are earning up to £60,000 for two weeks’ work, as well as being given free flights and accommodation.

One box breaker said: “It’s become a massive business. A lot of people see it as a dirty way of trading but people are making millions from it. Most of the people who do it do not live in the UK and speak very little English.

“They are sent to the UK with a bank card to buy as many handsets as they can to fulfil an order from their boss. These guys can earn £60,000 in two weeks, more than the average person in England earns in a year. They are hired to do a job and may not work the rest of the year.

“When there is a big launch, that’s when these guys appear. They will have a specific agenda on which places to attack. It’s a well organised operation.”

Handsets are increasingly being sourced through non-traditional mobile sellers targets, such as Asda, Argos, Tesco, Currys and PC World, which were described by one box breaker as “easy targets” due to limited to no security measures to thwart their attempts.

Operators cracked down on the practice after ugly headlines surfaced regarding significant levels of box breaking, namely in O2 and Carphone Warehouse stores, for the original iPhone, which could be purchased in store without signing to a contact.

Another box breaker added: “There has been a switch from the traditional stores. O2, Vodafone, Carphone Warehouse have all tightened up on selling to box breakers. There was a time when you could get what you want whenever you wanted and staff would call you when it was a good time to come in and when stock was available.

“Although this still exists, it has been reduced. The supermarkets are the easiest places to get stock. Staff turnover is typically high so recognition isn’t really an issue and there are rarely any obstacles put in front anyway.”

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