ABU DHABI // Buyers are paying up to 20 times the retail price for Blackberrys with personal identification numbers (pins) that are easy to remember or "special" in some way. The popular mobile devices use eight-character codes to enable users to communicate with each other, free, via BlackBerry Messenger.
Handsets with the "VIP" or exclusive pins - sequences that are easy to remember with repeats of a particular number or letter, or that happen to spell out a familiar word - are much sought after. "You're lucky if you have these numbers," said Bin Saif, owner of Al Shamil Auctions in Dubai, who buys and sells BlackBerry handhelds with the special pins. "At first, no one knew that BlackBerrys had pin numbers, but now they are becoming more popular," added Mr bin Saif, who also sells "special" mobile phone numbers and "VIP" car licence plates.
The price of a BlackBerry with an easy pin can range from Dh10,000 (US$2,700) to Dh40,000. Buyers trawl websites and classified ads where traders and individuals post details of BlackBerrys with good pins. Faisal Shehab, 31, from Abu Dhabi, bought 80 of the devices from Dubai and sold them to mobile phone shops in the capital about seven months ago. Since the pin can be found on the packaging, Mr Shehab was able to pick the ones he wanted.
"Shop owners were wondering what I was looking for, they didn't know pin numbers existed," he said. The most expensive phone he sold went for Dh35,000 because it included the number six repeated seven times. Although he sold the phones, Mr Shehab said he did not think it practical to spend that much on a pin, because the number was associated specifically with its device. "If the phone breaks, you lose the pin number too," he said. "I once had a BlackBerry with a special pin - then it got ruined because of the humidity. So I took it to fix it, they told me they will have to give me a new phone instead."
But others will go to great lengths to find a pin they want. One buyer, who asked to be identified only as YM, said he had paid Dh22,000 for a pin. "I wanted to buy a number that matched all my other numbers - my phone number, my e-mail, my PO box number, my car plate number and driving licence. They all have the same sequence of repeated twos," he said. "Two is my lucky number. I didn't want anyone else to take it, so I had an open budget for it."
When YM heard that BlackBerrys had pins, he began his search. He knew it wasn't going to be easy because "these numbers are worldwide and not just in the UAE", he said. "I was looking for it on the internet and I asked my friends, until I finally came across an ad by Mohammed [a seller] and I got in touch with him." YM said his hunt for the pin lasted two months. Within a week of hearing from YM, Mohammed was able to import a BlackBerry with the appropriate pin.
Mohammed has been in the business of selling BlackBerry phones for less than a month and already, he has sold five devices to different buyers in the Gulf region. He said he imported the phones and the price he paid for them also depended on the pin. "The most expensive pins are the ones with the seven repeats of the same number. The price goes lower, if there are less repeated numbers," said Mohammed, who sells car plate numbers as well. "The demand has been increasing. People want numbers that are easy to memorise and grab attention."
Mobile phone shopkeepers said they have also noticed an increase in customers looking for exclusive pins. "We have about five to 10 people a day who walk in and ask for a BlackBerry with a good pin number," said Abdul Latef al Barum, of Prince Mobile Phones on Defence Road in Abu Dhabi. "We didn't know there was something special about BlackBerrys. We were just selling them, we sold about 100. But then we understood that they had pin numbers which were important to some people."
Shop managers said they would add at least Dh500 to the price of a BlackBerry if it had a desirable pin because they themselves bought them at a higher cost. But the phones that go for the very much higher rates are mostly traded on a personal level and not through shops. BlackBerry pins have been added to the list of expensive numbers such as "special" car licence plates that can sell for up to millions of dirhams and phone numbers that can fetch hundreds of thousands through classified advertisements, magazines and websites.
Most customers who asks for unique pin numbers are Emirati men whose ages range between 20 and 28, said Mr al Barum. "A few girls ask for them, too," he added. "Now the demand is increasing, because all the good pin numbers are gone so it's even harder to find an easy number." "People pay for what they like," said Mohammed. "Some pay for things that only last a day and others would rather spend money on a pin number."
* The National