Calling 9999999999

The black market in VIP mobile phone numbers
It Happens
DIAL FRIENDLY:  VIP numbers sell for sums up to Rs 2.5 lakh

If you ever see someone with a very interesting phone number, then chances are that it is a VIP number, and, what’s more, it was bought in a unique black market of telephone numbers.

VIP numbers are those in which the digits follow a pattern. It could be one digit repeated several times—99999-xxxxx or xx-8888-xxxx; two digits—xx-85-85-85-xx; or in different orders—xx-123-123-xx or xx-11-112233.

There is a legitimate way of getting these numbers. Network providers sell it for a price. Five-digit combinations cost between Rs 15,000 and
Rs 25,000; six-digit combinations from Rs 25,000 to Rs 75,000; and for 8-digit combinations, the price can go as high as Rs 2.5 lakh. “The entire procedure is transparent and available on the company website,” says a telecom company official.

In reality, however, all the numbers are cornered and the unsuspecting consumer has to pay a premium to buy it in the black market. A computer businessman from Gurgaon, who does not want to be named, says he gets hold of these numbers using contacts in telecom companies. They inform him in advance of the launch of new number series. Explaining the concept of series, he cites a number, 858687xx88, which has 32 possible mobile number combinations. He buys all of them.

“I then sell at a 10 per  cent profit,” he says. Interestingly, he says combinations of 3, 6 and 8 are less preferred.

Tarun Sangwan, a student of architectural design in Delhi, says he found out from friends about VIP numbers being sold cheap and bought them so that he could resell them at a profit.  “Hexa-nine numbers (999999xxxx) are costlier than penta-nine ones (99999xxxxx),” he says.
Most VIP numbers are invariably already bought, even before the general public becomes aware of them. Already existing numbers are traded too. Past users sell them online through websites that offer local classified ads. A cursory search online to buy VIP numbers gets you various advertisements
by private individuals. The prices range from Rs 250 to Rs 40,000.

The more unique the number, the pricier it is.

For very special numbers, network providers host auctions. This is how, according to a report in The Times of India, a Ludhiana resident, Amit Malhotra, bought his phone number for Rs. 15.50 lakh in 2007.