Jun 02

Buying a smart phone on Craigslist? What to do if the phone you bought has a bad ESN or IMEI and how to avoid this happening to you!

Every day thousands of used and new cell phones make their way to Craigslist to be sold.  Most of the time, the seller has gotten a new phone and wants to get some cash back for the old one, the transaction goes fine, and  everyone’s happy. Seller has cash and the buyer has a new usable phone with no 2 year contract. The last thing anyone wants to do is get cheated or scammed,  shell out $300-$400 on a shiny paperweight.


 In response to the hundreds of emails this post has generated – we now offer  a discount on the checkmend service  at our website. http://www.mobilelizard.com.   Here you will be able to enter your phones  esn/imei/meid or serial number  to get the report which will tell you definitively whether or not your phone is currently blacklisted. 


Before we get into anything else, a little primer:

In the USA Sprint and Verizon phones operate on the CDMA using ESN numbers (sometimes called the MEID#) to identify each individual phone active on their network.  AT&T  & TMOBILE  operate on the GSM network . They use IMEI numbers to identify each phone. (These phones also use  sim cards)  For more of an indepth explanation on these systems – see the following link to an article at diffen.com

Cell phone companies can Blacklist (Block) any ESN or IMEI number, rendering the phone useless. Once a phone is blocked  it will be problematic to get it activated.  Prior to 2011/2012 it was fairly unusual for  phone companies to block phones for any reason other than non payment.  However with the popularity of the more expensive iphone and samsung galaxy models , Verizon and Sprint began to actively block ESN numbers due to a high incidence of  fraud.  Tmobile and AT&T joined in the activity to block IMEI numbers as well, and  as of 2013  AT&T and Tmobile have been sharing a ‘blocked imei list’.  This means its no longer possible to unlock a blocked AT&T phone and use it on a different network: Tmobile, simple mobile etc. Neither is it possible to unlock a Tmobile phone to use on any GSM network inside the USA.

 There are Bad people on Craigslist:

Unfortunately there are others who prey on buyers’  lack of this knowledge for the sole purpose of  getting quick cash.

These  sellers usually have one of  a few different scenarios going:

1. Individuals who bought bad esn phones themselves and are trying to pawn them off on others.

2. Individuals who have a large outstanding balance on their cell phone bill. Instead of paying it, they sell  the phone, collect the cash  leaving unsuspecting buyers to deal with the outcome.

3. Individuals selling stolen smartphones or smartphones they found.

4. Organized re-sellers – Individuals who earn extra cash by buying a brand new smartphone with a 2 year contract at  a low price (usually one of the top sellers – iphones/ Samsung galaxy phones)  then selling it at retail value, then reporting the phone lost or stolen to the phone company.

In each of these cases, if you’ve bought one of these smartphones:  Past due balance on phone/ Phone Reported Lost or Stolen,  you may find the phone works for a short time, but will cease to function shortly after purchase.  When you call the service provider  to find out what the problem is you’ll be told  by Sprint or Verizon that your phone has a BAD or BLOCKED ESN number, or in the case of  Tmobile and AT&T  the phone has a BLOCKED IMEI number

If you have bought a phone with a bad esn or bad imei number chances are you have a very expensive brick  /ipod/extra drive on your hands.  9 times out of 10 the buyer will not respond to your emails or calls. Plus the cellphone companies are not  exactly the most helpful when it comes to this scenario.  You’re pretty much on your own.


How to avoid buying a bad/blocked  smartphone:

There’s no 100% foolproof method of avoiding the bad smartphone deal on craigslist, but  there are a few ways to ensure you don’t become a willing victim.

1. Do your research.  As the old saying goes, “if its too good to be true…” If a brand new unlocked samsung galaxy s4 costs $700 retail at new egg or amazon/ebay  and someone’s selling one for $500, .     Many buyers fail to realize they don’t pay the true retail value of a smartphone at sprint/verizon/tmobile/at&t . Their price is subsidized. Don’t jump at the deal because the price is great. If you want to know what the real cost of the phone is  a little research will help.  Look around at new egg or online retailers to see what the lowest price is. Then see if the seller’s price is inline with that.  If you ask for $100 off and they agree, there is a chance something may be wrong with the phone

2. Ask  the seller questions:   If the phone is brand new – ask for the carrier details and more pictures.  If its used , ask  for pictures to show the condition, whether there is water damage, why they’re selling phone etc.

3. Try to buy from a reputable person on craigslist.  Ask  your friends for a referral.  If the seller has posted a website or store name/phone number  google it to see what’s been written about them. Email or call directly.

4. Make sure the serial number on the box  matches the serial number on the phone

5. Check blocked ESN and IMEI lists to see if the phone you plan to buy is on it.  Calll Sprint/Verizon/Tmobile/ATT  to check the number and see if there’s any outstanding issue.  You can get the ESN or IMEI number from the seller .  Some  sellers will provide the number without an issue. Some will not to prevent being found out, or to  protect themselves from scammers and cloners looking for clean ESN and IMEI numbers.

6. If the seller will not give you the IMEI or ESN before hand you can run a check when you meet up, but before you pay either by calling the service provider or using the following tool :  CHECKMEND.  – Available at our website<


The fix  is IN

At mobilelizard.com  we get daily emails from craigslist and ebay buyers all over the USA who’ve  found themselves  with a blacklisted smartphone.  Bad news first:  There is no known ‘legal’ fix for a bad IMEI number that’s going to make it golden once more.   You can unlock the phone for use outside of the USA, or sell it to a repair shop for parts.  We provide unlocking services for most GSM phones on Tmobile and AT&T – iphone 5, iphone4s.  All Samsung Galaxy  models and Tabs, Blackberry (inlcuding Z10 and blackberry Q10) , Nokia, HTC, LG, Huawei, Alcatel etc.  We also unlock providers in Europe/ UK/ Latin America/South and Central America and the Caribbean.

For  Verizon users with Blacklisted ESNs – there is some recourse .  Thankfully, we can help to clean and clear bad ESNs and IMEIS in some cases.  Email us for more info.


We hope this has been helpful!

Let us know if you’d like to hear more!





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  1. Bryan

    Bought a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge from someone but it was blacklisted can it still be used ?

    1. admin

      Depends on the carrier – we’d need more info to make a determination on this. Thanks!

  2. Abdellah

    I a sprint htc one max bad imei . Can u unlock it?

    1. admin

      No we cannot.

  3. luis

    I bought a Black listed Galexy 4. The carrier is Us Celular. Is there a way to get it activated still??

    1. admin

      You can check in your area and see if anyone is flashing us cellular.

  4. Joe

    Bought a iphone plus from a seller and couldn’t unlock as there is pending payment on that att next account. Can i use with an att line or Will it be black listed?

    1. admin

      It can be unlocked. It just won’t work. So, no you can’t use with at&t or any other us carrier.

  5. emilee

    Bought an iphone 6 plus off craigslist
    Found out it was thru tmobile with a balance owed on it.
    Can i fix this or should i sell it for parts?

    1. admin

      Sell for parts

  6. brenda

    I bought an iPhone 6plus T-Mobile from a lady on Craigslist who said it had a a clean esn. I went to metro to activate but then was told it was on a negative list (someone reported stolen) -300 :'( I wounder if I could still sell the parts or something because I just lost 300

    1. admin

      Hello, unfortunately there is no fix for blacklisted Tmobile iphones. There is also no longer a working unlock for blacklisted or bad imei tmobile iphones. Sell for parts

  7. penny metheny

    I got ripped off on Craigslist by a lady..sold me a samsung note 3 still under contract. .she wont pay the bill. .is there anyway to help me …i am out 200.00..she won’t answer my calls the IMEDI number is [info erased]

    1. admin

      Yes, we can help you with the note 3 – email us unlock@mobilelizard.com

  8. Robert Guerrero

    Bought a new Lg g3 tried installing SIM doesnt read. took it to t-mobile and they told me it has a bad Imei. I bought this phone in different country. I can only use it on wifi thats it not as a normal phone. Is there any way i can clean the imei so i can use it?

    1. admin

      What is the original carrier on the LG G3?

  9. James

    Hi i bought a brand new Verizon iphone 6 from Craigslist had a clean imei had it activated with consumer cellular a few days later the phone was blacklisted is there anything i can do?


    1. admin

      Yes, there is the verizon iphone 6 can be cleaned- Email us directly at unlock@mobilelizard.com for more info.

  10. Ben

    Hello, I have a galaxy note 4 I’d like to sell the imei is clear but it has a balance, is there any way I can clear that to sell it. I don’t want to be a crooked salesman

    1. admin

      email us at – unlock@mobilelizard.com for more info

  11. Lori

    Bought a beautiful iPhone 6 (Sprint) that was suppose to be cleared for activation on Ting, but there is a balance on the account. I had been in touch with the owner who was “working with me” to get it a cleared up (which is actually quite easy, you can put a cheap non-smart phone onto that existing account to release the sold phone). I even offered to take care of it, I just needed her PIN number and security answers which she could change immediately after the switch and she still didn’t do anything.

    Sprint says call the police, the police say it’s not a criminal case and I’m sick of all of it! Anyway that you know of to get Sprint to release the MEID for the iPhone or to get them to let me make the change? I have FB conversation showing she knew the problem and was promising to fix it. HELP! I need a working phone adapt…thanks!! Lori

    1. admin

      Hello, sorry we are not aware of any measures that will help to clear your situation up. Thanks for listing the non smart phone option.

  12. Jessica heidler

    hi I bought a iPhone 6plus from my friend the carrier is us cell. I just found out she’s owes a bill on it. She bought the phone out right but has an unpaid bill can I still have it switched to my name on us cell prepaid?

    1. admin

      That’s not a question we can answer. Every carrier’s policies are different. However, it helps if you think of it like buying a car. Difficult to sell a car you don’t completely own.

  13. Mari


    I purchased a galaxy s4 that was connected through Sprint. Tried to use it-bad esn. My sister has service thrpugh metro pcs…can she get it flashed to work for her through metro?

    1. admin

      Its got a bad esn, so its going to be difficult, but its not impossible. Maybe not to metro but to something else

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