Jun 06

Avoid buying stolen phones! how to check if the phone you’re buying is stolen or blacklisted


At MobileLizard, we  get hundreds of emails a week, mostly  questions about how to fix a bad imei problem.  Every now and then someone will check in with us BEFORE buying the phone (AHA!) so they don’t run into that bad imei or blacklisted phone issue.  We thought it might useful for people to see what goes into – or what’s the safest way to get a used phone for less than retail pricing.

10 years ago when we first got into the business of cell phones – Craigslist didn’t even have a separate section for cell phone sales.  Now  there are thousands of phones for sale in every city,  between  major carriers,  independent phone store dealers, walmart, gas stations, ebay, and pawn shops you can buy a phone almost any place these days.  The one place most people turn to for  a premium smart phone at a good price is, of course CRAIGSLIST.   There you can find an iphone 6 plus, or the latest in Android technology – a samsung Note Edge or Galaxy s6 for a reasonable price.  It seems simple – you meet with the buyer, examine the phone and purchase.  You walk away with a new phone, and they walk away with your cash.save-money


The problem is not everyone on Craigslist is honest, and not every buyer is educated in the risks associated with buying second hand smartphone.  Most folks just want to save money.  So here are some precautions you can take.


1. Check the ESN or IMEI of the phone you are buying. There are some free online sources such as  Swappa.com  However, the best information comes from the carriers themselves.  Tmobile, and Verizon provide their own bad esn/ imei and activation information – If the phone cannot be activated on the carrier – you’re buying a bad phone.

2. Check the phone compatibility – Sprint Phones are often sold very cheaply in the second hand market – This is because they are difficult to unlock, and are rarely compatible with other popular carriers like Tmobile /Simple mobile or metro pcs.

Sprint phones do use sim cards, but this does not mean you can put a Tmobile or ATT sim card in it. Even clean sprint phones will usually not work with other carriers.  There are some exceptions, but be prepared to pay $80-$200  extra to get this additional function.

3.Check the contract status of the phone.  Sellers will often put their phones up for sale knowing the phone is still under contract, or there is a large unpaid bill.  The phone will still be ‘clean’  but as the carrier company realizes the bills continue to go unpaid, it will be flagged and blocked in the system.  You’ll have a phone that works fine for a few weeks or days, and then suddenly shows no bars.

4. What about people who sell you a perfectly clean phone but then reported lost or stolen?  There’s no way to predict or prevent a seller calling in their phone lost or stolen.  As long as they are the owner of record with the Phone carrier, that possibility always exists.   You can insist on being at  a carrier store and having the carrier remove that phone  and transfer the imei or esn to you. However that can only be done if the phone is off contract and no longer has an unpaid bill balance.


Anyone buying from Craigslist, on the street, from ebay, facebook groups or pawn stores can use these measures to prevent wasting money on a useless phone.

The best place to buy a used phone is going to be a neighborhood store or a reputable  online reseller like Amazon.


There are fixes available if you find yourself in the position of having bought a stolen phone or a blacklisted phone. You may still be able to unlock a blacklisted phone, or get a cell phone plan if you have one. This does not hold true for all phone models – but email us if you have questions.










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  1. Lena

    Hello I have a phone that has been blacklisted on at&t, I thought it was stolen but it wasn’t, is it possible to get the phone unblock to work on t-mobile

    1. admin

      Hello. it depends on the phone and the circumstances – if it isn’t blacklisted is it blocked for payment? does it have an eip outstanding?

  2. david

    I have a sprint iphone 6 that is blacklisted. If I get it unlocked would it work on a verizon mvno or would the blacklist carryover to the verizon mvno? Thanks!

    1. admin

      its likely the phone would work on a verizon mvno

  3. Kona

    I purchased a iPhone 6+ from Craigslist after I checked that it was clean. Then a week after it was blacklisted because the original owner stopped paying their bill. Is there any fix or is this iPhone nothing more than a paperweight now?


    1. admin

      what carrier is the phone on?

      1. jeremy

        i bought i phone 6 at&t guy said he quit paying bill. i want to unlock to t mobile will i run into any issues

        1. admin

          Hello, unless you are planning to use this iphone outside the usa unlocking it will not allow you to use it on any compatible us carrier.

  4. Quito

    bought an Sprint iphone6 blacklisted, can you guys unlocked it? I would like to use it in Honduras Centro America!

    1. admin

      Yes, the blacklisted sprint iphone can be unlocked. Contact us directly – unlock@mobielizard.com

  5. Ivan

    Hi. I have an T-mobile Galaxy note 4 that’s prepaid and the phone is unpaid off soon they will blacklist it , Is there a way I could flash it to get a whole new IMEI number if so how much will it cost please tell me.

    1. admin

      There is a remedy for the note 4 -email us at unlocka@mobilelizard.com for more info

  6. Sunshine

    I just purchased a samsung galaxy note 4 it’s saying it’s block by a carrier.how can I unblock it

    1. admin

      Hello, the situation with your blocked note 4 depends on what carrier it is with – You will have to email us directly -unlock@mobilelizard.com

  7. jeremiah

    i bought a phone on craigslist and found out is was a bad imei number and the phone was reported lost/stolen. its a iphone6 plus with att service. what can i do? how can i use this phone?


    1. admin

      Hello, unfortunately there isn’t anything that can be done to fix an iphone 6+ that has been reported lost or stolen that will allow it to work in the usa.

  8. nino

    i want to know if my iphone 6 is is blacklist froom tmobile usa can i use it in russia?or how i can clean my imei so i can use in europe anywhere

    1. admin

      Hello, its not possible to unlock/clean these at the moment. We are keeping a list of folks who want to be notified when a fix comes out. Fixes come and go pretty quickly for these, but while they work its possible. You’ll just need to be at the head of the line.

  9. misty

    i bought a s5 active from someone who had it on the next program so i need it fixed bc its blacklisted

    1. admin

      IS that at&t next? you’ll need to email us – unlock@mobilelizard.com

  10. Melissa

    Hello I bought a s5 off of a buy sell trade on Facebook and I think it’s stolen how can I fix it

    1. admin

      If its verizon, contact us directly – unlock@mobilelizard.com we’ll be able to help

  11. Seth

    Hi, I own a samsung edge with a bad imei number. I am looking to change that number to a new one. Please advise. Thanks.

    1. admin

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

  12. Nurik

    I recently bought an Iphone 6 on craigslist. I checked ESN and it was clean no blocks. I sent it overseas as a present and when they turned it on it was showing that it is blocked locked to tmobile. I checked ESN and now it shows blocked and on a top it is blacklisted in tmobile. Is there anyway you can help me to unlock it? I don’t care about blacklist because this phone won’t be used in USA anyway. I need to get rid of the sim lock. Please let me know. Thank you

    1. admin

      Hi Nurik,
      as of this writing there still isn’t a reliable fix for this. Occasionally fixes come and work for a short while, then disappear. If somethng becomes available we will let you know.

  13. Donna

    Hi. I have a galaxy s5 rugged that I purchase off of Craigslist almost a year ago, it has been blacklisted by AT&T. my question is, is there any way to unlock, or get around a blacklisted s5 on AT&T?

    1. admin

      Yes, there is a fix for your blacklisted galaxy s5 Email us directly at unlock@mobilelizard.com for more info.

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