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What to do if your iPhone has bad ESN or blacklisted IMEI?

Selena Lee

Jun 14, 2024 • Filed to: Remove Screen Lock • Proven solutions

Many people have iPhones but don’t know what an IMEI number is or what a bad ESN represents. Understanding how to tackle this issue can save time, money, and a headache or two. In this extensive guide, we’ll walk you through the basic mechanics of ESN and IMEI, how to check if your iPhone is blacklisted, and the detailed steps for unlocking a phone with a bad ESN or blacklisted IMEI.

Part 1: Basic information about IMEI number and ESN

What is IMEI number?

IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity): IMEI numbers are unique to GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) and UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) network mobile phones. Unlike ESN, an IMEI number is 15 digits long. It serves as an anti-theft measure, meaning a blacklisted IMEI can result from a device being reported lost or stolen or a breach of the consumer agreement.

iPhone imei number check

What is an ESN?

Electronic Serial Number (ESN): Previously utilized by CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) networks, an ESN was a unique identifier for cellular devices. With technological progression, most carriers have shifted their focus to the IMEI system, but knowing your ESN’s history is still crucial, especially if you're dealing with older devices.

What is a Bad ESN?

A Bad ESN can mean a lot of things, let’s check out some examples:

  1. If you hear this term most probably you are trying to activate the device with a carrier, but that’s not possible due to some reasons.
  2. It can mean that the previous owner of the device switched carriers.
  3. The previous owner had an outstanding amount on their bill and cancelled the account without paying the bill first.
  4. The previous owner didn’t have a bill when they cancelled the account but they were still under a contract and if you cancel sooner than the due date for the contract, an "early termination fee" is created based on the remaining period of the contract and they hadn’t paid that amount.
  5. The person that sold you the phone or someone else who was the actual owner of the device reported the device as lost or stolen.

What is a blacklisted IMEI?

Blacklisted IMEI is basically the same thing as Bad ESN but for devices that work on CDMA networks, like Verizon or Sprint. In short, the main reason that a device has a Blacklisted IMEI is so that you as the owner or someone else cannot activate the device on any carrier, not even the original one, thus avoiding selling or stealing the phone.

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Part 2: How to check if your iPhone is blacklisted?

In order to check if an iPhone is blacklisted, you need to first retrieve your IMEI or ESN number to check if it’s blacklisted.

How to find the IMEI or ESN numbers:

  1. On the original box of the iPhone, usually around the barcode.
  2. In Settings, if you go to General > About, you can find the IMEI or ESN.
  3. On some iPhones, it's in the SIM card tray when you pull it out.
  4. Some iPhones have it engraved on the back of the case.
  5. If you dial *#06# on your dial pad you will get the IMEI or ESN.

How to verify if your iPhone is blacklisted?

Checking if your iPhone has a blacklisted IMEI is the first step in addressing the issue. There are several methods to do this, either via the Apple website, the network carrier, or through third-party IMEI check services.

  1. Apple’s Blacklist Status Tool: Operating directly from Apple's official website, entering your IMEI number can provide instant clarity on its status.
  2. Network Carrier Services: Another way is to contact the carrier that the iPhone was initially sold from. Finding out is easy, just look for a logo: on the box of the iPhone, on the back case of it and even on the screen of the iPhone as it boots up. Just look for any carrier, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, etc. Contacting your network carrier can also yield a blacklist status. Bear in mind that not all network services are equally adept or willing to communicate this information, and turnaround times may vary.
  3. Third-Party IMEI Check Services: Utilizing third-party IMEI checkers is often the quickest method. These can be found as online services or apps, but it’s important to choose reputable sources. This is a highly recommended source to check the status of your phone because it’s quick, reliable and offers no fuss. You just go to the page, enter the IMEI or ESN, enter your contact details, and you’ll soon receive all the information you need!

Part 3: What to do if your iPhone has bad ESN or blacklisted IMEI?

A bad ESN or blacklisted IMEI is serious business. It can result in a device being unusable on most of the surrounding networks. If your IMEI is blacklisted, there are steps for potential resolution:

Ask the seller for a refund

If you bought the device with the bad ESN newly from a retailer or online shop, you might be in luck as they can provide you with a refund or at least a replacement, depending on their policy. For example, Amazon and eBay have refund policies. Unfortunately, if you got the phone from someone you found on the street, or from a seller over sources like Craigslist, this might not be possible. But there are still other things you can do.

iPhone blacklisted imei

Use it as a gaming console or iPod

Smartphones have a whole lot of functionality besides being able to place calls. You can install a bunch of different video games in it, you can use it to surf the internet, watch videos over YouTube, download music and videos to it. You could even use it as an iPod. The possibilities are really endless. You can even install apps like Skype and use Skype call as an alternative to a phone call.

iPhone blacklisted imei

Report of the Issue to the Police

If you suspect fraud or a theft may have been involved, filing a report can be necessary.

Get the IMEI or ESN Cleaned

Depending on your carrier, you can see if they entertain requests to remove your IMEI from the blacklist. IMEI cleaning services exist, offering to remove the blacklisted status. However, proceed with caution, as this is often in a gray legal area.

iPhone has bad esn

Swap the Logic Board

The thing about a blacklisted IMEI is that it’s only blacklisted in a particular country. An unlocked AT&T iPhone blacklisted in the US would still function in Australia on another network. As such you can try and change the chips of your iPhone. However, in doing so you should be prepared for some possible irreparable damage.

iPhone blacklisted imei

Unlock it and then Sell it

After your unlock your iPhone you can sell it to foreigners at a lowered rate. You can find out how to unlock in the next steps. But why would foreigners buy a blacklisted phone, you might ask? That’s because they won’t be on US soil long, and the IMEI is only blacklisted locally. So foreigners and tourists might be persuaded to buy your iPhone if you throw in a big enough discount.

iPhone has bad esn

Take it apart and sell the spare parts

You can dismember the logic board, screen, dock connector and back casing, and sell them separately. These may be used to help out other broken iPhones.

what if iPhone has bad esn

Sell internationally

As mentioned earlier, you can unlock the phone with the blacklisted IMEI. However, since it’s only blacklisted locally, you can sell it internationally where it would still have value.

iPhone bad esn

Flash phone to another carrier

This is an ideal option for those who don’t mind changing carriers. You can flash the phone to another carrier, as long as they accept it, and pretty soon you’ll have a functional phone! However, in some cases, you might land with a 3G connection instead of a 4G.

bad esn iPhone 7

Determine Hybrid GSM/CDMA Phones

If your phone cannot activate on a CDMA carrier like Verizon or Sprint, the IMEI can still be used on a GSM network. Most phones manufactured these days come with a GSM standard nano or micro sim card slot and have GSM radio enabling for a GSM network. Most of them also come factory unlocked as well.

iPhone 6s bad esn

Having a phone with bad ESN or blacklisted IMEI is naturally a headache, however, all hope isn’t lost. You can do any of the things mentioned in the previous steps, and you can read on to find out how to unlock the phone with bad ESN or blacklisted IMEI.

Part 4: How to unlock a phone with bad ESN or blacklisted IMEI?

Unlocking a phone with bad ESN or a blacklisted IMEI is not a single-step process. It involves both technological and legal maneuvering. It's important to note that unlocking a blacklisted phone might not make it fully operational, but it can help in using it with carriers outside the country where it was blacklisted.

Understanding Lock Status

Before proceeding, ensure you understand the lock status of your phone. If the phone is network locked, it only works with a specific carrier. If it is blacklisted, it’s barred from most network use. An unlocked phone, on the other hand, is a blank slate ready to work with any carrier that supports the device's technological specifications.

Steps to Unlock

Here's a comprehensive overview of the steps to unlock a phone with a bad ESN or blacklisted IMEI:

  1. Ascertain Legality: Ensure unlocking your phone is within the bounds of the law, both locally and globally. Legal provisions such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in the US and similar laws elsewhere define the circumstances under which phone unlocking is legal.
  2. Contact the Carrier: If the blacklisting issue has been resolved, contacting the carrier who blacklisted the device is the most straightforward way to unlock it. They may require clear documentation proving ownership of the device and the resolution of the reason for blacklisting.
  3. Consider Third-Party Services: If your phone was blacklisted from a carrier in a different country where unlocking might be a common practice, third-party services can assist. Verify that they are reputable and have a solid track record, as well as a range of positive reviews from previous customers.
  4. IMEI Repair and Unlock Tools: Some advanced users may consider IMEI repair software or unlock tools. However, utilizing these services could be illegal or fraudulent unless you are a certified technician who can verify the legitimacy of the software being used and the legality of the method in your region.
  5. Seek Professional Repair Centers: If all else fails, there are mobile repair shops that specialize in this type of work. It’s important to vet these services thoroughly, and ensure they are trained in such repairs and have a history of success.

Considerations and Warnings

  • Device Warranty: Unlocking a phone could void its warranty. Consider the cost-benefit of unlocking versus keeping the device under warranty.
  • Legal Ramifications: Unauthorized unlocking can have legal repercussions. It’s important to research and ensure compliance with all relevant laws.
  • Financial Risks: Some services come at a high cost, and there are scams in the market. Be cautious and only deal with recognized and trusted entities.

Part 5: Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can I find out if this iPhone is reported as lost or stolen? I mean which one is it?

This information is anonymous to carriers and no one will be able to tell you exactly.

Q: I have a friend who wants to sell me an iPhone, how do I check if it has a bad ESN or if it’s lost or stolen before I buy it?

You will need to check the IMEI or ESN.

iphone imei check

Q: I am the owner of the iPhone and I reported it as lost some time ago and I found it, can I cancel it?

Yes, you can but most carriers will ask you to go to a retail store with at least one valid ID.

Q: I dropped my phone and the screen cracked. Does it now have a bad ESN?

Hardware damage has no relation with an ESN. So your ESN status will remain unchanged.

Q: Is it Legal to Unlock a Phone with a Bad ESN or Blacklisted IMEI?

The legality of unlocking a phone with a bad ESN or blacklisted IMEI varies from country to country and can be influenced by specific case laws. However, in cases where the user is the original owner and the phone is paid off, it's typically legal to unlock the device.

Q: Can You Use a Blacklisted Phone Internationally?

In some cases, a blacklisted phone can be used internationally. When a phone is blacklisted, it's typically barred from the carrier network where the blacklist was applied. However, different countries have different national blacklists, so it's possible that a phone blacklisted in one country will work in another. Unlocking the phone internationally can be an option here.

Q: Can IMEI Cleaning Really Work?

IMEI cleaning is the process by which the IMEI's blacklisted status is removed. There are services that offer to clean your IMEI, and while some may work, it’s important to understand the legality and efficacy of such services, as it may involve fraudulent activity and your phone may still not be fully operational on some networks even after being cleaned.

Q: What Consequences Can I Face by Using a Blacklisted Phone?

Using a blacklisted phone can have various consequences. It's unlikely to work on the network of the carrier where it was blacklisted, and the reliability of third-party carriers might be limited. Additionally, there may be legal implications, especially if the phone was blacklisted for being reported lost or stolen.

Q: Should I Buy a Phone with a Bad ESN or Blacklisted IMEI?

It's generally not advisable to purchase a phone with a bad ESN or blacklisted IMEI, as it would be difficult to use on most networks. Such devices are often sold at lower prices, but the risks and limitations associated with them might not be worth the discount.


In conclusion, a phone with a bad ESN or blacklisted IMEI presents a unique set of challenges. The complexity of resolving the issue hinges on various factors including the reasons for blacklisting, the phone model, and the networks involved, among others. The best approach is often a mix of legal recourse, communication with carriers, and potentially seeking the assistance of professional technicians or legal counsel. Always research thoroughly and seek advice from reliable sources when taking the significant step of unlocking a phone with a bad ESN or blacklisted IMEI.

So now you know everything there is to know about IMEI, bad ESN, and blacklisted iPhones. You also know how to check their status using the handy Dr.Fone webpage or through contacting your carrier. And in case your iPhone is erroneously locked and you can’t access it, we’ve also shown you how to unlock it using the Dr.Fone - Screen Unlock (iOS) service tool.

If you have any other questions not covered in our FAQ section, please feel free to leave us a comment. We look forward to hearing from you.

Safe downloadsafe & secure
Selena Lee

Selena Lee

chief Editor

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