Unlock a Bad IMEI Phone That’s Blacklisted, Blocked or Stolen

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How to Activate iPhone IMEI Blacklisted and Blocked

How to Activate iPhone IMEI Blacklisted and Blocked

Many mobile phone repair stores offer phone buyback programs to their customers and end up buying back a phone that they’re unable to activate due to a bad IMEI phone number that’s been blacklisted by the carrier.


This can often happen when the initial check at the time of the buyback resulted in a clean IMEI number.

This can be very frustrating knowing that the value of a blacklisted IMEI phone is often significantly lower than non-blocked IMEI phones. Fortunately, you still have some options and, in most cases, you might not end up losing any money.

Of course, the best precaution to buying back a blacklisted IMEI phone is to check before you buy it. There are plenty of IMEI and ESN check websites on the internet that are free and instant.

You must be careful as some of them work better for certain carriers and while they’re pretty reliable, they can never be 100% correct.

  1. Identify Hybrid CDMA/GSM Phones. If the phone is unable to activate on a CDMA carrier such as Sprint or Verizon, the blacklisted IMEI could still have the ability to be used on a GSM network. Many of the phones manufactured lately come with a GSM standard, micro or nano SIM card slot and have GSM radios allowing for use on a GSM network. Likewise, many of them come factory unlocked, even if one of the major providers sold the phone. Such an example is the iPhone 5 from Verizon. If you happen to have a bad ESN iPhone 5, you really don’t have a problem – it comes factory unlocked! You won’t be able to use it on Verizon again, but you should have no trouble using it on another GSM pre-paid carrier in the USA or Internationally. In fact, a phone sold as unlocked has a 15-20% better value than if you sold it on Verizon. One of the first models of this type was the Blackberry Storm several years ago. I remember customers wanting cash would offer extremely an low price knowing it had a blocked ESN number with Verizon – but not knowing that the phone came factory unlocked and was good for AT&T or T-Mobile. All that was needed was a setting change to deactivate the CDMA radio and activate its use on a GSM network. Lastly, make sure that the bad IMEI phone that has a GSM SIM card slot actually has a radio and the correct cellular bands to allow service. Some phones, such as the original Nexus, had a micro SIM card slot, but the radio connected to it was only connected to the 4G network, not the GSM quad band network.
2.  Customers Use of Free Carrier Unlock – Many times the customer might sell you the phone while they’re under contract and the phone hadn’t yet made it’s way to the blocked bad IMEI list. You could ask the customer while there with you to call the carrier and request that their phone be unlocked. Each carrier is fairly lenient after six months of service when it comes to unlocking the device if the account is current and in good standing. If the phone ended up becoming blacklisted after you bought it, you could at the very least already have it unlocked and it could be used on other pre-paid carriers or used internationally (and for free). 
      3. Pay for Unlock and Sell Internationally – If you don’t happen to luck out and have a hybrid GSM/CDMA phone, or you can’t take advantage of the carrier’s customer unlock policy, you’ve still got options. You can still unlock the bad IMEI phone through many of the unlock providers out there without a guarantee that you could reuse it through the main domestic USA carriers. You can still unlock the phone if it’s on AT&T – just don’t expect to reuse it on their pre-paid partners’ networks. 
Our retail store close to Miami had a lot of customers from Haiti and the Dominican Republic. We would unlock these bad IMEI phones and keep them aside for customers that wanted to bring back unlocked phones to use in their home country. We would of course ask if they planned to use it in the USA before selling them the phone. 
If these types of customers don’t walk into your retail store, Craigslist or eBay should find a savvy buyer who frequently travels back to an international country or has a business established to sell these blacklisted IMEI phones with no issues. Just make sure to post the phone accurately, making sure to disclose it has a bad IMEI or ESN, and offer no guarantees or returns for any activation issues. 
Blacklisted and bad IMEI numbers can sometimes be a big headache. Knowing that you can unlock them with certain restrictions of use in the US still gives you many selling options domestically for international customers. It could even be an added revenue stream if you’ve previously stayed away from buying back such phones to make some extra money by not refusing the buy back blacklisted IMEI phones.
  • Just because a phone is blacklisted, on a lost or stolen list, or has a blocked IMEI, this doesn’t mean that the phone was stolen or that it’s illegal to buy it back from someone.
  • It is a crime to knowingly buy back stolen product. Ask your customer how they got the phone in a polite way if you find it on a blocked IMEI list before buying it back.
  • Never buy back a known bad IMEI phone.
  • Make sure to ask your unlock supplier if their service covers blocked IMEI devices. If so, make sure it’s covered for various originating carriers and if any additional charges or unlock commitment times are different.
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Dustin Jones
Founder and CEO of Harvest Cellular, LLC. Enjoy the mobile industry with specialization in buybacks for used mobile phones and broken LCD screens.


  1. samboyoko says

    Hi. Just bought an iPhone 5c blacklisted on sprint in the USA. I live in Norway is it possible for me to use it here?

    • says

      Yes. As long as it’s also been UNLOCKED and the network bands of the device are compatible with your international carrier.

  2. Jen says

    Blacklist and unlocking a phone are 2 different things. If a phone is blacklisted for stolen you will not be able to use it on any carriers network. Not sure about international but definitely not in the U.S. Unlocking it is providing you the option of using it on another carrier (unless it is blacklisted) in the U.S. 2 very different things.

    • says

      Exactly. This is the hardest concept for consumers.

      Just because it’s been blacklisted doesn’t mean it can’t be used. Sometimes it’s just blacklisted on a certain domestic carrier and other times across all domestic carriers. It won’t be “blacklisted” internationally but the consumer still has to UNLOCK the device (probably paid at that point since the carrier won’t do it themselves if it’s blacklisted) AND the device network bands have to be compatible with the international carrier.

  3. Think says

    If people would just go to a store and buy it there would not be a problem. Seems everyone is trying to cut corners and think they can save a 100 bucks by not buying legit, and then they loose everything. Stupid is as stupid does. Lmao… People are so ….yep. I don’t feel sorry for anyone who bought a phone off Craig’s list or ebay with a bad imei. You should have know better.

  4. evgeniya says

    Hello My name is Eugene. I live in Moscow. 03/03/14 I bought the phone on Ebay. as the goods delivered in Russia, I arrange delivery to my friend in USA. he sent me a phone in Russia. Today I received a phone, but it was blocked. I can not get it back, as has already been a long time after purchase and the seller no longer registered on the site. what can I do to unlock this phone? I am ready to pay for unlocking.
    after a call to the operator t-mobile, I learned that the phone is stolen and blacklisted.
    He boxed as new ..

    • says

      When you say “blocked” what do you mean? You were able to load the phone to main user menu, insert sim card and the phone read the sim card but your carrier said it was blocked?

      What model iPhone was it?

      In anycase, it’s always best to buy items on eBay with the funding source of your credit card as your CC company can usually issue a dispute and fight for you months after a purchase.

  5. evgeniya says

    Hello My name is Eugene. I live in Moscow. 03/03/14 I bought the phone on Ebay. as the goods delivered in Russia, I arrange delivery to my friend in USA. he sent me a phone in Russia. Today I received a phone, but it was blocked. I can not get it back, as has already been a long time after purchase and the seller no longer registered on the site. what can I do to unlock this phone? I am ready to pay for unlocking.

  6. jess says

    I have a note 2 on att that I had factory unlocked to use on other carriers but I didn’t finish my 2 year contract since it is already unlocked and my account is in collection will they be able to lock my phone it is not on the blacklist??? Please help

    • Alex says

      As long as you use it with a carrier other than ATT or an MVNO using ATT network you should be fine.

  7. Levan says

    Can someone tell me how to unlock AT&T NOKIA LUMIA 1020 which has a bad IMEI number?
    I want to use it in my country (not in USA)

    thanks in advance

  8. rashida says

    i have a note 3 that was on a friends acct we had a falling out and she turned my phone off i started my own acct and tried to use the same phone when tmobile told me she reported my phone stolen is there anyway i can still use my same phone on my new tmobile acct if i get the imei unblocked

  9. Les says

    I bought a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 for Sprint off of Craig’s List. Turns out it’s stolen? Anything I can do to still use it or something I can do to sell it and it be able to work for someone else? Thanks!

    • Vision Raval says

      You can find owner and give it back, or if you want to sell it then sell it in another country which will make your phone work if first option is not workable.

  10. Ong says

    This method may indirectly contribute to phone insurance fraud as people report their old phone stolen and sell it for profit,I recommend surrendering the blacklisted phone to the police as they may investigate it and do not sell it

    • patrick says

      Your a loser like someone is just going to give away 600 bucks.. Where’s your brain

  11. sacro says

    Curious, I have been reading that a iPhone with a bad IMEI actually makes a good iPod touch alternative. Can you offer advice one way or the other? I actually do not want (nor ever will) the phone functionality, so I don’t care if it is blacklisted. But I do want it to work in all other aspects (ie, connect to wifi, stream videos, listen to music, use apps, etc).


  12. Alisha says

    Hello Dustin, I bought a t mobile samsung galaxy note 3 from a guy in a mall. But it stopped working after two days I bought it. I checked it with t mobile and it’s blocked. Then I tried unlocking it and sell it to my friend in other country, but it’s not even unlocking. I m really stuck like paying 600$ cash for a phone n stops working within two days. Plz Dustin if u can help me out.

    • geo says

      Make sure you take it t I a guy who knows what hes doin , they will charge you 40 – 80 dollars and will unblock the imei and install a chip to block the old carriers blovked signal for you but the thing is you probably won’t be able to use it in its old carrier so you might have to swith your carrier,

  13. Aj simmons says

    i have a bad esn Galaxy Nexus for sprint that mistakenly bought From ebay….how sure are you that this phone can be unlocked…i dont think it has a sim slot…any recommindation

  14. Ernest says


    I bought a note 2 a month ago and just last thursday i cannot use the phone anymore. I checked with the third party repair man and told me that the phone is reported stolen. How can it be stolen if the phone is with the box and everything sealed like brand new when I got it. The same IMEI on the box. Found out that bell mobility here canada offers insurance to customers. so that seller will get another note 2 and sell it again I guess. The phone is in the National Blacklist of Canada. Do you think it will stil be fixed? Any advice? Can I use it on another country like the philippines when I am going to go on a vacation? The phone is unlocked to work on all the carriers here in canada and abroad.

    I hope to get a response. thanks !

  15. bere says

    just bought a galaxy s3 from metro for 300 it doesnt work just found out the imei number is bad how do i fix it i really need me a phone and 300 is a great lost HELLLLLP PLEASE!!!!!

  16. PissedOffVictem says

    I just had my $750 Samsung Galaxy S4 32GB phone with a 64GB SD RAM card and a $80 otterbox case stolen after just 3 months into a 24 month contract. So not only am I out the $880 spent for the phone I am on the hook for another 21 months at $103 a month. So I just got taken for over $2000 and you are telling people that steal phones how to get around blocking and black listing. You are a PIECE of work.

  17. Ian says

    I recently bought 2 iPhone 5s Sprint and an ATT its says it has a bad esn and the ATT is bad imei now i live in the caribbean and i was wondering wether i am aboe to unlock those devices for use here in the caribbean

  18. anonymous says

    I bought a galaxy note 2 today from a guy I literally met in walmart parking lot. I looked it uo and it says it has a bad esn. what can I do to recoup my losses. can I unlock it to use on Verizon wireless or what? thanks

    • says

      Yes. You’re in luck with Verizon phones. Their required by law because of the spectrum they use to have the phone unlocked. Go on eBay and sell it (saying it’s bad ESN of course) and Verizon and someone who knows what their doing with it will unlock it and use it. A bad ESN verizon is actually more valuable than an AT&T locked non bad ESN/IMEI phone.

  19. runford says

    I have a galaxy s4 which is locked to at&t if it is blacklisted can I u lock it and use it outisde the US on a prepaid network ?

    • says

      Yes. That is possible. Just now the unlock situation for AT&T phones is a bit hard to get unlocked. A month ago it cost $1, but today it’s towards $100 and somewhat unreliable.

      In summary, yes you can use a blacklisted IMEI phone in another country if you can get it unlocked.

  20. Dustin Jones says

    – What model iPhone is it?

    – If you just extended your contract for a discounted or subsidized phone, you can try to call tmobile and tell them you’re going overseas and would like to unlock you device.

    They usually want the specific phone your trying to unlock to have fulfilled it’s 2 year contract obligation but I’ve heard of many customers where these requirements were not meet and we’re able to get the phone unlocked.

    You might have to try calling into tmobile a few times if they say no initially until you get rep who will make an exception to their standard policy.

    If you’ve been a tmobile customer for a while (at least 10 month), you’re chances should be significantly higher.

    The policy is in place to prevent those who will leave and not fulfill their contract obligation from being able to easily sell their phone (since they still “owe” tmobile). Unfortunately, having such a policy crosses over to those long term good value clients that pay their bull on time and actually have a legitimate use case for unlocking the phone for personal use and after returning, will still be a paying tmobile customer.

    The above suggestion is for current tmobile clients and free if you can get them to make an exception.

    – If you you bought the phone from somewhere else like ebay, craigslist or from someone else you can try to ask someone who is a t-mobile customer to call in for you and request the phone to be unlocked. Provided the phone you purchased is not on a lost or stolen list and the IMEI is clean, you could get a friend or colleague to submit for you under their account for free. Usually the carrier (T-Mobile and AT&T) will allow 5 unlocks per account per year, regardless if the phone trying to be unlocked was one associated with a purchase to one of the account holders users.

    Lastly, if you don’t have someone who might be able to submit and get the unlock for free, you could try searching eBay for a seller that provides T-Mobile IMEI unlocking services for a charge

  21. Khoa Nguyen says

    Hello Dustin.

    I bought a tmobile iphone on craigslist with out knowing that the imei have been blacklisted…. but i will be traveling over seas soon and i am wanting to get it unlock still to use it over there…. do you guys provide a unlock service for tmobile iphones?

    • travis says

      I had a phone I paid for in cash.my ex cancel the line 3 months later it stops working with my new sim card both from att . What can I do. I have the recipt. Note 3