How To Unlock A Blacklisted Phone

So you’ve been shopping around, and you finally went out and purchased a smartphone as a private party. You get in touch with your carrier, only to find out that they cannot unlock it because it’s blacklisted! You now essentially have a paperweight sitting on your desk that you can’t use because of that blacklisting. You’ve tried to contact the seller, but have heard nothing back.

What do you do? What does blacklisting even mean? Is there a way that you can get around the blacklisting? Follow along below, and we’ll show you the information that you need to know.

What is a blacklisted phone?

Phones by default are not shipped as blacklisted. A carrier will blacklist a phone because something fairly negative has happened to that phone. This usually means that the original account owner stopped paying on the device, or it was reported as stolen, lost, or was detected to be involved in fraudulent activity. When a carrier blacklists a phone, it is not able to use its network of origin anymore, and it certainly cannot be unlocked to be used on another network in the United States.

You can activate a blacklisted phone, but after a short duration of time, it’s kicked off of the network, and you might even get a phone call from AT&T regarding it. Generally, blacklisted phones are considered to be useless, and therefore, paperweights. A carrier generally blacklists the unique identifier attached to the phone — or the IMEI — and there’s no changing that identifier, unfortunately.

Blacklisting is a term that’s used with GSM carriers. These are carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, and their subsidiaries. There’s a completely different term for CDMA carriers — carriers like Verizon, Sprint, and their subsidiaries — and that is what is called a “Bad ESN.” There’s literally no difference between the two terms, it’s just how the different carriers interpret it.

So for most people, you’re short out of luck; however, there’s still some methods available to you.

Third-party services

The only way that you can bypass a blacklist or unlock a blacklisted phone is through a third-party unlocking company. An unlocking company can only do so much as well. They can generally recover the phone enough to where you can use it on networks outside of the US, but no matter what you do, you’ll never be able to use the phone on a United States cellular network ever again.

Call up the carrier

If you’re a private buyer, sometimes you can call up the carrier or visit one of the carrier’s corporate offices to work something out. After all, the blacklisting wasn’t your fault, so why should you have to pay for the consequences?

Sometimes you can tell the representative at the carrier what happened. This usually involves verifying your social security number, your address, and your state driver’s license. You have to prove that you are without a doubt not the original account owner for them to even consider returning the phone to its normal operation. If you can prove that, you can be given a new SIM to use with the phone, and proceed as if nothing ever happened.

However, this doesn’t always work. For example, if the phone was reported as lost or stolen, you will actually be required to surrender the device to the carrier. And unfortunately, you’ll lose out on any money that you paid for the phone as a private seller — there isn’t much protection here, especially if you don’t know where the seller lives or how to get in touch with the seller.


As you can see, there isn’t much hope when it comes to unlocking a blacklisted phone. Like we mentioned, if it’s something that was reported as lost or stolen, you just won’t be able to use that phone at all. Third-party services generally aren’t helpful in this regard, unless you plan on moving out of the country or selling the phone to someone who lives out of country.

And unfortunately, there aren’t many options to recouping your costs. You can file a police report, but it isn’t going to do much good if you don’t know where the person lives, or even have any information on that person.

This is why it’s always good to go through some verification steps before purchasing a phone as a private buyer. If you go to, you can enter the phone’s IMEI number in a field, where Swappa will be able to check if it is a blacklisted phone or a phone with a bad ESN. If the seller isn’t willing to give you the IMEI to check, it just isn’t worth the risk in buying. This can save you from a future purchase gone wrong.