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Every day, people buy used phones. It isn’t a bad idea, especially if you want to avoid the expensive prices of a new phone.

But, buying a used phone increases your chances of using a blacklisted phone. You are probably wondering what a blacklisted phone is.

A blacklisted phone is a mobile device that had been reported stolen or lost. It is a phone blocked by a certain carrier from being used or activated.

The reported phone’s IMEI or ESN numbers are stored in a database called the Blacklist. Most countries share similar Blacklist, and this information can be found on an International database administered by the GSMA.

IMEI is an acronym for International Mobile Equipment Identity and ESN stands for Electronic Serial Number. They are a unique set of numbers hardcoded into all of the latest smartphones in town.

Unlike a SIM card, it cannot be easily removed or transferred to another device. In the case of a stolen phone, it is used for easy identification.

To know your IMEI or ESN number, dial *#06#, and the number should be displayed. Depending on the phone, you can also go to Settings > About > IMEI/ESN and have the number displayed there. 

There are various online sites that allow you to check if your phone is in a blacklist database. The only requirement to check is the IMEI number of the phone.

Why is your Phone Blacklisted?

There are various reasons why a phone can be Blacklisted. Below are some of the reasons

1- Improper Information

A mobile phone can be blacklisted due to a lack of proper or adequate information. Network carriers require up to date information to send you phone bills, troubleshoot, etc.

It is advisable to keep your carrier of any change in important information such as credit card updates, address change, to avoid getting flagged by your service providers.

2- Lost or Stolen Phones

Phone theft is inevitable. Due to the expensive costs of smartphones, they are a target of petty thieves. Statistics have it that about 40 percent of thefts in major cities are involved with cell phones.

The high mobile phone theft rate brought about collaborations between the Federal Trade Commission, the Wireless Association and major service providers to introduce phone blacklisting to combat this problem.  

3- Phone Insurance Fraud

A phone insurance fraud occurs when a phone owner falsely reports their phone missing, stolen or broken in order to get a discounted replacement.

The carrier then searches for the IMEI or ESN of the “missing, lost or broken” phone, and blacklist it.

Phone Insurance Fraud is a common practice, and difficult to catch. If you end up buying such a phone, it would have been blacklisted.

Although you can get it reactivated, you will have to go through a thorough vetting process.

4- Unpaid Bills

Bill debt is another common reason for blacklisted phones.

A phone might get blacklisted if the person’s account has defaulted on payment.

To have such a phone removed from the blacklist, you’d have to call your carrier and prove to them you are not linked to the defaulted account.

Restrictions of a Blacklisted Phone

  • Unable to receive or make calls
  • Unable to send text messages
  • Access to the internet via Wi-Fi only; no mobile data

Steps to Unlock a Blacklisted Phone for free

  • Check for the Phone’s IMEI/ESN

The first step in unlocking your blacklisted phone is to check for the IMEI number. You can do this by dialing *#06# on the blacklisted phone.

  • Contact your service provider

After getting the IMEI or ESN number of the phone you want to unlock, the next thing is to contact your mobile service provider. 

  • Provide your wireless carrier with the necessary information

If you owe money or have not met your service contract requirement, you may not be eligible for a phone unlock.

You must provide your wireless carrier with your IMEI/ ESN number, name, and contact information.

The phone manufacturer and the network provider work together to acquire your unlock code.

  • Wait to be provided with an unlock code

Your phone’s unlock code might be sent to you via email. In other cases, you might have to visit a local retail store.

  • Follow the instructions given to unlock your phone

Most times, to unlock a blacklisted phone, you would be required to insert another carrier’s SIM card, then enter the unlock code at a prompt.

After unlocking your phone, you can then make use of any SIM card of your preference.

How to avoid getting a Blacklisted Phone

To avoid the stress of unlocking a blacklisted phone, here are some of the precautions you can take at the point of sale

  • Check before you buy

If you are buying a used phone, you should call the wireless carrier to verify the IMEI.

This will make you aware of any blacklist issue the phone might have.

You can then decide if you still want to proceed with the transaction or not.

  • Purchase directly through the carrier

One of the safest ways of getting a phone that is not blacklisted is to purchase through a carrier.

A phone purchased directly from a wireless carrier cannot come off as blacklisted.

  • Purchase from a reputable used cell phone retailer

Used phones sold by reputable retailers are usually checked on the blacklist database before being put up for sale.

So, if you are looking to buy a used phone, best patronize a well-known retailer.


Blacklisted phones are not of much use unless you are able to get them unlocked. And, if the mobile phone had been reported stolen or missing, then such a phone would be useless.

The only way out is if you plan on moving out of the country to use the phone or selling to someone who lives outside the country.

If you are looking to buy a used phone as a private buyer, it is crucial to go through some verification process before going through with the purchase.

If the seller is unwilling to provide information about the IMEI/ESN number, it is not advisable to go ahead and buy the phone.

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