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What Does Having A Clean ESN Mean?

What Does Having A Clean ESN Mean?

Perhaps you are searching for a new phone, or you could be getting one for a friend. Either way, you have heard the phrases of ESN or IMEI thrown around, and aren’t entirely sure what those mean and why they’re an important part of the phone buying process.

Well, if you need to know and understand what these terms could mean for you, look no further! We’ll show you everything you need to know about ESNs and IMEI’s, and how they relate to the phone purchasing process. Let’s dive right in.

What is an ESN?

An ESN, or Electronic Serial Number, is an identifier which can be used to ban, restrict or blacklist specific phones on CDMA networks, such as Verizon or Sprint. An IMEI is the same thing, which has the same function and purpose as an ESN, but for GSM networks like AT&T and T-Mobile.

An ESN can be banned from specific networks, tracked by authorities, or blacklisted as a stolen phone, or an unpaid phone (i.e. from a device payment plan). Assuming you have purchased your phone directly from the network provider, you can normally assume it has a good ESN; however, if you are purchasing from a distant, resentful cousin, or from some form of market on the Internet, you could find that this particular device contains a bad and unclean ESN, though you’ll never know for sure unless you check (more on this in a moment).

If that’s the case — as in you have a phone with a bad ESN — a blacklisted ESN means trouble, and you could potentially have a stolen phone in your hand right now. If reported as stolen, trying to activate it will have the carrier trying to seize it from you, or you may even get a call or visit from authorities in an effort to reclaim stolen property. And in that case, you’re pretty much just out of the money you spent on the phone.

It’s actually a lot more common for a phone to have a bad ESN on it because of an unpaid phone bill rather than it being stolen. There are phones being sold privately on eBay or as a private local sale that have a bad ESN, which is why it’s important to get the ESN number (or IMEI) to run it through a verification process before buying. The good news is that it’s definitely easier to get a blacklisted ESN unblocked because of an unpaid phone bill, as long as you’re not the person who signed up for the device payment plan and are in fact simply a private buyer.

In summary, a bad or blacklisted ESN means you won’t be able to use it on a network in the United States. It may work for 30 minutes after activation, but the carrier will deactivate not long after. A clean ESN, means it’s free to activate on your account and use on a supported network of your choosing.

Can you fix a bad or blacklisted ESN?

Fixing a bad ESN could be desired if you have been scammed, or if you want to still use the phone after paying for it. Unfortunately, there’s very few ways that you allow you to unblock a phone or turn a bad ESN clean.

If the phone has been blacklisted, you can visit a corporate network store or call the carrier up and see if it can be made clean. Make sure to tell them the situation in detail. They may want more information from you, such as an address, name, driver’s license verification, and possibly even a Social Security Number, which you should ideally only give in-person. Depending on who you talk to, they may unblock the phone; however, if they see that it’s listed as stolen or reported lost, the phone is generally seized from you as stolen property or property used in a crime.

Sometimes carriers will work with you if it was blacklisted because of an unpaid phone bill. After all, it wasn’t your fault, and they might find that they can recoup some costs by having you as a new customer. If not and they deny your request, at that point, you’re just out the money, but would be recommended to try and work it out with the seller of the phone.

Be more cautious about ESNs in the future

After you’ve finally found the device that you want to pick up from a private seller, you might be worried about getting a bad ESN, yet again! However, it’s easily avoided by checking and seeing if the ESN is clean. Ask the seller for the ESN or IMEI, and then you can call up the carrier to see if it’s blacklisted. If it is, don’t buy the phone. If the seller refuses to give you the ESN or IMEI, definitely don’t buy the phone, as there’s no way to tell either way.

There are free online services that allow you to enter an ESN or IMEI and check if it’s clean as well. One of those trusted websites is called Swappa, an online marketplace where people can buy used smartphones without any risk.

Once you have the ESN or IMEI from the seller, just head to Simply scroll down to the bottom of the page and click the link that says ESN / IMEI Check.

Next, just type the ESN or IMEI number in the input field, and press the big green Check ESN button. This checks the status of the ESN of the phone in question, telling you if it’s clean or not. The check is free, and Swappa gives you up to ten checks that you can use.

If Swappa says it’s clean, you should be safe to go ahead and buy the phone. If it isn’t, don’t buy the phone at all!


As you can see, there isn’t a whole lot of hope for purchasing a phone that has a bad ESN. For future purchases, make sure that you get the ESN / IMEI, and make sure that it’s clean before committing to a purchase. You don’t want to be out that cash again, nor all the time it takes to verify and clean an ESN. And you certainly don’t want the stressful process of attempting to get your money back, and maybe even filing a police report.

Have you had luck with private phone sales? Let us know in the comments!

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Feb 6, 2019

30 Articles Published