How to Unblacklist a Phone: 9 Tips for Blacklist Removal

How to Unblacklist a Phone: 9 Tips for Blacklist Removal
Graphic: Nathaniel Blum

Sheila Olson
September 26, 2020

Used phones can be a great way to save money on new technology. But that bargain iPhone may not seem like such a good deal when you discover it’s been blacklisted and you can’t activate the device. If that happens to you, here’s what you need to know to unblacklist a phone.

What is a blacklisted phone number?

A blacklisted phone is one that has been reported lost or stolen. In the early 2000s, cellphone theft was on the rise in Europe, so the Global System for Mobile Communications Association— or GSMA, the trade association for cellular providers—developed a database to help law enforcement track stolen phones. By 2013, the US and Canada had developed their own database of blacklisted phones.

Blacklisted phones are identified on the database by their International Mobile Equipment Identity number (IMEI) or the Electronic Serial Number (ESN). It is impossible to change a device’s IMEI or ESN, so if your phone is in the database, you need to know how to unblacklist a phone.

Related: How to Make Your Number Private When Calling

How does a phone number get blacklisted?

Although the blacklist was originally developed to help trace stolen phones, that’s not the only reason phone numbers get blacklisted.

Here are the top reasons a cellphone is blacklisted:

The phone is stolen

According to the Federal Trade Commission, about 40% of all theft in America’s major cities involve stealing a cellphone. It’s not surprising that phone theft is the most common reason a phone number lands on the blacklist.

The owner doesn’t pay the bill

Cellphone providers can flag a phone’s IMEI and place it on the blacklist if the owner defaults on their account. The carrier can blacklist the number even if they deactivate the phone.

Inaccurate account information

If the cellphone provider doesn’t have the account holder’s current address and payment account information, it can place the phone number on the blacklist.

Insurance fraud

The insurance industry estimates that about 40% of all cellphone insurance claims are fraudulent. If someone submits an insurance claim for a broken phone in order to get cash or a discount on a newer model, the insurance company often puts the original device on the blacklist to help identify fraudulent claims.

Related: Want to Buy a Used iPhone? Here’s What to Check

8 tips for how to unblacklist a phone number

Tip 1: Search before you buy

Before you buy a used phone, ask for the IMEI and run it through a free online IMEI checker.

Tip 2: Review the device status with the manufacturer

If you are buying an iPhone, visit Apple’s iPhone support page to see if the device you want to buy has an activation lock in place. Google and Samsung also have an online checker to see if an Android phone has been locked by a previous owner.

Tip 3: Contact the carrier

Sometimes a new buyer can contact the carrier and get the phone removed from the blacklist. You may have to provide proof of identity including Social Security number, driver’s license number and other personal data to show you’re not the person responsible for the blacklisting. It doesn’t always work, however, especially if the phone was reported stolen. You may have to surrender the device and lose all the money you paid the seller.

Even if you can prove your identity, the carrier may not unblacklist the phone, however, especially if the phone was reported stolen. You may have to surrender the device and lose the money you paid the seller.

Tip 4: Ascertain the network

Smartphones are either programmed with CDMA technology or GSM technology, although some phones work on both networks. If your blacklisted phone has CDMA technology, you may still be able to use it on GSM networks and vice versa. If your phone supports both technologies, however, you may not be able to work around the blacklist.

Tip 5: “Flash” your phone to another carrier

This process involves switching the phone’s access files to match those of a new carrier. You will have to download or purchase software to complete the switch. Flashing only works with phones using CDMA technology.

(This process isn’t always successful and may be illegal in certain situations. Flashing also voids any warranty you may otherwise have with your phone.

Tip 6: Swap the logic board

A blacklisted phone is only blacklisted in the country in which it was reported, A Verizon iPhone blacklisted in the US would not be blacklisted in Singapore or New Zealand, for example.

If you know someone in another country with your same phone, you can switch out the phone’s chip, which is where the logic board is stored. This is a risky move, however, and may permanently damage your phone.

Tip 7: Use unblacklisting software

There are several online vendors selling software that claim they know how to unblacklist a phone. Depending on the software, it will either change your device’s IMEI or “spoof” it, meaning it swaps the blacklisted IMEI with one known to work.

Related: What is spoofing, and how do fraudsters ‘phish’ with it?

It’s important to note that chip manufacturers have changed the security features on more recent phones to combat this practice. If your phone is relatively new, this software may not be an option to unblacklist your phone number. You should also keep in mind that unblacklisting software usually doesn’t work if your phone number was blacklisted because it was reported stolen.

Tip 8: Switch to WiFi

Even if you can’t activate your blacklisted phone for use on mobile networks, you can still use the device on WiFi. Most devices allow you to make calls and send messages via WiFi, so you won’t lose essential functionality.

Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.