Phone With Bad ESN
Phone With Bad ESN

No. You cannot fix a bad ESN (at least not on your own). The phone is blacklisted by the carrier and cannot be activated on their network. The only way to resolve this is to contact the carrier that blacklisted it and follow the steps necessary to have them remove the blacklist. So, for example, if the phone was not paid off you could pay it off to have the carrier lift the ban.

When shopping for a used iPhone or trying to switch carriers, you might encounter the term “bad ESN” (Electronic Serial Number). A bad ESN can be a significant roadblock for iPhone users and resellers alike. Understanding what a bad ESN means and how it can affect your iPhone’s functionality is crucial before making a purchase or a carrier switch.

What Does Bad ESN Mean?

An ESN is a unique identifier for your iPhone that cellular networks use to register the device on their service. A bad ESN indicates that the phone is flagged by carriers and cannot be activated on certain networks. This typically happens for a few reasons:

  • The iPhone is reported lost or stolen: Carriers will block the device to prevent it from being used.
  • The iPhone is still under a financing plan: If the original owner still owes money on the phone, the carrier may block it. Basically, because the phone was not paid off in full (and usually payments were missed) whoever owns the phone is blacklisting it.
  • The iPhone was involved in fraudulent activities: If the device was used for illegal activities, it might be blacklisted.
  • The iPhone is Damaged: Sometimes a perfectly working phone can get damaged and ESN issues arise.
  • The iPhone is Counterfeit: This is extremely rare but has happened before. Some people will get duped into buying a fake/counterfeit phone (usually from overseas).

Consequences of a Bad ESN

  • Activation Issues: You won’t be able to activate the iPhone on a carrier’s network if it has a bad ESN.
  • Limited Functionality: The phone might only be usable with Wi-Fi, and you won’t be able to make calls, send texts, or use cellular data.
  • Resale Problems: Selling an iPhone with a bad ESN is difficult, as its value significantly decreases.

How to Check for a Bad ESN

Before buying a used iPhone, it’s essential to check the status of its ESN:

Can a Bad ESN be Fixed?

If you think your iPhone might have a bad ESN, you can check the ESN status online using a service like Swappa or Check ESN. If the ESN status is blacklisted, then the phone has a bad ESN and cannot be activated on the carrier’s network.

If your iPhone has a bad ESN, you have a few options:

  • Resolving Financial Obligations: If the bad ESN is due to an outstanding balance, paying off the debt can clear the ESN.
  • Reporting Errors: If there’s been a mistake, contacting the carrier to rectify the issue may resolve the bad ESN status.
  • Lost or Stolen Phones: If an iPhone was reported lost or stolen and then found, the original owner can contact the carrier to remove the flag.
  • Contact the original owner of the phone and see if they can remove the phone from the blacklist.
  • Contact the carrier and see if they can whitelist the phone.
  • Sell the phone to a third-party buyer who specializes in buying phones with bad ESNs.

Buying and Selling iPhones with Bad ESNs

  • Buyer Beware: Always check the ESN before purchasing a used iPhone.
  • Disclosure: If you’re selling an iPhone with a bad ESN, disclose this information to potential buyers.


A bad ESN can render an iPhone nearly inoperable on most networks, making it a critical factor to consider when dealing with used devices. Always perform due diligence when buying or selling an iPhone to ensure that the ESN is clear and the device is fully functional.


  1. Is it illegal to sell an iPhone with a bad ESN? It’s not illegal to sell a phone with a bad ESN, but it must be disclosed to the buyer. Selling a lost or stolen phone, however, is illegal.
  2. Can I use an iPhone with a bad ESN on a different carrier? It depends on the reason for the bad ESN. If it’s carrier-specific, you might be able to use it with another carrier. However, if it’s blacklisted universally, it won’t work on any network.
  3. How do I avoid buying an iPhone with a bad ESN? Always check the ESN with the carrier or use a reputable online ESN checking service before purchasing a used iPhone.
  4. Will a factory reset clear a bad ESN? No, a factory reset will not clear a bad ESN because the status is tied to the device’s hardware, not the software.
  5. Can an iPhone with a bad ESN be used for parts? Yes, an iPhone with a bad ESN can still be used for parts, or it can be used as a device with Wi-Fi capabilities only.
  6. Can I fix a bad ESN? On your own – no. You must do what is needed for the phone’s blacklisted by the carrier to be lifted.
  7. Can I use an iPhone with a bad ESN on another carrier? No, you cannot use an iPhone with a bad ESN on another carrier. The phone is blacklisted by all cellular carriers in the United States.
  8. What is a fair price to sell an iPhone with a bad ESN? The fair price to sell an iPhone with a bad ESN will depend on the model and condition of the phone. However, you can expect to sell the phone for a fraction of the retail price. Also you MUST disclose the status & reason to your buyer or you might be committing fraud.
  9. Where can I sell an iPhone with a bad ESN? You can sell an iPhone with a bad ESN to a third-party buyer who specializes in buying phones with bad ESNs. You can also sell the phone online or at a pawn shop. Again, you MUST disclose that the phone has a bad ESN and the phone must not be illegally obtained (ie- stolen, fraud related, etc.)
Eric Chan

Hi! I’m Eric and I work on the knowledge base at  You can see some of my writings about technology, cellphone repair, and computer repair here.

When I’m not writing about tech I’m playing with my dog or hanging out with my girlfriend.

Shoot me a message at if you want to see a topic discussed or have a correction on something I’ve written.

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