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If you’re in the sector for a cellphone, specifically a used one, you’ll listen a most talk about ESNs with an emphasis on whether or no the phone is “clean”. What exactly does acronym was standing for and what go it average if the phone is clean or not?

Dear How-To Geek,

I’m newly out the contract with my cell carrier and I yes, really don’t want to get back into a prolonged contract just to upgrade my phone. As such, I’ve been looking eBay and Craigslist for used phones ns could include onto mine account without getting stuck in an additional 48-month contract. One term that comes increase in just about every find is “ESN” and sometimes “MEID”, and constantly in the paper definition of even if it is or not that point is “clean”. This is the first time I’ve done anything other than just walk into the regional cell store and sign some paperwork to get a new phone, therefore I’d choose to perform this smart and also not end up through a phone the doesn’t work. For this reason what’s this clean ESN business and how carry out I make sure I’m obtaining a great used phone?


Acronym Averse

Let’s begin with the basics and then move onto just how you have the right to use that understanding to defend yourself together a consumer. ESN stand for digital Serial Number and was presented as a distinct identification number for all mobile devices by the FCC in the early on 1980s. Electronic Serial Numbers were attached to CDMA devices (CDMA just refers come the radio kind in the mobile machine — sprint phones, for example, room CDMA devices). Later, the ESN device was revised into the MEID (to account for a shrinking swimming pool of available ESNs), and still used for CDMA devices. One more number come be aware of is the IMEI (Interational cell phone Station tools Identity) number, which is the ESN tantamount for GSM (e.g. ATT&T) based phones.

Although ESN, MEID, and also IMEI are distinctive identification standards, ESN has actually come into popular usage as a capture all because that the serial number (in everything format it may be in) because that the phone call in question. As such, you’ll see recommendations to the ESN number of an ATT-branded iPhone also though that phone in reality as an IMEI, no an ESN. In fact, we’re walk to usage it in the exact same fashion for the rest of our an answer unless we’re clearly referring to a certain identification number system.

Now, why does the ESN matter to you, the consumer? Cellphones are an useful and carriers have actually a vested attention in lock (after all, the real price of that iPhone you simply picked up isn’t actually $99, the carrier is heavily subsidizing her phone’s cost via the prolonged contract you simply signed). They usage ESNs as a tool for tracking phones and, when require be, banning phones from their network.

There room two principal reasons why an ESN would certainly be blacklisted: the phone was reported stolen, or the phone call is attached to a cellular carrier account with superb balance.

The very first scenario is actually reasonably rare, countless U.S.-based cellular carrier didn’t proactively use ESNs this way for the longest time. In fact, AT&T just started recording and blacklisting the IMEI numbers of stolen phones in November that 2012 and only after press from federal government agencies. The second scenario, failure to pay an account balance or skipping the end on a contract, is much much more common. The majority of phones you encounter v a “bad ESN” earned the blacklist status because the vault owner of the phone call left the firm with a substantial unpaid bill.

So, how can you use this info to defend yourself? You deserve to refuse to acquisition a phone there is no a clean ESN. Once it pertains to eBay listings, it’s tricky to fully protect yourself as you are at the mercy that the seller in many regards. First, you should try to purchase from eBay sellers the obviously specialization in turning over phones as they’re the most likely to have actually run the ESN and they’re invest in not having actually to address the hassles the returns and customer organization headaches. Contact them and request the phones ESN so you can check it yourself prior to placing your bid. If castle refuse, shop elsewhere; it’s insignificant to intend you come bid numerous hundred dollars top top a phone call without learning if girlfriend can even activate it v your carrier.

When purchasing a call in person, among the easiest ways to avoid a headache is to satisfy the human you’re purchasing the phone call from at a save that services the to move provider you plan on utilizing the phone call with. In part cases, this is the only method to obtain an official firm ESN check. Sprint, because that example, no much longer does ESN checks over the phone.

In the store, you have the right to hand the phone best over to the company rep and ask lock to examine if the phone is clean for use on their network. Saying you satisfy at the save so you deserve to activate the phone ideal away is a good way to get rid of scammers ideal off the bat; castle won’t desire to satisfy you at the save if they have a negative phone.


What if you don’t have a local store you have the right to stop by? In this case, you’ll need to examine the ESN yourself. On 99.99% of phones, the ESN (or equivalent) is located under the battery on a sticker. Open up the case, popular music the battery, and also look at the number. On tools that are sealed, choose the iPhone, friend can uncover the identification number in the mechanism menu.

Once you have actually the number, you can obtain to the bottom of things in one of two ways. Girlfriend could contact the support line for the specific carrier you desire to usage the phone call on. This is by far the best way to go around it. The takes more time 보다 the web-based an approach we’re about to show you, however it provides you direct confirmation that the phone call will job-related on the network you want to use it on. It’s crucial that you are specific in that you call. Let’s say, because that example, you have a acceleration branded phone the you want to usage on Ting, a acceleration reseller. Call Ting, not Sprint. If the phone has actually been activated before as a Ting phone, climate Sprint will have actually permanently prohibition the phone and will report the it has a negative ESN also though Ting will certainly happily activate the again. The exact same goes for many other major carriers and their resellers; the significant carriers will typically blacklist phones that have actually been supplied with your resellers, however the resellers have actually no trouble with them.


If you don’t want to/can’t contact the carrier, there are quite a few ESN inspect websites the end there. This sites will provide you a an excellent idea if the ESN is clean or not. When we’ve never ever had any false positives using an ESN inspect web site, we carry out want to stress and anxiety that the just truly foolproof an approach is to speak to the carrier.

For web-based checks, some of the more popular/reliable sites room Swappa (a phone/gadget purchase company, their device is viewed in the screenshot above) and CheckESNFree. Together a general rule, the much more information digital ESN checkers return, the better. In the screenshot over we acquire a valid ESN check, a carrier, and also even a version number. Through older phones or phones no in the system, you’ll acquire a basic “this is a valid ESN” type response, yet no details information.

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Armed with the understanding of what an ESN is and also how to use one to check the condition of a phone, you’ll be in a much better position to safeguard yourself native scammers and also getting stuck to a bad phone.

Jason FitzpatrickJason Fitzpatrick is the Editor in chef of LifeSavvy, How-To Geek"s sister site focused life hacks, tips, and tricks. He has over a te of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at evaluation Geek, How-To Geek, and Lifehacker. Jason served as Lifehacker"s Weekend Editor prior to he joined How-To Geek. Read full Bio »