Ask Sourcely: I’ve Got a Bad ESN. How Can I Fix It?


First things first: What’s an ESN? The ESN is a number similar to a car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) in that it uniquely identifies a cellular phone to a cellular network and system. ESNs assist in recovering the phone should it be lost or stolen, and it serves to identify an authorized subscriber to the cellular network and allows cellular carriers to properly bill for calls.

Bad ESNs can happen because of a number of things, including:

  • A client purchased a phone from a carrier on a contract that had a delinquent balance.
  • The client is out of contact, and the carrier places a hold on their account.
  • The phone had been lost or stolen.

This second reason is a bit more complicated. When a phone is reported lost or stolen, the carrier places the phone on a special list. This marks it as having a invalid ESN. It will be unable to be activated on its original carrier, as well as other carriers. Reputable repair stores do not work on such phones.

But things get complicated when a phone is lost or stolen and then recovered — and yet the bad ESN flag remains.

What to do then?

Most phones can be flashed to work with another carrier. (Don’t know how to flash? Then check out our post on it.) So long as the phone is legitimate (that is, not truly lost or stolen), then you can make it functional. The only catch? GSM phones. You’ll have to find a carrier outside your original network to make it work, and even then there’s no real guarantee it will.

Got more questions about the repair trade? Or do you want to boost your repair business? Then contact us today!



Nima Jacob Nojoumi

Teen Entrepreneur. Former adviser @GoDaddy. Founder at House of Genius AZ @HofGAZ. Co-Founder & CEO @GetSourcely. Teamwork makes the dream work.