Bold as this statement is, it is a serious warning, with a basis, to let you know about a scam that you can’t be too smart, too diligent, too careful to avoid when buying a used cell phone on Craigslist, e-Bay, classified ads, from friends – any opportunity you have to buy a used cell phone. It might be blacklisted…..

“OK, Browsing Bowser here. You’ve got my attention – I’ll bite – what’s a blacklisted cell phone?  And why is the notion causing you to do a bit of a lip curl?  I’m all ears.”

Glad you asked BB! The explanation is a bit complicated but stay with me for a moment.  I think you’ll find it worth more than a year’s supply of premium dog food!

What is a blacklisted cell phone?
A blacklisted cell phone is a cell phone that is totally unusable because a service provider (for instance T-Mobile) has placed it on a national, shared database list for either of two reasons —
1.    It has been reported lost or stolen by the phone owner;
2.    The original contract holder/purchaser of the cell phone has defaulted on the contract with the service provider.

How is a cell phone identified?
Every cell phone has an IMEI number – basically an electronically tattooed ID.  The number is found printed on the phone – usually under the battery.

Can a blacklisted cell phone be “un-blacklisted”?
There are two ways for a blacklisted cell phone to get unlisted.  If either of these two ways is NOT fulfilled (appropriate to why it was blacklisted) the phone is unusable – forever!
**     Lost or stolen cell phone – if the person who reported the phone was lost or stolen later reports that the cell phone is found or un-stolen, then the phone can be removed from the blacklist by notifying the carrier that provides the service.
**     Dead-beat buyer – If the original purchaser has defaulted on the service contract, but that original owner (and only that person) decides to do right and pay up on the contract (usually the whole cost of the contract not just the balance due), then that phone can be removed by the carrier from the blacklist.

Are there any other ways to remove a phone from a blacklist?
NO!  None!  Nada!  Nic!  Nein!  Non!

What happens to a phone on the blacklist?
As soon as a phone’s IMEI number is listed on the blacklist, the cell phone becomes unusable in the US.

How can I check to see if a phone I want to buy – or bought (and now no longer works) – is on a blacklist?
If you do an internet search for IMEI number blacklist by carrier, you should be able to find the carrier site that allows you to put in the IMEI number in question to check if the phone is on the list.

“Browsing Bowser here again.  I’m with you so far and beginning to understand your lip curl.  But you called it a scam. Can you sketch that out for me?”

Sure thing, BB.  Track with me a little more here and I’ll explain the scam.  I’m sure you’ll be close to a full lip curl yourself when you grasp the unfairness of this trap.

The carriers, in their ambition (business term for greed) to get a cell phone into every hand, have put up low hanging fruit for warped minds that thrive on beating a system and making big bucks in the process.   Here’s a scenario:

Skippy Scammer signs up with T-Mobile for one of their latest deals – get the latest and greatest cell phone for $1 if he signs up for a 24 month contract.  By signing Skippy gets the newest phone – and for very little money.  Skippy then sells his new phone on e-Bay or Craigslist, for instance, for a tidy bundle of guaranteed money.  Next, Skippy defaults on his contract, which hurts his credit but he’ll deal with that later ’cause he knows there are ways around that too.  All that matters to Skippy at the moment is that he is going to make a whole bunch of cash.

Enters I M Savvy who has done his homework.  I M knows his way around Craigslist and its pitfalls so he is careful about scams. He cautiously checks Craigslist regularly and sees this amazing deal posted for a latest and greatest cell phone that he’s been looking for; AND its at an incredible price.  The ad said the seller is selling the phone because his mom gave him her phone; the seller states that he doesn’t need two phones and needs the money to pay his tuition; so you trust his story (why not), and arrange to buy the phone.  I M Savvy arranges to meet Skippy at a public place just to protect himself, using good Craigslist practices.  I M has learned how to do a phone diagnostic, runs it on the phone and finds the phone to be in perfect running order.  No damage, just as the ad said.  So he pays cash to the seller and they both go off satisfied with their deal.

The phone says T-Mobile on it so I M Savvy takes it to their store, pays for a contract, gets a SIM card and starts using his great bargain.  A few months go by when all of a sudden, I M Savvy’s phone stops working.  I M does all the troubleshooting he knows how to do – without success – so he goes to the T-Mobile store to get the phone working again.  The tech tells him the phone won’t work because it is blacklisted!  “What????  Blacklisted?  What on earth does that mean?” he blurts out.  I M quickly finds out the details of his futile, hopeless and most unfair state of affairs – owning a blacklisted cell phone.

Now, as if his fate is not enough, the carrier throws in a little more insult and shames I M, telling him that he needed to have done his due diligence at the time he purchased the phone on Craigslist by looking up the IMEI number to see if the phone was on a blacklist.  I M begs the service provider to find out who the defaulting owner was so he could plead his case with him and get him to pay up.  He also asks the service provider to tell him what the balance of the contract amount is – it might be worth paying it off himself just to protect his own investment and get the phone working.  The service provider refuses to give any information at all – because they have to protect the original purchaser (think scoundrel).

“GRRRRR”, Browsing Bowser says.  “Let’s stop right here! Time for a big lip curl! Help me understand this awful situation!! Am I understanding this correctly?
*    The phone was working properly for many months but suddenly and mysteriously stopped working.  
*    The service provider told I M Savvy the phone was on a blacklist that caused it to stop working.  
*    The carrier won’t give out any information about the scoundrel who defaulted and caused the phone to be blacklisted because they have to protect the scoundrel.
*    The service provider refuses to help the unprotected, innocent person who just got caught in a scam aided by the service provider.   
*    The service provider shifts their blame to the poor soul caught in this trap by telling them it was their fault for not having checked the blacklist before making the purchase.  
*    However, checking the blacklist is a useless practice because, in I M Savvy’s case, the phone was not on a blacklist at the time of the purchase – the phone worked for several months until the service provider got around to checking their defaulted accounts and updated the blacklist database.  There is no control over when the service providers get around to recognizing and blacklisting defaulted contracts.
Please, say it is not so!!! Browsing Bowser exhales.

I’m afraid you’ve got it right – the whole wrong of it, BB!  If you ponder this for just a bit, you’ll understand that there is no amount of due diligence you can perform to protect yourself from buying a possibly blacklisted cell phone from anyone, anywhere, given the current blacklisting process that almost all the service providers participate in.

It is more than a head scratcher.  It is a situation that deserves a big “KEEP OUT – BAD PRACTICES AREA” sign warning potential used cell phone buyers to Just Don’t Do It – don’t buy a used cell phone till service providers change their blacklist practice to one that is more fair and effective and protects innocent buyers who never heard of blacklisting.

So, please read, heed and get more informed.  And share this information with everyone you know who might be considering buying a used cell phone.  It just might save them a whole lot of kibble.


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