What exactly is a blacklisted iPhone?

The business of blacklisted iPhones is confusing to say the least. Only within the last few years have North American carriers started developing national and global databases to share devices listed as lost or stolen. Previously, consumers couldn’t be sure if a device was stolen when buying pre-owned iPhones. With the creation of a GSM blacklist, there is easy access to see if you’re dealing with a blacklisted iPhone.

If you want a guarantee that your phone will not be blacklisted, Orchard — Canada’s #1 reseller of preowned smartphones — offers a lifetime blacklist guarantee.

Who controls the blacklist?

You might think that Apple has the power to blacklist an iPhone, but it’s actually only the wireless carriers that are responsible for blacklisting a device. Apple cannot change the status of a blacklisted iPhone, in fact they have a hands off policy for any devices that may have been stolen.

Wireless carriers build their database through the iPhone’s IMEI number, otherwise known as the International Mobile Equipment Identity. An iPhone reported as lost or stolen results in the device being put on the blacklist through this unique IMEI number. Blacklisting can also occur if the user of a device is no longer able to pay for their contract or it was acquired through fraud.

Why does blacklisting exist?

The idea behind the blacklist came from the increase in theft of mobile phones. A blacklist makes smartphones less of a target for criminals by making resale nearly impossible. Unlike a SIM card, which is replaceable, the IMEI number is uniquely connected to that device. The IMEI makes it easy for carriers to track lost and stolen phones, locking them out from cellular networks. In addition to stopping criminals, consumers are given the ability to check if a pre-owned device was reported as lost or stolen before making the mistake of purchasing it.

The creation of the blacklist

Back in 2002, Europe was one of the first parts of the world to acknowledge the need for a shared database of stolen phones. By 2004, the GSMA, the trade association for global GSM mobile operators, launched an effort to increase the efficiency of tracking stolen phones across Europe. Nine years later, Canada developed the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) Blacklist in the end of September 2013.

“Not only will this national blacklist help to make smartphones a less valuable target for criminals, but the industry has also taken steps to help Canadian consumers identify if a pre-owned device has previously been reported as lost or stolen,” said CWTA President and CEO Bernard Lord.

The USA joined a shared carrier database in November 2013 after previously only co-operating between certain major operators. The Cellular Telephone Industries Association (CTIA) is an international industry trade group that assisted with the creation of this database. This shared blacklist also integrates with international databases to ensure complete cross-border tracking of stolen and lost devices.

Apple launched their own answer to the iPhone theft problem with their “Activation Lock” that arrived with iOS 7 in 2013. This feature locks a user’s Apple ID to their iPhone, requiring the password to be entered after erasing the device. Following its launch, major cities like New York witnessed a significant decrease in thefts of smartphones.

What blacklisting means for you

When an iPhone is put on a blacklist database, it prevents it from being activated on any wireless carrier until it is removed from the list. With databases being connected across the US, Canadian and international borders, this means that a blacklisted iPhone cannot bypass the system by being sold outside of the original country.

Blacklisting may not occur immediately, as the carriers might become aware of the situation after a device is sold instead of before. Bell was accused of blacklisting a pre-owned phone after it determined the original owner bought the phone through a fraudulent manner.

Since the creation of these blacklist databases, it’s easy for consumers to check the status of any device with the proper tools. This helps everyone make their own informed decisions as opposed to blindly purchasing a used device.

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Tools you can use:

  • Our CTIA-Accredited IMEI checker: Our IMEI checker will reveal if a phone is blacklisted. If you’re looking to buy a used phone from a stranger, always ask for the device’s IMEI. Use an IMEI checker to make sure the phone wasn’t stolen.
  • Apple Activation Lock Status: This official tool comes directly from Apple, helping users to determine if a device is still protected by Activation Lock. Simply enter the IMEI or serial number of any iPhone, iPad, iPod or Apple Watch, then Apple can tell you if Activation Lock is still enabled on that device.
  • Wireless Carriers: If you’re not sure about using any of these services or if you’re getting mixed answers, a simple call to the wireless carrier can answer your questions about an iPhone blacklist. Remember, carriers are the only ones who have the power to reverse a blacklisted iPhone. Contact the carrier associated with the device to ask about the IMEI status.

How to blacklist an iPhone or reverse a blacklisted iPhone

If you are the victim of a stolen or lost iPhone, simply contact your carrier to have it blacklisted. This provides an additional line of defence on top of Apple’s Activation Lock. Ultimately, stopping a criminal selling your device to someone else.

There are plenty of services that claim to be able to clean a blacklisted IMEI number. However, there is no guarantee that these services actually work. Having a device’s IMEI removed from the blacklist is something only the carriers are able to do. Having another service handle this process isn’t entirely legal.

If you do find a device that is on the blacklist, contacting the carrier is the best method for getting it back into the hands of its rightful owner.


Orchard is the only place to buy a used iPhone with a lifetime blacklist guarantee. If a phone ever ends up on the blacklist, we will replace it.

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