Instant Answers/Community Forums/Hacks

Figuring Out What Is Legal with ESN Stuff

Jennifer Ziegler
posted this on May 15, 2012, 11:06

I've been really impressed with how responsive ting has been in these forums--so much so that I'm planning on coming over early June when our 2 year contract with Sprint is up.

One issue I've seen mentioned in passing here, but never explicitly dealt with, is what we can and cannot do legally when it comes to bringing over phones from Sprint by hacking the ESN. My wife and I have 2 Evo 4G's, and I'm almost ready to take the plunge and buy cdma workshop and 2 Vero's to bring the Evo's over. But as I've looked into it, I keep coming across statements (in other forums) that any kind of altering of a phone's ESN is against the law (much in the same way as changing a car's VIN would be). Does anyone have a definitive answer for whether or not that is true and what is allowed by law? I'm willing to bite the bullet and buy 2 new Android phones if need be, but if I can be sure that hacking the ESN is legal, I'd love to keep our Evos.

Thanks in advance for whatever help you can give!



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John Lafitte

I think the law is pretty vague about this.  It's definitely illegal if you do it to defraud the wireless provider or try to gain ESN of someone else.  If you swap ESNs on your own devices I don't think it's as clear.  I think even if a lawyer thought of a way to prosecute it, the technical aspect is not fully covered in written law.

I really considered doing the ESN swap, but I just figured it was too much trouble for little return and bought two new devices.

May 15, 2012, 13:59
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Tim Williams

I've been messing with a white Sprint iPhone4 running jailbroken iOS 5.0 for two weeks. Even if I spent $100 unlocking it with CDMAtools it wouldn't allow IMEI "restore" which is a legal way of saying IMEI modification.

Nobody has figured out how to change the IMEI of the CDMA iPhone yet, and without being able to do that, a donor phone is pointless.

May 19, 2012, 03:05
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Al Sjogren

Wouldn't it be great if the CDMA phones could be preset to multiple vendors?  And an APP switch between them as we travel?   An alternative to GSM for travelers.  And snowbirds.  Pre-configured.

It seems like this would be possible.  People can figure out how to flash thier own phones.  Vendors like MetroPCS and IUSACELL will already reflash Sprint phones.

Most of the snowbirds in my beach community of San Carlos, Sonora either have 2 cell phones.  Or if they have a smart phone - they have one unlocked GSM.  Roaming can be pricy at $2-$3 per minute.  Data Roaming is RIDICULOUS - with hundreds of dollars per day possible.  TING is much more reasonable than many,but at $1 per megbyte and $1.50 per minute in Mexico - it doesn't work for snowbirds. 

Wouldn't it bypass the legal issues if the vendors set it up for us?  Setup IUSACELL in Mexico and possibly Bell or Telus in Canada.

May 20, 2012, 16:41
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David Knighton

Just my opinion.....since I "purchased" the device and am not leasing or renting it, it's mine to do what I want with it. Also, since I am not selling the service of cloning, it's mine to do what I want. People are already rooting phones without any legal issues.

To be sure, I guess you would have to speak to a lawyer to ease your mind

May 21, 2012, 01:27
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elliot noss

I am not aware of, nor have any opinion on, any law that covers this. there may be one, but not that I am aware of.

at a contract level, you have a contract with Ting and Ting has a contract with Sprint. if you were to hack a Sprint phone and Ting didn't mind (which we may or may not ;-)) then the only issue would be between Sprint and Ting which is not something you would need to worry about!

I should note that any poking may cause issues with the phone which could lead to support challenges, but that is a very different matter.

May 21, 2012, 14:31
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Jennifer Ziegler

Thanks, everyone, for your feedback. I think I'm coming to the same conclusion as John did: once I add the price of two Veros ($140), one CDMA workshop ($100), and the amount I could sell 2 Evo's for in good condition (appx. $100 each), I'm not sure I'm saving enough for it to be worth it to do the ESN swap.

FWIW, the most lengthy discussion about the legality of this that I've found is here: I haven't yet found a site where the question was adequately resolved, but I agree that probably no one who chooses to do an ESN swap in the manner being suggested on this forum needs to fear any FCC agents breaking down their front doors...

May 21, 2012, 14:48
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Robert North

Swapping an ESN in a cdma phone is apparently like swapping a Sim card in a GSM phone. There are obvious reasons that cloning is illegal. If someone clones an ESN, then they can steal phone service. The authorities also need unique numeric IDs on everything - including people. It's essential for tracking, and tracing purposes. 

June 16, 2012, 10:11
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Keith Reiter
Ting Army

I read some of the laws (I'm not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV) and it appeared to me that the sticky part was that if you cloned WITH THE INTENT OF FRAUD then you were breeaking th law.  Intent is hard to prove if you own both phones and pay for the service.  If you stole the phone or attached to someone elses ESN then you are cheating someone and committing fraud.  The part I have a little issue with is if you buy a phone on craigslist that has a "bad esn" are you morally in the wrong.  Bad esn means that someone else cheated their carrier by not paying a bill or the phone was stolen.  Does that make it wrong for you to buy (assuming your not made aware of it being stolen) and clone your service into it.  I don't think that is a legal issue but has some moral issues.  That said I purchased 3 samsung epic 4g from craigslist without asking if the esn was good or bad.  I didn't take the time to call Sprint and check on the esn as I wasn't going to be using that esn anyway.

September 11, 2012, 12:00