Lost Cellphone? Buy A Prepaid Phone From Walmart And Port Your Account

Here’s a cheap way to replace your cellphone if you lose it while under contract. Just go to Walmart and buy one of their pre-paid cellphones, then call up your provider and ask for them to activate the phone under your account. You’ll need the provide the serial number and the ESN of your old phone. Those are found underneath the battery (so it’s a good idea to write them down BEFORE you lose your phone).

For instance, without signing a new contract, the most basic Verizon phone could cost you $200. Walmart has got it for $36.98. The big blue box also has RAZR’s for $149.68 and Nokias for $29.87.

Choices by provider are, admittedly, limited, but if you don’t need a specific phone, this is a cheaper replacement option than buying cellphone insurance, and more reliable than a used device on eBay.

Reader Nerdicus Damonus was able to do this with Verizon after his wife lost her cellphone, again. Your mileage may vary with other carriers. If you check out the phones online, you can see which phones go with which carriers.

The only drawback we see, besides supporting oh so very evil Walmart, is that they have a history of forcing manufacturers to make and send them lower quality versions of their products, so we can only hope that’s not the case with the cellphones.

Now we’re off to to scrub our fingers with lye for suggesting people shop at Walmart.

Pre-paid Cellphones [Walmart] (Thanks to Nerdicus Damonus!)
(Photo: Clean Wal-Mart)


Edit Your Comment

  1. xkaluv says:

    Two huge problems with this..

    #1 it is possible for the prepaid phone carriers to lock the phones so you can’t activate them with other carriers.

    #2 while many of the prepaid phones work on the standard big three cell phone carriers, knowing which carrier is vital to picking the correct prepaid brand. (i.e. Boost is to Nextel)

  2. DojiStar says:


    Virgin Mobile is to Sprint.

  3. mopar_man says:

    A plug for Wal-Mart on Consumerist? Say it ain’t so!

  4. GrantGannon says:

    I’ve used two separate go phones from Cingular to replace a broken Treo. The first phone worked well until the dog chewed through the charger cord. Replacement charger? $30. New Go Phone at RadioShack? $19. You do the math.

  5. beyond says:

    This is why I only use GSM phones! When my phone went out I bought a $20 Walmart prepaid one and just swapped my sim card, no messing with the provider at all.

    PS: They usually don’t sell chargers for them, you’ll have to get them online if you lose it.

  6. banned says:

    It’ll take a whole lot more than a cheap cell phone to ever make me walk into a Wal-Mart again!

  7. MeOhMy says:

    My friend has done this successfully with a GSM PAYG handset as well…just swapped out the SIM card and it worked.

  8. stardeo says:

    My family plan is with T-Mobile. My brother’s old Nokia was finally about to die, so we purchased a T-Mobile prepaid phone from Target. It was about the same price as what they offered with a 2-year contract, but we didn’t have to extend the contract! Removed the SIM from the old phone, dropped it into the prepaid phone and it worked instantly!

    Fast-forward to this month, and we upgrade to a MyFaves plan, and that prepaid phone didn’t need to be upgraded. It was already compatible with the service.

    You can also find a lot of prepaid phone deals online if you’re not up for a visit to the WalMart or Target.

  9. nakmario says:

    Does anyone know for sure if the Virgin Mobile phones will work with Sprint?

    I would like to test out the Slice for a bit and wanted to try this. (My PPC6700 is so friggin bulky!)

  10. Flibbetigibbet says:

    Similar, but even cheaper option if you’re a T-Mobile subscriber: Buy one of their pay-as-you-go Nokia 6030’s for $29.99, drop in your old SIM, and send in the rebate for $30 (be sure to make at least one call with the new SIM to activate the account and thus the rebate). Net cost: sales tax on $29.99. Did it myself yesterday.

  11. IC18 says:

    This will not work with Verizon.

  12. orielbean says:

    IC18, be more specific. Verizon is not GSM and that means it does not use a SIM card. However, if the prepaid phone is compatible with Verizon, then it WILL work. Consumerists, I would check the article post to see how the writer determined the prepaid phone was verizon compatible. You should not try to buy a GSM phone for verizon, as they are different networks and therefore will not work.

  13. Firemedic510 says:

    I did this with alltel. There is a subsidy code that I needed. Do activate online, tell them it didn’t work, they give you the subsidy code. Unlock phone, call Alltel and tell them to swap it over.


  14. Landru says:

    Your terminology might cause some confusion. To “port” your number is to bring your number from one carrier to another – and that doesn’t seem to be what you’re talking about here.

  15. Steel_Pelican says:

    I use AT&T, and I bought a basic Nokia for $30 as a prepaid phone, then drop my SIM in when I go hiking, so I don’t have to worry about destroying my main phone.

  16. Howie999 says:

    This WILL work with Verizon – and I have done it.

    Just took the WalMart phone into a Verizon store and explained that the original phone stopped working (out of warranty), they swapped sim cards and made all the arrangements – the whole process took only a few moments.

  17. Papercutninja says:

    ^ Verizon does not use SIMs. SIMs are for GSM only. Verizon is (99%) CDMA.

  18. Howie999 says:

    I’ll try again. Verizon DOES do this, I have done it myself.

    It was about a year ago, but I bought a $49 Nokia phone at WalMart, promptly took it over to the Verizon store with the broken phone, and the CSR at Verizon did EVERYTHING, even opening the blister pack phone.

    I don’t know why you say Verizon doesn’t do this, unless things have changed dramatically in the last year or so.

  19. Howie999 says:

    OK, I just looked at the Wally World phone, and you’re right – there is no SIM card.

    But Verizon did everything anyway, I guess they just exchanged the serial numbers? The MEID numbers?

    Anyway, VERIZON did it for me, and I’m sure they didn’t do it ’cause they liked my looks. ;^)

  20. admchnty says:

    I used to work at Verizon. There was some sort of lock that would stay on the phone for a certain length of time. I can’t stand Verizon and when someone would call in with a phone that they picked up, I would gladly try to activate but it wouldn’t work. You could change the esn in the system but the OTA (*228) would not go through. When trying to do a manual esn change it would ask for the code. Each time the customer was sol.

  21. uricmu says:

    I don’t understand the Walmart connection. A lot of other retailers, and your own cellphone company, sell prepaid wireless phones.

  22. calvinneal says:

    Verizon and Sprint are CDMA networks. CDMA phones do not use sim cards. TMobile and ATT (Cingular) are GSM networks and use sim cards. Activation for CDMA phones must be handled by the carrier. GSM phones require only a SIM change for phones that work on their network. ATT sim card work only in ATT phones etc

  23. Trick says:


    I don’t understand the Walmart connection. A lot of other retailers, and your own cellphone company, sell prepaid wireless phones.

    Probably because Wal*Mart will have the phone at the cheapest price. For most, Wal*Mart is only evil/bad until Wal*Mart can be of use… then it is OK to shop at Wal*Mart.

    For example, I think Wal*Mart sucks. I hate to shop there so I avoid it as much as possible. However, there are times I need something and for whatever reason, Wal*Mart is handy so I shop there.

    But I hate Wal*Mart.

    But sometimes I may shop there.

    But I hate it.

    Unless I really need something…


    While replacing the SIM card on GSM phones may work, its pretty much an impossibility if your phone is actually lost. This happens to be the case with my girlfriend who lost her phone at work.

    We both share a US Cellular account, and the phone she lost is the cheapest in their line, free at activation after rebates but cost $150 without! Thankfully she kept her old phone and is using that now, but it is on its last breath and she will be looking to get a new phone soon. Buying a Prepaid phone sounds like the ideal value, that is, if we can find one to use with US Cellular.

    A sales person at the US Cellular store we activated the plans suggested that we buy Cellphone Insurance on the replacement phone, then after 30 days declare it missing and they will give us a new phone. Of course the insurance carries a $50 deductible, and doing so, despite the rep’s reassurance that he does it all the time, seems rather fraudulent. So I doubt we’ll try any of those shenanigans. Has anyone else tried that route?

  25. bohemian says:

    Target also carries a number of brands of pay as you go phones fairly cheap. They have virgin, boost, trackphone and I think they still carry verizon ones.

    Just got my teenager a virgin mobile phone for $19.00 last month.

  26. halcyon100 says:

    Or you could simply go on ebay, like I did (when my Razr kicked it) – buy a nice, gently used phone (like the $49 SLVR I bought) – and activate it online (Verizon) within minutes. Remember to ask for a photo of the box, manual, etc. (ensure legal goods – nobody likes receiving a blocked phone.)

  27. Tristan Smith says:

    I’ve always purchased replacement phone from the providers prepaid section on their website. usually the prices are cheaper than what you’ll find in store and the selection is much bigger (at least for The “new” ATT). Last year I picked up about five to give to relatives who were sick of their phones for Christmas.

  28. dextrone says:

    WHAT; consumerist telling people to buy things at WALMART??????

    What happened?

  29. capkincaid says:

    Be carefull doing this, Cell phone companys are starting to track ESN’s on phones that are to be sold on pre-paid plans. If one of these phones are used on a post-paid account It’ll be ‘zapped’ with-in 120 days, well after the return policy of where ever you bought it. This happened to me with an AT&T phone. I called up AT&T and they said just that a using a prepaid phone on a post paid account violated the pre-paid user agreament and the phone can only be used on a prepaid plan.

  30. superspiritofseth says:

    This sounds like a great Idea but I will point out that Cingular actively seeks accounts where people have used PPD IMEI numbers. the Dept. is called Revenue assurance and if they catch you you will be cancelled with a fee. Tmobile also does the same thing, however I have not seen strict enforcement like with cingular. thats not to say that Cingular catches every person who does this but in all the years I worked with Cingular I saw many people come in monthly wondering why we cancelled their accounts, sure enough they all had goPhones on young accounts.

  31. justarep says:

    As far as I know, T-Mobile won’t drop the hammer on you for doing this (but I haven’t personally tried), but… DO NOT try and claim the rebate. Either buy the prepaid phone, toss any rebate out, put your postpaid SIM into the phone, and sell the prepaid SIM & activation code on eBay and go on your merry way… or just use it for prepaid service. Don’t try and double-dip. (Buying a prepaid phone is still cheaper than getting a no-contract upgrade, when you compare the same phone across both purchase points.)

    However, don’t expect a T-Mobile representative to tell you this. If a CSR tells you, it’s against policy, and if a sales rep tells you to do this, that’s commission fraud and they can expect to be fired on the spot and escorted out, if caught.

  32. wolfybrie says:

    Yay! I did this today actually. First I called up verizon customer service, asked if they could activate the new phone, but they couldn’t because it’s my mother’s name on the account, not mine. Sadly, that meant I had to tell my mom that I had my phone stolen. He did deactivate my missing phone. Luckily when I called up my mom, she was on her way to the verizon store to pay the bill. When she arrived, she called me, asked me for my serial number and 5 minutes later after calling the programming number, my phone worked. Sadly they only had the most expensive prepaid one there, but then, I don’t really mind too bad because it’s really nice. Much nicer than the 5 year old phone that I lost.
    Also this was the second phone I lost in the past 2 weeks, and even that didn’t cause me any trouble. (I have just been very unlucky for the past few weeks.)

  33. gamabunta says:

    Definitely works.

    I called and said I bought a phone from eBay and wanted to use it as a replacement for my stolen phone. All I had to tell him was the ESN DEC number (Didn’t even have to open the box since it was printed on the outside. So I would have been able to take it back had it not worked) and then I dialed *228 to program it.

    Had it up and running in 3 minutes including the call to Verizon.

    Might have to do this to replace my V3c which crapped out on me the day after I canceled my phone insurance.