Report: Chinese police detain man for stealing IM names

Man stole users' IM names by decoding and changing the passwords

Chinese police have detained a man in the southern city of Shenzhen for stealing and selling numeric user names stolen from China's popular QQ instant-messaging (IM) service, the official China Daily newspaper reported Wednesday.

The man, who was not named in the report, has admitted to stealing and selling QQ user names for years, China Daily said. The man apparently stole the user names by decoding and changing the passwords, according to the report.

QQ is an IM application developed by Tencent Inc., of Shenzhen. The company claimed to have 173 million active user accounts at the end of June, with up to 16 million accounts active at any given time.

With so many users, QQ user names must now be at least nine numbers long. Shorter user names, of five to six numbers, are worth a premium to some users who are willing to pay up to 1,000 renminbi ($124) for a six-character user name, according to the China Daily.

User names with fewer characters mean that a user has been a QQ user since the early days of the service, which was launched in 1999, and this gives the user status in QQ circles, said Catherine Chan, a spokeswoman for the company.

The problem of stolen user names is not new, Chan said. "We have had some users having their names stolen or hacked, and we've done everything we can to help those users regain their names," she said.