Yes, Twitter handles are big business with usernames selling for tens of thousands of dollars, and a case this week shows the nefarious lengths extortionists will go to steal the coveted real estate.
A California man, who used the @N handle, had his identity stolen and computer accounts hacked, all to wrestle his Twitter account from him. The story has actually highlighted the often shady market for these Twitter handles that brands covet. And Twitter users with similarly high-profile accounts are coming forward with similar tales of treachery.
For instance, Fred Oliveira has the simply elegant @F Twitter handle, and after hearing of the story he posted to the messaging site claiming thieves tried to steal his account, too.
“I’ve been down the same road,” Oliveira tweeted. He was referring to @N’s owner Naoiki Hiroshima, who detailed his account in a blog this week.
Hiroshima said he had often been offered up to $50,000 to part with his Twitter handle. Simple one letter names and first names—without the need for underscores or numbers—are prime territory.
Also, brands like to control their trademark names and sometimes pay for them, even though that is against Twitter policies.
In the blog post, Hiroshima claimed that some bad actor attacked his websites he runs as a developer, gaining control of them after calling GoDaddy pretending to be him. He also said they compromised his PayPal. After the dirty work was done the person emailed him telling him to give up his Twitter handle in exchange for restoring access to his online identity.
He obliged. The story has become a tech cautionary tale in how to protect your accounts online, and may even point to security lapses at the Internet companies.
GoDaddy told Tech Crunch that the hackers, already armed with tons of personal information, used it to compromise their client’s account in a phone call to the company pretending to be the customer.
Now, other users with one-letter handles show that they too could be targeted. Oliveira, who could not immediately be reached for comment, did tweet, “Exact same thing happened to me last year, but was unsuccessful.”
@NunoCardoso yup, I’ve been down the same road. Exact same thing happened to me last year, but was unsuccessful.— Fred Oliveira (@f) January 29, 2014
It was impossible to corroborate his message, but it seems clear the enviable one-letter Twitter handles do generate offers.
A Twitter user named Mark Douglass—@M—cites in his bio on the site: “Not interested in selling.” He also appears to control @md, which he also is not selling.
Last year, Chase Bank won control of the handle @chase. The Twitter territory is highly prized for the ease with which followers can find you and mention you.
Users with names like @justin are often bombarded with wayward messages meant for Justin Bieber. Celebrities have attempted to control their Twitter identities scooping up handles that could be mistaken for there’s. Jay-Z doesn’t even use Twitter but you won’t find @jayz on the site, it’s locked.
There are even brokers who make a business of setting up Twitter handle transfers.