China cracking down on cell phone fraud, spam

New rules require users of prepaid cell phone accounts to register using their real names.

In a bid to curb rampant spam and growing fraud conducted over mobile services, China will require all mobile phone subscribers to register using their real names next year, the official Xinhua news agency said.

The much-talked-about move is mainly aimed at users of prepaid cell phone accounts, which can be opened easily by anyone with cash and a handset. These accounts have no monthly fee, but instead are "charged up" using prepaid cards and used until the credit runs out.

The new rules, similar to those already introduced in countries such as Singapore, Switzerland, Thailand and Malaysia, will require China's 200 million users of prepaid service--more than half the nation's total 388 million subscribers--to register using their real names, according to Xinhua.

Such registration has sparked protests from operators such as China Mobile and China Unicom who complain the shift will require a mountain of extra paperwork. Others say it will impose on individuals' privacy.

The move is aimed at curtailing a burgeoning tide of cell phone-related fraud and spam, most conducted over cell phones using text messaging, Xinhua quoted Wang Xudong, head of China's Ministry of Information Industry, as saying. Chinese mobile users sent a whopping 274 billion text messages in the first 11 months of this year, up 26 percent from all of last year, according to official data.

China's phone companies have shut down more than 10,000 accounts this year for sending illegal messages with fraudulent, harassing or erotic text, according to Xinhua, quoting MII sources.

Thailand introduced compulsory registration for prepaid mobile users earlier this year in an attempt to prevent bomb attacks, saying most of some 120 bombings in the country since early 2004 had been triggered by mobile phone.

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