Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Someone instant messaged being weird. They wouldn't say who they were. Could you please tell me how to find out who the person is?

First, be aware that most instant messaging programs allow you to block instant messages from people you don't know. I would do that immediately. Then, when someone wants to IM you, you have to approve it.

But as for finding out who did, the news is not good. Possible? Technically, yes, but not likely.

When you instant message someone, your computer is not talking to theirs. Your computer is actually talking to the computers at the instant messaging service, which then relays your message to the computer of the person you're talking with. So if you're using MSN Messenger, for example, when you send a message your computer sends it to the computers out at Microsoft, which then send it to whomever you're chatting with. When they respond, the same thing happens in reverse. (In some services, you can establish what's called a "direct connection", which may connect you directly, but it requires both ends of the conversation to agree, and someone attempting to remain anonymous will know enough not to do that.)

The result is that there's no information that you have access to that would tell you who that person really is. All you have is a screen name, and that's it. If that person has chosen to keep the public information about that screen name vague or blank, then I know of no way for you to find out who they really are.

Now, obviously, the instant messaging service knows both the account details and IP addresses for both of you - at least for as long as they might keep the records. But these services have strict privacy policies that will prevent them from just handing out that information to anyone. In fact, they're going to make it almost impossible to get. It's my belief that it will take law enforcement or even a court order to get useful information from the instant messaging services. And then, even if you do get the IP address of the other person, you'd have to go through the same legal hoops to get their ISP to provide you with any practical, identifiable information.

So that's a really long answer that boils down to this:

No, there is no practical way for you to find out who's contacting you via instant messaging if you don't already know.

Article C2394 - July 25, 2005 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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33 Comments
Ray
July 27, 2005 4:37 PM

Hey Leo,
I really want to kno who is IMing me and whenever i say "whats ur name" he or she doesn't tell me so how will i find out who IMed me?
signed,
I really want 2 kno.

morgan
August 16, 2005 8:35 PM

some one was iming me and i was asking who it was and they said u don't know who u are talking to so u better be careful and i realy wanna know who it is to know if i realy do have to be careful or if they are just playing aroung because if they are playing around then i will do the same to get them scared so they won't im me any more

morgan
August 20, 2005 8:27 PM

hello well some one was iming me and i wanted to know who it was so i asked and they wouldn't answer me so i was starting to annoiy them just like they were doing to me and then they said watch out u don't know who u are dealing with. Now i feel very thretened and i realy wanna know who it is if i realy should be thretened or not.If they are just playing around because if they are i will do the same to them thanx take my advice and say u don't know who u are talking to or dealing with to people wgho u don't know who they are and they won't stop talking to u b/c then i garantee u or your money back lol that they won't talk to u any more bye bye

daniel
August 25, 2005 9:05 AM

un block me

trey
September 11, 2005 11:53 PM

It is possible to find someones IP through an instant message if you make a direct connection. E.G p2p or direct connect for transfering a picture or audio or even a webcam over AIM or something similar.

Leo
September 12, 2005 7:33 AM

I think so. Try using tcpview - http://ask-leo.com/d-tcpview - to look at the active tcp/ip connections while you are connected.

george
October 7, 2005 4:34 AM

Can someone you are iming save those im's and share them with other people without your permission? As for laws I livein New Jersey if that helps

Leo
October 7, 2005 9:31 AM

Technically they most certainly can. Legally, I have no idea, but I doubt there are any laws against it.

Z@saUn1
October 9, 2005 4:30 AM

yo ppls ;)

an exgirl of me was chatting with an guy from spain {over 4 month and she thinked i dont check the logs]

I just sendet him an picture and saw his real ip [netstat or any other connection monitor]

;)

alex
October 19, 2005 10:45 AM

ok leo my friend got weird ims from someone impersonating one of her friend i really need to find out who it is but i need there ip adress how do i get it? plz email me and help i think it something big

amy beck
October 19, 2005 2:50 PM

I'm trying to find out who send me a I'm message, mocha16m. Pls provide me info.

Leo
October 19, 2005 2:55 PM

Please read the article.

sammy
November 16, 2005 2:59 PM

hello someone is on my best friend's aim account. is there any way that i can get the i. p address from an instant message and trace it to the exact street number from the computer i need to know this quickly cause my best friend seemed to be crazy mad at me but my friend was on the fone with her and she said that my bestfriend wasnt mad at me and that someones on her account

Leo
November 16, 2005 3:05 PM

Nope. Please read the article you just commented on.

sammy
November 16, 2005 5:29 PM

is there any way by going into aol to find it.

Robert
November 27, 2005 1:27 PM

Trace people via instant messaging http://www.checkim.com

anand
December 3, 2005 4:43 AM

i chat with one girl from a dating site common chat room but i suspect she is making fool of me and she is playing with many others and she is not from the country she has mentioned in her profile i want to locate the country ip address when she is chatting in that chat room how do i do that please mail to me at z4gn@yahoo.com

Alex
December 7, 2005 9:39 AM

You must not forget the whole "direct-connect" and netstat theory.

bauhec
December 25, 2005 1:38 PM

hi i chat with some girl too and i want to know where did she come fromm. Can you send me on mail, what can i do, that i can see her country, place or something

Leo
December 25, 2005 7:31 PM

Please read the article you just commented on.

usman mehmood
December 29, 2005 11:25 PM

hello i just read ur article thats realy true but some where i read on net that u can still get the ip if u can just make him send u a file or u send him a file and while the file is being sent u can just go to cmd and just type netstat comand andit will show u who is connected to u at the moments and out of those ips one of them is of the person who sent u a file and i practicaly experianced it and suprisingly it worked

blahscreech
January 4, 2006 6:29 PM

You say that during instant messaging the computers are not directly connected but instead go through the im service. However, I am wondering that if a direct computer to computer connection is made when the "Direct IM connection" is made using AIM. Also, would it be possible to view the IP if the user clicked a link to a page. I have also noticed that there are many services that offer to e-mail the IP address of the computer once you enter the screenname, but they cost money so I dont want to do that. However, that seems to me that it is possible to obtain it, they are obviously doing it somehow and more than likely without a court order

William
January 14, 2006 6:25 AM

Netstat cannot tell. It only tells you the IP of yahoo, not IM's ID.

asdf
January 19, 2006 3:22 AM

where the link that lets my type the secret question in... its not where the help says it should be

Bobby
February 9, 2006 2:33 PM

some one setn me a file i want to be able to prove tehy sent me this and the size i still ahve the file is it possible??

Nikhil
March 2, 2006 2:11 PM

Ask that gal to send you a file and then do netstat. .ull see her IP. File trf is direct

Paul
April 23, 2006 8:53 AM

I have used IP finders, but how can I get an IP address from a instant message?

Kev
June 3, 2006 8:27 AM

The best way to get the IP is to get them to email you. Most people that IM you will be happy to send you an email with a picture or something. THen get the IP of the header of the email.

sum1
June 22, 2006 4:14 AM

how do u use netstat?

Trish
August 29, 2006 1:00 AM

I tried to have this person stop instant messaging me but they wont. They know everything about me, but I know nothing about them. They wont tell me who they are. What am I supposed to do about that? How do I find out who they are?

Cameron
January 5, 2007 3:04 PM

No, you will not be able to get that information. The only way you can is if a direct connection is acheived. Then that alone would require some social engineering, although, you could just simple act nice and ask to play a game with then. I don't know about now, but before, you could play a game with a direct connection. Otherwise, the only way to find out who they are is for a computer forensic law enforcement official to present to a judge and order of preservation and issue it to both Microsoft and (when discovered from microsoft) to the Internet Service Provider of the alleged. This is not easy, and it requires that charges be pressed and a crime commited for investigations to begin. Most of the time a simple grotesque word will not promote this.

Mickeiy
February 20, 2007 8:40 PM

Just block the person.

Bobby Harris
March 3, 2007 2:06 PM

Yes it's possible to identify and locate people from just an IM name, AOL screen name or email address. Even the anonymous ones like hot mail and yahoo. It's not 100% but it is guaranteed, No hit no fee.
We are private investigators that specialize in just such a service.
www.emailrevealer.com

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