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In telegram you can setup a unique public username which is available to anyone in the search option, but if you choose not to do that, the only way someone can identify you is by the name you set (ex. John Doe).

So can a random person just set up an account with the same name (identity) and trick others (who don't know your number) into thinking that they are chatting to you?

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Yes.

Every Telegram account has a phone number attached. You can see the attached phone number to check if is the correct one.

If you don't know the phone number of someone, anything can be shown as the avatar and name. Whether or not you trust someone just based on this, without knowing the phone number, is up to you.

The same with an alias. Every account has an alias (@nickname which is different from the name shown). If you know the real one, you can check it. If not, you don't know if is the real person.

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    So the only way to make a "unique" account is to make a public id or share your phone number? This can be a security issue. – Henry Jan 24 '17 at 14:06

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