Domain Scams

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In an increasingly connected environment, the impact of your digital presence contributes to the strength and growth potential of your brand. As a business identifier, your domain name is an important part of your brand and forms part of your intellectual property. Domain scams, such as reverse hijacking, have proliferated because businesses attach a financial value to their domain names.

The Business of Domain Names

Domain names are the text equivalent of numeric Internet Protocol addresses assigned to websites. Since it is difficult to distinguish and recall numeric strings, domain names have turned into important branding strategies for businesses and individuals.

Domain names are registered with the Domain Name System (DNS), which is administered by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Domain names are unique, must be DNS-listed through a registrar and can be owned for a defined period starting from one year to several years. Costs vary widely, ranging from a low of $7 annually to a high of $35 per year.

Domain Name Scams and how they Work

Clearly, scammers are not after domain names for the registration revenues alone. They are aware of the value of domain names to trademarked brands and capitalize on this to for their own ends.

Domain Hijacking

By examining the whois database, scammers can find registrants whose renewal dates are upcoming. They send a renewal notice and invoice the domain holder, hoping that owners will not notice that the invoice is from a different registrar. Fine print in the invoice may include references to a transfer of registration, but if domain holders fail to read this part, they end up contractually bound to the fraudster for many years unless they pay hefty penalties.

Another form of domain hijacking targets celebrities and popular organizations with a reputation to protect. Scammers register domains using the names of the famous person or organization. Fraudsters profit by attempting to sell the registered domain name to the entity who owns the trademark or the name, often forcing their hand by populating the website with unflattering content.

Reverse Hijacking

Reverse domain grabbing refers to allegations made by trademark owners that individuals or smaller organizations are cybersquatting by registering domain names that, by trademark laws, should belong to the bigger organization. To avoid costly legal action, legitimate domain holders may just give up the name.
Domain holders who wish to defend themselves against cybersquatting allegations will have to show proof that their DNS registration predates trademark rights of the complainant.

Asian TLD Registrations and Slamming

It has become customary to add country codes to top level domains (TLD) when the website refers to information specific to that country. However, it is not required especially with unpopular country code TLDs. In a practice called slamming, scammers advise trademark owners of purported attempts to register their domain names appended with the .cn country code for China. Businesses who have interests in China might feel pressured to protect their digital turf by agreeing to register the domain at above-market rates.

Phishing and Link Manipulation

Scammers use phishing techniques to gain access to valuable personal information. Recipients of phishing emails are directed to sites with deceptively similar domain names or with the same domain but with a different TLD or subdomain. Clicking on the link may lead to a spoofed website that would then gather passwords and personal information from unsuspecting respondents.

Dealing with Domain Scams

To avoid falling victim to domain name scams, make sure to keep organized records of domain registrations including renewal dates and registrar information. Cautiously examine unsolicited mail, and pay attention to the fine print. Contact your registrar to verify invoices and renewal notices before signing binding documents.

One Response to Domain Scams

  1. Hi, my rich uncle is interested in your domain….

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