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Cybersquatting Leads to Identity Theft

Ever click on a link in an email or while browsing online, and something just wasn’t right? The domain name in the address bar was off by a letter or two? Or a word was misspelled? Maybe there was a number tossed in for good measure? This is either cybersquatting or typosquatting, and it’s a problem.

Cybersquatting is the act of procuring someone else’s trademarked brand name online, either as a dot com or any other U.S.-based extension. Cybersquatters squat for many reasons, including for fun, because they are hoping to resell the domain, they are using the domain to advertise competitors’ wares, stalking, harassment or outright fraud. Social media identity theft, or grabbing someone else’s given name on social networks, is another form of cybersquatting or, when it occurs on Twitter, Twitter squatting.

In particularly malicious cases of cybersquatting, identity thieves will use a domain similar to that of a bank in order to create a spoofed website for phishing. If the domain isn’t available, typosquatting is the next best option. After Annualcreditreport.com launched, more than 200 similar domains were quickly snapped up.

This is just one more reason to actively protect yourself from identity theft.

This week, Computerworld discussed the havoc that cybersquatting can have on a brand’s reputation. Sometimes, criminals copy a brand’s entire website in order to collect usernames and passwords from unwitting visitors. Then, the hackers will test those names and passwords on other websites. Cybersquatting increased by 18% last year, with a documented 440,584 cybersquatting sites in the fourth quarter alone, according to MarkMonitor’s annual Brandjacking Index report.

Intellectual property owners can sue cybersquatters under the federal Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, but it’s expensive and damages are limited to $100,000. They can try to shut down sites containing copyrighted content under provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and in some cases, they might be able to pursue violators for trademark abuse under provisions of the Lanham (Trademark) Act.

I’ve written before about the time I was accused of cybersquatting. I wasn’t, I swear! It was the early 90’s, and I had an IBM PS1 Consultant 3.1 Microsoft operating system and a rockin’ 150 MB hard drive. I bought myself some domains. I sold some, others I regrettably gave up. And there was one that will haunt me ’till the day I die.

I owned LEDZEPPELIN.com for about 5-6 years. Led Zeppelin was and is my band, and as a fan, I bought the domain as a keepsake. I would get emails from people all over the world, saying things like, “I am Paulo from Brazil, I love the Led Zep!”

Then, when Clinton passed a law later making cybersquatting illegal, I knew it was only a matter of time. I had it for five years before anyone from the band’s team of lawyers approached me about it. And when they did, I didn’t know how to handle it. And my lawyer at the time, even less so. Ultimately, I gave it up without a fight, but I’m sure the band’s lawyers billed them for the one inch thick book of a lawsuit I was served with. Sorry, dudes. My bad.

In this case, the lawyers saw an opportunity to build a case against me, a fan who would have been happy with a stupid guitar pick from Jimmy. Instead I sat in silence for a year while they built a huge case as to why they should own the domain. When served, I freaked out and called them, yelling that they could take it, that I never wanted that.

One of few regrets. But I have a nice one inch thick souvenir all about me and the band and why I’m an idiot.

Anyway, with cybersquatting on the rise, it makes sense to claim your name, your brand name, and your kids’ names on social networking sites and domain names as soon as possible. Just in case you get famous, you don’t want to have to fight a twit like me.

Protect your identity too.

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