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Cybersquatting: What to Know and How to Prevent It

  • Highlights

  • Cybersquatting refers to the registration of domains similar to popular brands with the intent to scam or damage the latter's reputation

  • Typosquatting is the most common type of cybersquatting. Domains which are common typos of the brand name are registered to redirect the traffic

E-commerce and direct-to-customer (D2C) shopping have now come of age. From groceries to apparel, from sophisticated electronics to real estate, nearly everything is bought online. It only stands to reason that brand Brand identity has become intricately connected with the e-commerce portal and website domain names in today's day and age.

Imagine that you have put in years of work and spent a lot of money establishing your brand identity and building a successful online web store. And someone books an inexpensive domain name closely representing your own, perhaps with a different extension (.com, .net, .in) or a slight change in the spelling. This domain owner could be attracting traffic that is meant for your business site. It could be used to run phishing or employment scams. Worse yet, this domain owner could threaten to ruin your brand's reputation unless you buy out the domain name, which often comes at a hefty premium. This tactic is known as cybersquatting.

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Is cybersquatting illegal?

Cybersquatting is the practice of registering a domain in bad faith, wanting to use the original brand's reputation illegally. It is considered a crime if -

  • It infringes on the registered trademark of the original brand

  • It is used to run phishing, vishing, employment scams in the name of the original brand

  • The registrant has no real business interest but registers it only to sell the domain to a competitor and ruin the original brand's business

While there are no clear-cut legal definitions that tell us "What cybersquatting is and when is it illegal?" when dealing with cybersquatting complaints, most of these are dealt with on a case-on-case basis.

Types of cybersquatting

  • Typosquatting – This is possibly the most common type of cybersquatting. Let us take the popular and trusted NBFC, Bajaj Finserv'sweb portal https://www.bajajfinserv.in/. Now cyber squatters could book domain names which are misspelt versions of the brand name such as bjajfnserv.in or bajafinserv.in or bajajfinsrev.in. When a user commits a typo while keying in the Bajaj Finserv web address, they could land up in any of these cyber squatter sites and increase the latter's traffic. These can also be used to run phishing scams.

  • Gripe Sites Cybersquatting – These are malicious sites that aim at ruining the goodwill and reputation of a brand. These domain names could contain the brand name but add mocking words to the URL.

  • Expiration Date Exploitation – Cyber squatters often keep track of the expiration date of popular brands' domain names and book them for a brief time before they are renewed. They thencharge a tremendously large sum to sell the domain back to the brand.

  • Look-Alike Domains – A cyber squatter could book a domain with a different extension and use the look-alike domain to run various scams or to redirect business. They can move around the words in the brand name or add a slight change to the URL.

  • Subdomain Cybersquatting – Sometimes, cybersquatters can split domain names, creating subdomains resembling the original brand's website.

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What can you do to combat cyber squatters?

As a brand owner –

  • Register your trademark and domain address as soon as they start getting traction

  • Register similar domain names if feasible

  • Take legal recourse if cyber squatters are hurting your business interests

As a customer –

  • Look out for typos in the URL or domain name

  • Do not engage with a website or e-commerce portal that looks suspicious

  • Use sites with the HTTPS protocol and not with the HTTP prefix

  • Report instances of cybersquatting to the original brand

  • Keep a lookout for phishing/vishing/employment scams

Savdhaan Rahein. Safe Rahein.

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