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What is Typosquatting and How I Protect My Business?

By John DiGiacomo

Typosquatting refers to malicious criminal online behavior where “bad actors” set up a website with a domain name that is a “typo” away from a legitimate website. In other words, a fraudulent website is established with a domain name that is a purposeful misspelling of a legitimate domain name. For example, a cybercriminal might create a website with a domain name BOOKINGS.com to mimic the more famous BOOKING.com. Typically, the “fake” website looks very similar to a legitimate website. The criminal actors hope for two types of behaviors from which they can unlawfully profit:

  • Sending phishing-type emails that might be opened by employees of the legitimate business allowing hacking and/or the injection of malicious code and/or
  • The hope that, by accident, an internet user (customer) might be diverted to the fake website, which looks “real,” for various nefarious purposes like stealing funds, obtaining the customer’s personal information, or diverting sales to the mimicking website

Typosquatting is a form of cybersquatting and has become more common over the last few years. Cybersquatting is where a person or business sets up a website domain name that is the same as a trademark like WALMART.com. With typical cybersquatting, the criminal actor is hoping to be paid to transfer the domain name to the owner of the trademark (and this can be the purpose of typosquatting too). Cybersquatting is also defined as using a “confusingly similar” domain name like WALMARTSTORES.com. Typosquatting is the use of a “confusingly similar” domain name, but tends to be only one letter “off.” Criminal actors engaged in typosquatting focus on creating a domain name that could be an “easy” typo for a customer to make as they are typing or for an employee not to notice.

How Do I Protect My Business?

Both typosquatting and cybersquatting are unlawful and any business that is damaged by such behavior has legal recourse. However, prevention is often a better option. Here are a few strategies that can be used to protect your business from typosquatting:

  • Register and own domain names that are misspellings — One of the easiest methods for a business to protect itself from typosquatting is to register and own multiple domain names that are close misspellings of their “main” website domain name; of course, there are costs associated with registering and owning domain names, but the costs are far less than the damage that can be inflicted on your business by typosquatting
  • Monitor the marketplace and internet for typosquatting — Monitoring the marketplace and internet for typosquatting can be done in-house; but there are also reasonably priced services that will accomplish the same task
  • Prepare to dispute domain name ownership — if a domain name is “confusingly similar” to a domain name that is trademarked, ownership of that domain name can be disputed via arbitration proceedings before the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers
  • Prepare to litigate — As a form of cybersquatting, typosquatting is prohibited by the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act which was passed in 1999; those engaged in typosquatting can be sued in federal court for money damages and injunctive relief

Contact Revision Legal For more information or if you have other questions related to domain names and internet law, contact the trusted internet lawyers at Revision Legal at 231-714-0100.

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