A current report recently published an alarming number: In 2018, users “accidentally” visited CM websites such as itunes.cm or espn.cm and thus came across the websites of subtle fraudsters. Among others, it was Netflix and Citibank. They fell victim to .OM Typosquatters. By accidentally omitting the “c”, many users were directed to websites trying to install malicious malware.
In this article, we explain how dangerous a harmless typo can be. We also provide an overview of the legal situation and suitable strategies for brand protection on the Internet.
Simply put, Typosquatting means registering typo domains. With type quatting, fraudsters consciously register domains very similar to known web addresses and only differ in terms of a typo, a spelling error, or a wrong domain ending. In the example above, the web address itunes.cm was registered by a typosquatter, and anyone who had forgotten the ending “o” when typing the domain name in the browser ended up unsuspecting on the wrong website. A small mistake brought the fraudster a lot of traffic he could exploit for his abusive machinations.
Typosquatting, also called URL hijacking or brandjacking, is made possible by typing or spelling errors in the domain name. If a user makes a mistake while typing the domain and does not notice this, he unintentionally ends up on the wrong website. The owner of this domain now receives the traffic that the trademark owner of a known domain is entitled to.
A typosquatting case became internationally known for the first time in 2006. Back then, the Typosquatters had their sights on the Google.com website. Examples of typosquatting domains are, e.g. URLs like Foogle.com, Hoogle.com, and Voogle.com. Since the letters F, H, and V are right next to the G on the keyboard, the typing error happens quickly, and the typosquatter (= owner of the fraudulent domain) automatically receives visits from Internet users who have tried to reach Google.com.
In the following, we show different types of typosquatting and illustrate them with examples. These examples are purely fictional! In reality, large companies like Apple or Google have, of course, long since taken up the fight against typosquatters and registered typical typo and spelling error domains themselves or had them blocked by a special ICANN service.
What exactly makes typosquatting dangerous? It’s simple. Nobody registers a domain with the typo or spelling errors mentioned above for fun. Typosquatters mostly have criminal intentions and try to make a profit with the Typosquatting domains. In the case of the mentioned above, Google typosquatting from 2006, for example, the fraudsters sent malware downloads to unsuspecting visitors.
Typosquatting is not only a danger for users but also for brand owners. The latter lose valuable traffic and thus sales through typo domains. Damage to the image cannot be ruled out either. Here, we see the importance of full domain protection as part of a comprehensive online trademark strategy. By proactively registering variations of their domain, companies can prevent typosquatters from capitalizing on these common mistakes, thereby safeguarding their brand and their customers’ security.
Here is a list of possible intentions of typosquatters:
Typosquatting is often equated with domain squatting. However, this is only partially true. While Typosquatting relies on typing or spelling errors, the so-called cybersquatters register or use domain names to which they are not entitled.
The term cybersquatting means the improper registration of domain names that contain legally protected terms:
The cybersquatters intend to sell these domains as high-priced as possible to the actual rights holder. It can be the company, the brand owner, or the person. Many companies will pay thousands of euros for these “fake” URLs. Only by purchasing this domain can you prevent future abuse. Since the URL hijacker only spends a few euros to register the domain, cybersquatting is often very profitable.
The word cybersquatting includes the term “squatter”. This term was first used in 1788 for a squatter – a person who uses someone else’s property even though they have neither the right to do so nor pay rent. To describe a similar situation on the World Wide Web, the term squatter was supplemented by the word “cyber”. A cybersquatter is, therefore, a person or a company that “occupies” a domain, although they have no rights to do so.
One of the earliest legal references to cybersquatting is a lawsuit between Avery Dennison Corporation and d Jerry Sumpton in 1998. Jerry Sumpton had registered the domain names www.avery.net and www.dennison.net, which were identical to plaintiff Avery Dennison’s two trademarks. Also, Jerry Sumpton had around 12,000 other domains registered for cybersquatting.
The judge, in this case, made it clear at the time: “The defendants are so-called cybersquatters. They have registered over 12,000 internet domain names. And not for their use but solely to prevent the actual rights holder from registering these domains. And like all cybersquatters, the defendants try to make a profit with this abuse by offering the domains to the brand owners at increased prices.”
In a report, FairWind Partners examined the connection between typosquatting and the decline in sales of the companies concerned. The report made it clear that typosquatting can cause immense damage. The value of traffic to the abusive typo domains was estimated to be over $ 50 million. Not included, because it is difficult to quantify, are negative consumer experiences, the loss of image, and the lost trust.
Almost a third of all cybersquatting cases are in the banking and finance, fashion, internet, and IT sectors.
Cybersquatting disputes relating to new generic top-level domains (New gTLDs) account for more than 12% of cases.
In the USA, France, UK, Germany, and Switzerland, most of the domain legal proceedings were reported to the WIPO. The clear front-runner is the USA.
Typosquatting violates trademark law in the USA. Trademark protection is regulated in this “Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act”. If a domain name is registered whose wording corresponds to or is similar to a protected trademark, the rights of the trademark owner are infringed in most cases. If this is the case, he can assert injunctive relief.
The law against unfair competition (UWG) can also be used for typosquatting.
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