Fraud creates waste, harms public confidence and distracts from business as usual. New online opportunities to commit fraud abound, with scams resulting in millions of dollars of lost productivity, deceptive purchases and, in some cases, taxpayer funds.
A type of cybersquatting called domain spoofing or typo-spotting capitalizes on common spelling errors or mistaken domain extensions like .net instead of.org. Often paired with cloned homepages that duplicate the appearance of the original site, they exist to trick consumers into spending money or disclosing sensitive information for future scams, including identity theft.
Bad faith cybersquatting profits off the positive association with a different brand’s trademark or an individual’s name. Cybersquatters can also purchase a domain name of a real brand or a person then attempt to profit by reselling it.
Recently, the Oklahoma County Board of Commissioners reported a case of cybersquatting fraud. Namecheap Inc., a registrar of internet domains, had registered a private domain for oklahomacounty.net, an intentional misrepresentation of the official website, oklahomacounty.org. Fake email accounts facilitated the purchase of thousands of dollars of superfluous items billed to the county. The county has since sought an injunction from the Oklahoma County Court.
While a court order may result in forcing a domain registrar like Namecheap to transfer, pause or deregister fraudulent websites, there is a less costly method. The Uniform Domain-name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) helps trademark owners resolve disputes by working directly with registrars, which collect registrants’ contact information that may otherwise be private.
The UDRP allows trademark owners to file a complaint with a dispute resolution service provider, such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) or Forum. The complaint must allege:
- that the disputed domain is identical or confusingly similar;
- that the registrant of the disputed domain has no rights or legitimate interest;
- that the disputed domain was registered in bad faith.
The registrar is notified of the UDRP complaint and required to inform the registrant of the disputed domain; the owner can then respond with an answer within a specified period.
Often, no response is received because fraudulent email addresses were also used to set up the website. After the response date has passed, WIPO or Forum will assign the case to an administrative panel. If the website is found to be infringing and was registered in bad faith, the registrant will be required to cancel the domain or transfer it to the complainant.
Consulting with your company’s marketing and legal teams can help avoid fraud and trademark infringement issues, and the UDRP process is an important method to be aware of as a first course of action.
* This article first appeared in The Journal Record on November 4, 2022, and is reproduced with permission from the publisher.