McQuigg: Actions to fight against fraud via “cybersquatting”

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Tynia A. McQuigg

Fraud creates waste, undermines public trust and distracts from the status quo. New online opportunities to commit fraud abound, with scams resulting in millions of dollars in lost productivity, deceptive purchases and, in some cases, public funds.

A type of cybersquatting called domain spoofing or typo detection exploits common misspellings or wrong domain extensions such as .net instead of .org. Often bundled with cloned homepages that replicate the look and feel 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 takes advantage of the positive association with another brand’s brand or an individual’s name. Cybersquatters can also buy a domain name from a real brand or a person and then try to profit from it by reselling it.

Recently, the Oklahoma County Board of Commissioners reported a case of cybersquatting fraud. Namecheap Inc., an Internet domain registrar, had registered a private domain for oklahomacounty.net, an intentional misrepresentation of the official site, oklahomacounty.org. Fake email accounts facilitated the purchase of thousands of dollars worth of superfluous items billed to the county. The county has since sought an injunction in Oklahoma County Court.

Although a court order can compel a domain registrar like Namecheap to transfer, pause or deregister fraudulent websites, there is a cheaper method. The Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) helps trademark owners resolve disputes by working directly with registrars, who collect domain name holder contact information that might 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 the Forum. The complaint must allege:

• the disputed area is identical or confusingly similar;

• that the holder of the disputed domain has no right or legitimate interest;

• that the disputed domain was registered in bad faith.

The registrar is notified of the UDRP complaint and is required to notify the holder of the disputed domain name; the owner can then respond with a response within a specified time.

Often no response is received because fraudulent email addresses were also used to set up the website. Once the response date has passed, WIPO or the Forum will assign the file to an administrative committee. If the website is found to be infringing and registered in bad faith, the registrant will be required to either 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 know about first.

Tynia McQuigg is an associate at Crowe & Dunlevy, crowdedunlevy.com, and a member of the firm’s Intellectual Property Practice Group.

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