How California consumers lose when cybersquatters profit

The new pope’s election to the head of the Catholic Church drew enormous coverage and interest in California and worldwide, even for people who were not among the religion’s 1.2 billion members. However, not all of the curiosity had an innocent motivation. Cybersquatting hustlers were also primed to take advantage of the papal transition.

The Vatican’s policy of keeping a tight lid on Holy See communications may have been loosened by the abrupt announcement of Pope Benedict XVI’s retirement. The surprise was opportunity enough for Internet law manipulators to race to buy and profit from Bishop of Rome-related domain names.

The College of Cardinals had barely released the white smoke signal of Pope Francis’s election before cybersquatters went on a buying spree. Popefrancis.org was one of 600 domain addresses that were snapped up hours after the leadership change. The goal for most of the buyers was quick profit through short-term cons of misguided users or domain name resales to parties with authentic religious interest.

Cybersquatters look for online opportunities that skirt Internet laws to prevent bogus domain name transactions. The textbook cybersquatter will purchase trademark domains in haste, throw up temporary money-making sites and close down before detection.

Businesses sometimes wage intellectual property wars by purchasing domain names that mirror competitors’ brands. Unsuspecting users are then redirected to the rival’s home page.

Many consumers have learned to spot false-front domains, but some innocent users still get lured into scams. Tech-smart businesses like Facebook screen questionable profiles, but the company doesn’t rein in all of them before financial or brand harm is done.

Users fooled by false domains are vulnerable to identity theft. Legitimate businesses suffer trademark damage and incur profit-depleting costs to police and prosecute elusive cybersquatters.

Online brand protection can be a round-the-clock effort. Costs are reflected in high consumer prices. California intellectual property attorneys are prepared to prosecute cybersquatters. The hard part is catching them.

Source: ca.news.yahoo.com, “Three ways ‘cyber squatting’ messes with your online experience,” Greg Hughes, March 16, 2013

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