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What is a Typosquatter?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 01 November 2016
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During the late 1990s, as governments tried to gain some legislative control over the Internet, the practice of cybersquatting became front page news. A cybersquatter would register domain names which had the potential of becoming popular or lucrative. The cybersquatter would either use the domain name to generate traffic or attempt to resell it at an inflated price. The practice of cybersquatting became much more difficult with the passage of legislation such as the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA). But a savvy cybersquatter could always become an even more successful typosquatter.

A typosquatter registers domain names which closely resemble high-traffic websites, but feature common misspellings and consumer confusions. A typosquatter might register several domain names like Anazon.com, Amazzon.com, Amazons.com and so on. Customers seeking the real Amazon.com website may accidentally type the wrong URL, which directs them to one of the typosquatter's own websites. These websites are usually nothing more than a collection of lucrative click-through advertisements. In some cases, the sites are pornographic. Even using .net instead of .com can lead to a typosquatter's website.

Another trick used by typosquatters is to register domain names using one or two adjacent letters. Consumers in a hurry might type in smazon.com or hoogle.com, since the letters 's' and 'h' are adjacent to the correct letters on the keyboard. A typosquatter will often register dozens of these typo-laden domain names.

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In addition, a typosquatter may register variations such as NobleandBarnes.com, BensandJerry.com or JenniferLopes.com. Their hope is that some customers will not know the exact URL of the company's website, so they will input something similar. Even an missing hyphen can cause a web surfer to be rerouted to a typosquatter's lair. From there, escape is impossible without clicking on several pop-up ads, a practice known as 'mousetrapping'.

Some cybersquatters may have believed the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act did not extend to typosquatting, but they were wrong. In a landmark ruling, a major typosquatter was severely penalized for deliberately registering confusing domain names modeled after the Joe Cartoon franchise. The court ruled that his registered misspelled or similar-sounding domain names created confusion in the marketplace. The language of the ACPA does indeed extend to typosquatting, since both cybersquatting and typosquatting are not covered under fair use laws. A typosquatter depends on consumer error to earn a profit, which the court determined infringed on the trademark rights of the authentic domain name owner.

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oscar23
Post 11

You know, I almost got into serious trouble by accidentally hopping on a typosquatters site one time. It was a government website that I was looking for, but I didn’t know to go with a .gov address.

The site that I went to looked legitimate and everything. Very nice, neat – not tons of misspellings and things like you would normally find on a cybersquatters site.

However, they had places for you to fill in your personal information, just like if you were filling out the actual government form. They just never informed you that it was not a government form in the least!

Luckily, I realized what was up before I got too far. I’m scared to think what all might have happened if I had continued, however!

LisaLou
Post 10

I ran in to situations like this when I was involved with internet marketing. There are genuine, honest ways to make money with the internet, but there are also a lot of dishonest people out there.

This is something I was made aware of when I was looking for a domain name for my website. When you type in possible choices, you are given all kinds of options for your domain name.

Since it only costs about $10 a year to have a domain name, many people will buy these names that are similar to well-known names in the hopes of somehow making a profit.

It is pretty easy to misspell something and type in a wrong name. Sometimes they will use hyphens in the name to make it look like the real site.

There must be some people who are making a profit at this or there wouldn't be so many of them.

SarahSon
Post 9

Part of my job includes internet research, and you would be surprised at how many of these websites are out there.

Even though the cybersquatting law might have scared off a few people, there are many more who are looking to make some money off the popular, well-known names and websites.

Once you land on a site like this, most of them are filled with ads, or some way for them to make a profit. Some of them look pretty legitimate and others are pretty easy to recognize as a low quality site.

I hope they continue to crack down on people who try to abuse this practice. If I am buying something online, I always make sure I am on an official, trusted site that has legitimate contact information.

It is too easy for internet theft and fraud to happen, and buying something from a typosquatter site can be avoided with a little bit of research.

Perdido
Post 8

@ElizaBennett – I rely on my URL's memory when typing in sites, too. I type in just enough so that it can identify where I want to go.

However, if you have ever made a mistake when typing in a URL, it will remember this, too. I had two addresses for one site stored in there because of a time I made a typographical error.

I kept selecting the wrong one, because I didn't read it closely enough. That's when I decided it was time to clear the history. This deleted all of the memory, and I had a fresh start.

wavy58
Post 7

@tigers88 – It's really bad when you get one of those typosquatter viruses on your computer at work. I had to have a technician do some major work on mine because of one.

I didn't get in trouble, because I was trying to do some research for an article at work. I made an error when typing the URL, and I ended up getting a virus.

Thankfully, my computer did not house all of our files. I was merely connected to a big server that stores everything at work, so none of it was damaged.

I have learned that it's best to do a search instead of typing in the URL, even if you know the exact address. You never know when your finger might slip.

OeKc05
Post 6

I have accidentally typed in the wrong URL and ended up on a typosquatter's website before at work. It can be very embarrassing.

I was trying to type a department store's website, because work was slow that day, and I wanted to do some Christmas shopping online in my down time. I misspelled the name of the store, and suddenly, I found my screen filled with porn.

I could not click off of it, either! My computer just froze. I could hear my boss's footsteps not far away, so I quickly reached under the desk and pulled the plug.

He walked by just after I had rebooted. He asked if I was having computer trouble, so I told him that the screen froze, but I did not mention why!

cloudel
Post 5

@MrsWinslow – I always wondered what those mysterious search pages were about! I never knew that they only showed selected results.

Really, I have never used one. If I typed in a URL and found that the page no longer existed there, I simply closed the window. I wasn't interested in searching further for something that no longer resided on the internet.

Now that I think about it, it should have displayed the words “page not found” instead of popping up with a search page. It was always some random name of a search engine I had never heard of, too.

Now, I'm glad I know not to ever use these search pages that are squatting where real sites used to be. Thanks for that information.

tigers88
Post 4

Its amazing to me the lengths that people will go to to try and make money off of the internet. It seems like just about every kind of trick, con or scheme that anyone anywhere in the world could think of has shown up in some form on the internet.

Sometimes this makes the internet seem like a jungle or a minefield. The goal of a lot of typosquatter sites is to download viruses onto your computer. One misstep, or in this case false keystroke, and your computer is corrupted. There is always someone trying to capture you on the internet.

jonrss
Post 3

@ElizaBennet - I have to confess that I still make this mistake pretty regularly. I use Google a lot but there are still some things that I go to the URL bar for. Some of the sites that I have been visiting since I first got online have become so second nature that I just automatically type in the addresses.

I have noticed that with some sites the typosquatters seem to have bought up all the deviant spellings but in other cases the company itself has bought up all the surrounding sites. I know that I have misspelled yahoo on several occasions and still been directed to their homepage.

I think this is a smart move for major sites because not everyone uses the internet in the same way or types perfectly. Its a cheap way to make sure people get to where they want to go.

MrsWinslow
Post 2

@ElizaBennett - I'm sure you're right that typosquatting and other domain name funny business are low-profit operations, but they are so low-cost that the internet is still full of them.

Something I've seen a lot of is "parked domains." A website goes under, and someone scoops up the domain and puts up a fake search page. It looks *almost* like a real website, but the search boxes will only pull up sponsored results, etc.

But you're right - most modern search engines are extremely good at filtering out this kind of content. You don't usually come across it unless you happen to be looking for it.

ElizaBennett
Post 1

I wonder if typosquatting is becoming less profitable these days. When was the last time you actually typed in a URL? Chances are you either Googled what you wanted or used a bookmark. (And if you searched but made a typo, Google is *fantastic* at reading your mind and knowing what you actually meant to type.)

On the rare occasions when I do type something into the URL bar on my browser, usually the browser fills it in for me. Basically, I can't think of a time I've been to a misspelled URL by accident.

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