educational

Domain Registration

Monte Cahn
Online identity theft and fraud are two of the fastest-growing crimes in United States. Domain-name hijackers and other computer savvy thieves are taking advantage of companies' online brands, their domain names and their customers at a frightening rate. However, there are several simple ways to protect online brands from impersonation and other forms of online sabotage.

  • Protect domain names from expiring. Many companies lose domain names because they let them expire. Someone else can then swoop in and register the domain name before the company realizes its mistake. Some domain registrars do their best to tell companies when their domain names are expiring; however, if your contact information is out of date, the domain registrar can't get in touch with you. Most inadvertent domain expirations and many fraudulent transfers are due to out-of-date contact information.

    If you have more than one domain name, consider consolidating your domain names with one registrar that has domain portfolio management features. Master accounts will allow you to manage all of your domain names from one location and one interface all at one time, rather than having to keep track of several domain registrars.

    Also, consider registering your domains for longer periods and renewing domain names early and for a longer span of time. Since your domain name is a critical part of your business, it's only common sense to invest in it by registering in five- to 10-year increments, saving yourself the yearly hassle of renewing and preventing accidental expiration.

  • List your company as the administrative contact. You or your company should always be listed as the administrative contact. Do not allow a third-party website designer, hosting company or even an employee to be listed as the domain owner or administrative contact. There's always a danger of losing your domain name when you entrust it to someone else. If you list a third party as the domain owner or administrative contact, you're giving them permission to control that domain name. If your relationship with that third party sours, he or she can hold your domains hostage and refuse to release them.

    If you choose to list an employee as the administrative contact, be very careful. A disgruntled employee can use his or her status as administrative contact to transfer the domain to another registrar or server, disrupting your online business and causing you to lose money while you fight to get your domain name back.

  • Register all domain name variations, extensions and country codes. Another method that domain fraudsters use to impersonate legitimate companies is registering slight misspellings and alternative domain extensions (such as .net, .org, .info and .biz, or country codes like .de, .co, .uk, .eu, .jp), and then setting up a similar-looking website to steal your customers, or worse, to commit fraud by stealing your potential traffic and even your customers' information. Register all domain name extensions, misspellings, singular and plural versions, hyphened versions and country codes to ensure no one can register a similar domain name and damage your online brand. It is really a small investment to secure your brand.

  • Lock down your domain names. Nowadays, many domain registrars don't lock your domain names when you register them. While many domain registrars offer registrar lock services, you have to make sure the service is turned on in order for it to protect your domain names. A registrar lock protects your domain names at the registry level by preventing a third party from transferring, modifying or deleting your domain records. If your current domain registrar doesn't offer a registrar lock service, consider transferring to one that does.

  • Monitor your online brand using alert services. When you have an online brand, you want to make sure that competitors or disgruntled customers aren't posting disparaging web pages about it.

    Alert services can help you monitor what's being said about your online brand on the Internet. The programs will crawl through thousands of web pages looking for key phrases related to your brand and will send you notifications any time your online brand appears on other web pages. This will give your marketing team early warning for a potentially harmful use of your brand that could tarnish your image.

  • Do not respond to domain spam emails. Many domain hijackers and unscrupulous registrars use mass email spamming to steal domains from other domain registrars. They will send "official looking" renewal notices encouraging you to reply or click on links that are basically confirming your permission to move your domain name. Do not reply or click on any links from domain registrars that you don't recognize. Contact your original registrar and confirm all suspicious messages.

  • Take proper email precautions to protect your domain name. Most domain registrars use email to correspond with clients. Make sure you take the proper email precautions to ensure your domain registrar can reach you. Don't use free email addresses from services like Hotmail. Many free email services will automatically suspend or delete your email account if you don't log in frequently enough. This gives thieves the opportunity re-register that email account and gain access to your domain account.

    If you are concerned about receiving email spam from your administrative contact email, use either a WhoIs privacy service or use a spam filter to keep out the extraneous spam emails. WhoIs privacy service ensures that your information is kept private and acts as a mediator between you and the outside world. If you choose to use the spam filter instead, make sure you set up permissions so that your registrar emails aren't filtered into your junk mail box. Remember that administrative contact email is very important to ensure that your domain gets renewed properly.

  • Protect yourself from keyword theft. One of the newest identity fraud techniques is the purchasing of keywords that match your brand, identity, copyrights and company slogans in an effort to steal your traffic from search engines. Fraudsters are purchasing keywords on Google and Overture that sometimes result in unrelated companies — instead of your brand — being presented at the top of search engine results. If you are not marketing yourself through the search engines, make sure you know who is buying the keywords that match what you offer. You will be surprised to see who those companies are and how much they are paying for keywords. They will even buy your brand name as a keyword if they get the chance.

  • Use common sense when working remotely. Many fraudsters pick up passwords and private information by watching over your shoulder when you are working remotely at conferences, cyber cafes and on airplanes. Many cafés have keyboard tracking and screen capture software running in the background. Credit card information, passwords and other private information all can be scraped from locations and can be used against you. Protect your information at all times, and try using your own laptop when traveling. Also, try to use secured network connections if you are working wirelessly. A lot of information is flowing back and forth on networks that sophisticated fraudsters can capture in various ways when you are not protecting yourself.

Remember, domain names are an investment; they are the cornerstone of your company. Protect your domain investments by taking these precautions and stop domain hijackers from stealing your domains and committing Internet fraud at your expense.

Monte Cahn is CEO of Moniker.com, one of the top three fastest-growing ICANN-accredited Internet domain registrars. Cahn has been in the domain business since 1996 and is the host of the Internet radio show "Domain Masters."

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