Protect your company from online identity theft

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photo courtesy of Giant Ginkgo

Last week was pretty good for Illuminati Karate, a web developer in Raleigh, North Carolina. The company snapped up an expired web domain for $10 and resold it for a profit of $34,990.

The domain? The library's online vendor, Yuma Solutions, carelessly let the domain expire. And Yuma should have known better. It initially bought the domain for $3,000 - from yet another squatter.

 Welcome to the wild world of online identity, where seemingly anyone can appropriate a brand's name. Don't think it can happen to your company? Consider the threats:

• Cybersquatting, which occurs when someone purchases a domain that points to your brand, such as the example above. While there are laws against cybersquatting, it can be expensive and time consuming to win. And the so-called squatter may have a legitimate right to the name. In the early days of the Internet, a jazz club in New York called The Blue Note was outraged to discover that someone had already purchased the domain The owner, a music club in Columbia, Missouri, felt it had a legitimate right to the name. It, too, was The Blue Note. The New York club had to take legal action in Missouri, where it lost.

• Typosquatting, in which competitors purchase domains that are similar to a legitimate one in order to redirect traffic. For example, you could purchase and receive a fair number of visits from sloppy typists who meant to do a Google search.

• Phishing, in which a malicious web site poses as a well-established brand and solicits personal information. Phishing schemes typically target companies with online ecommerce, such as banks and credit card companies.

• Brandjacking, in which someone poses as your company in any online exchange. This can include popular social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace. Not long ago, a woman calling herself Janet set up the account ExxonMobilCorp on the Twitter microblogging site. She answered questions and shared expertise about her company, including the observation that the Exxon Valdez was not one of the worst 10 oil spills. The problem? Janet was not an ExxonMobil employee. While her account has been shut down, to this day no one knows who she was.

Five steps to protect your brand

  1. Manage your domain portfolio. This means purchasing all appropriate domains for your current and future needs and renewing them as needed. The time to purchase a new domain is before, not after, you launch a new product line, service, division or sponsorship.
  2. Consider purchasing alternative domains when there's a reasonable chance your customers will use them. This includes alternate names, spellings and top-level domains (such as .net or .biz). Not sure where to start? Spend some time with keyword tools available from Google and other companies, which tell you what people are actually searching for.
  3. Monitor your brand (and competitors) with Google Alerts. But don't stop there. You should also search the blogosphere (Google Blog Search or, blog comments (, discussion boards ( and Twitter ( You can streamline the search process by setting up RSS feeds, which deliver all of your results to one window on your desktop.
  4. While you may not have an interest in social networking sites, you should consider joining to keep others from taking your name.
  5. Choose a unique name that reflects your brand and is easy to spell and type when you're starting a new company or product line. Do a WhoIs search to make sure appropriate web domains are available. And protect your new identity as you grow it.

Remember, online there is only one There's only one And there's only one company that gets your sweat and blood.

If you want to keep it, you must protect it. 

A version of this article appeared in The Wichita Eagle business section on Dec. 18, 2008.

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This page contains a single entry by David Kamerer published on December 17, 2008 9:46 PM.

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