Bewear. Bware. Beware. The Typosquatters

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Visitors to www.WescomCreditUnion.com are hit with an array of offers for auto, home, credit card and payday loans.

The problem for Wescom Credit Union here is that the website doesn't belong to the credit union, and the loans are offered by competitors.

"We don't want to be affiliated with the 'cheap unsecured loans' offered at the site by non-credit union vendors such as eLoan and CitiFinancial," explained John Kearns, Wescom's public relations manager.

Wescom's predicament with www.WescomCreditUnion.com is the result of "typosquatting," wherein someone has registered a domain name that is a slight variation of the legitimate, trademarked website, www.wescom.org.

Typosquatters feed off of Internet users who make typographical errors or guess domain names when they enter a website address into their web browsers. As a result, the user may inadvertently land at a squatter's site.

Though typosquatters could ostensibly moonlight as phishers to steal passwords, their main goal in life is to grab Internet users who have lost their way, then load third-party advertisements and rack up commissions.

Wescom has been targeted with "wescom.org," "wescomclassiccreditcards.com," "wescome-aboard.com" and "wescomcs.com," among others, said John Best, director of technology for Wescom Resources Group (WRG), Wescom CU's technology CUSO.

"So far the effect has been minimal," Best added. "Wescom, however, doesn't like the fact that they exist."

Credit unions may dislike typosquatters for several reasons. In addition to stealing loans, these "URL hijackers" wield the potential to tarnish the "trusted brand" with inferior products and services.

"We share concerns over Internet misrepresentation with the rest of the industry -truly any company with a brand name it wants to protect," said Victoria Selfridge, manager of eCommerce at $1.9-billion Ent FCU in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"Typosquatters have targeted most credit unions at this point, and it's easy to see why," said Kelly Dowell, executive director of the Credit Union Information Security Professionals Association in Austin, Texas.

"They are looking for domain names that generate high traffic," he said. "The more traffic, the greater the chance of a visitor mistyping the domain and landing on their sites."

Dowell is concerned about the principle of the thing, he said. "There is an obvious ethical issue at hand. These are individuals making money off of others' simple mistakes."

Wescom and Ent Federal are taking a stand against typosquatters. For example, both credit unions purchase many of the variations of their brand names.

That way, "many typos or 'name-guesses' that members or prospects might try are owned by Ent and redirect to the Ent site," said Selfridge. Ent also "strongly" markets the preferred domain, www.ent.com, she said.

The credit unions said they have learned they also must keep their eyes peeled for typosquatters.

"Our information security officer routinely conducts searches on the use of our legal and trade name online to insure that those making reference to Ent are valid business partners or affiliates," Selfridge explained.

And when they find a problem, the first strike is right at the source.

"We attempt to contact typosquatters to get them to desist," she offered.

Wescom hired MarkMonitor to do the same, according to Best.

MarkMonitor provides corporate identity management and protection for the CU, reporting instances of domain registrations that use the Wescom name, for example.

"We have the option of taking action," Best continued. "While it isn't cost effective to shut down everyone that is using the Wescom name, we do go after anyone that we believe is trying to attack or mislead our members."

Currently, Wescom is working with MarkMonitor to shut down one online impersonator, www.WescomCreditUnion.com, Kearns said.

American Airlines, Inc. quelled typosquatters in 2002 when the National Arbitration Forum ordered that the name www.aa.com be transferred to the company and its affiliates, which include American Airlines Credit Union.

CUJ RESOURCES

For info on this story:

* Ent CU at www.ent.com

* Wescom CU at www.wescom.org

* CUISPA at www.cuispa.org

* Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers at www.icannorg.

* National Arbitration Forum www.arb-forum.com

* MarkMonitor at www.markmonitor.com

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