New trick joins list of domain name scams: Internet Scambusters #482
A new trick has joined our growing list of domain name scams that lead to phony and dangerous websites.
Simply leaving out a single dot when you type a website or email address can land you in hot water by taking you to a page that uploads malware to your PC or steals your identity.
We have the details in this week's issue, along with a roundup of other scams involving domain names.
Let's get started...
Missing Dot Leads to Domain Name Scams
These days, punctuation doesn't seem to be considered as important as it used to be, but forgetting to put a single dot in an email address could lead you into the realm of dastardly domain name scams.
It's the latest twist to a series of scams in which crooks set up websites with names that are very similar to genuine sites.
(For those who don't know what a domain name is, it's simply the name of a website, like "scambusters.org".)
As we explained in an earlier report, Beware of Typosquatting and New Identity Theft Warnings, victims who mistype a website address can find themselves on a page that looks identical to the real thing.
As a result, they may then unknowingly download a virus onto their computers or be fooled into giving away confidential information that can ultimately lead to identity theft.
Now the scammers have stumbled across an even simpler way of tricking users.
As well as having a dot before the "com" or "org" in an address, some domain names include an additional dot in the middle.
For example, if you use the online email services of Google or Yahoo, you'll see their addresses start with something like "accounts.gmail.com" and "mail.yahoo.com" or "login.yahoo.com".
Most people actually bookmark these sites in their browsers, so they don't actually have to type the address, but you can see how easy it would be to forget that all-important first dot.
Thousands of businesses that offer multiple online services -- like Google and Yahoo but also lots of industrial and commercial organizations -- use this technique to distinguish between those different services.
So, for instance, if Scambusters also ran a coffee supply service, we might (but we don't) have a domain name like "coffee.scambusters.org".
Now, along comes the scammer, with the domain name "coffeescambusters.org". Notice, there's no dot in the middle.
The page would look exactly the same as our imaginary page, so if you forgot to put that dot in, you could end up there and be misled into thinking you could order your coffee and safely hand over your credit card number.
Now you know why we're not in the coffee business! (Joke.)
But these domain name scams obviously have serious implications. And they don't just apply to website visits.
They could lead to your emails being directed to the wrong address, and, if the messages contain confidential information or payment authorizations, you could be in trouble.
In a report published last fall, information security organization Godai Group explored some of these phony websites known as "doppelgangers" after the German word for a ghost-clone of an individual.
In the study, Godai identified that one third of companies in the Fortune 500 were susceptible to this type of domain name scam, and they found more than 120,000 wrongly addressed emails.
Some contained sensitive information like trade secrets, business invoices, usernames and passwords.
"Essentially, a simple mistype of the destination domain could send anything that is sent over email to an unintended destination," says the report.
The company discovered many doppelganger domain names had already been set up, mostly in Russia and China, using the names of established businesses.
Targeted firms included Dell, Kohl's, IBM and HP.
Godai suggested companies should themselves set up and buy up doppelganger names, with the dot missing, to avoid becoming victims.
But, in the meanwhile, for the rest of us, the message is clear -- don't drop the dot.
Whether you're keying in an address or sending an email, double-check to ensure you've included any extra dots.
These are more likely to be found in domain names that use two words (like "mail" and "yahoo") or have abbreviations before the name of the company.
By the way, if you own your own domain name, there's a whole bunch of domain name scams to be on the lookout for.
We've written about most of these in the past. Here's a summary with links to our earlier reports:
- Domain name registries trying to fool you into transferring your registration and payments to them, using phony invoices.
Domain Registration Scams
- Registries charging outrageously inflated fees.
Domain Name Registration Pricing Scams
- Organizations setting up domains in your names (either individually or as a business), then trying to sell them to you (again, for a high sum).
Domain Hijacking: A Dirty Business
- Letters and messages implying your domain ownership is somehow infringing the law (but really seeking money or trying to sell you another variation of your domain name).
Domain Name Registration Scam
Look out, too, for bogus offers from scammers claiming to be domain name brokers.
They claim to want to buy your domain name on behalf of a client... but first you have to pay a fee to register with this so-called "broker."
Domain names are an integral part of the Internet. It couldn't work without them.
But domain name scams, from missing dots to inflated fees, we can definitely do without!
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!