Squatters Fly Kites In Hurricane Season

    August 30, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

As the morning news shows led their programs regaling the audience about nothing happening in Florida (you have to get Michelle Kosinski on camera somehow), disaster domain scammers were probably quite busy taking advantage of ICANN’s five-day return policy.

TechWeb reports that on the eve of the not-a-hurricane Ernesto’s Florida landfall, 19 Ernesto-related domain names had been registered, including ernestohurricane.com,” “ernestodamage.com,” and “ernestoweather.com,” most of them registered to the same person.

This is reminiscent of Katrina, as heartless ne’er-do-wells looked to make a quick advertising buck off the frantic clickity-clack of anxious information seekers. A definite pattern is emerging whereby opportunists register domains in advance of impending doom, looking to cash in once Mother Nature exacts her vengeance. After Katrina, the Department of Justice made it quite clear this type of fraudulent behavior was unwelcome, setting up a task force to combat it.

But as TechDirt’s Mike Masnick points out, ICANN’s five-day money-back guarantee nearly removes any monetary risk or barrier to creating scam domains. In May, Mike predicted the trend of registering large blocks of domains, parking them for clicks, and then returning them to the registrars as “the next evolution of typosquatting obsession.”

He cites Go Daddy chief Bob Parson’s report that over 93 percent of domains registered in April were, like a poor girl’s prom dress, worn once and returned to the store. Parsons calls it “domain snapping.”

But a more sinister plot, says Parson, is registrar participation in “domain kiting,” where squatters buy blocks of domain names, “pimp them up with pay-per-click terms,” collect some cash and return the domain before the grace period is up. And then they do it again.

Apply, rinse, repeat.

From Email Battles:

The registrar benefits by holding the buyer’s cash between the purchase and return. By continually recycling the arrangement, participating registrars enjoy a nice books-sweetening float.

Problem is, ICANN is cut out of its income, and millions of legitimate domain name users (who can’t buy desirable domain names) are left holding the bag.

So don’t be surprised when every time you hear Al Roker mention a tropical storm with hurricane aspirations, a cluster of domain names appears including the names Florence, Gordon, Helene, Isaac, and Joyce. Heck, they’re probably in rotation now.

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