Typos happen. They’re inescapable if you use a computer. This is why keyboards come with a Delete key. Given then that typos are expected, it was inevitable that someone out in the internet would find a way to profit from those typing mistakes.
Here’s an example: You’ve unwittingly mistyped the name of a website and ended up somewhere that is strangely familiar yet not what you expected to see. For example, take www.twiter.com, which is an obvious typo of www.twitter.com. Look below to see if you can immediately discern the difference between the two sites based only on what you see. One of the screenshots is from a twiter.com, the other is from twitter.com.
Visually, the color scheme and design are identical. The only clues that you have to indicate that you’re not actually on Twitter’s site is the URL (for the fake site the address reads “http://socialrewardcentral.com/?sov=138361”) and the absent option to log in to your account. If you’re relying only on your eyes, though, then you’re gonna get duped (by the way, the fakey site was the top example). This practice, known as typesquatting, is essentially email spam scams repackaged in the form of internet landmines planted for internet surfers to unexpectedly step upon when they make typos when entering a website’s URL.
Typesquatting is a tricksy trick by those hyenas out there the internet, but this ploy could start coming with a weighty fine should the opportunistic scammers get caught, as that was the result of a recent tribunal in the United Kingdom.
Two firms that were posing as Wikipedia and Twitter sites received a fine of £100,000, or $131,436.95 for you American readers. In a statement released yesterday, PhonepayPlus, an organization that regulates phone services in the UK, explained the reasons for the fine:
In both cases, the landing pages for the ‘squatted’ sites looked like the genuine sites the consumer was searching for – the ‘squatted’ sites used the same logos, colouring and fonts. These ‘squatted’ sites informed consumers that they had won or could claim a prize, such as an iPad. In both cases, consumers were given the impression that to enter or claim they simply had to enter their contact details and answer some questions. In both cases, one screen asked consumers to input their mobile phone number. Consumers then received a PIN number on their mobile phones to use for the website competitions. Consumers also began to receive texts to their mobile phones asking them quiz/survey questions, which they could text back to answer. Consumers were charged £1.50 for each question received on their mobile phones as well as £1.50 to answer each question. One complainant said that his fiancée ‘was tricked into a service on youtube’ and that she was charged £63 in total.
PhonepayPlus wants to send a message to webmasters who set up these nefarious sites in hopes of taking advantage of consumers, hence that staggering fine. The chief executive of PhonepayPlus also hopes that penalizing firms that mislead internet users will deter the continuation of this diabolical scheme.
Anybody out there ever fallen prey to one of these ‘typosquatting’ sites lurking out there in internetland? Think such a legal action could happen in other countries? Speak your say below in the comments.