Unethical URL Hijacking Nets Big Revenue for Scamsters

Dennis Faas's picture

At one time or another, almost all of us have misspelled an URL (web address) in our web browser -- bringing us to a website that we did not intend to visit.

Many of the misspelled web addresses are in fact set up for unintended visitors -- all with one goal in mind: to elicit as much cash from the visitor as possible, whether it's direct or indirect revenue. Often these pages peddle questionable links to visitors, where each link presented pays the web site owner every time it's clicked.

Typosquatting: Also Known as URL Hijacking

This age-old deceptive practice known as 'typosquatting.' Typosquatters have existed for years, jockeying to register Internet domain names that are very similar to those of popular websites. Their ultimate goal is to generate traffic from rushed web surfers, which in turn pays out big money under somewhat false pretences.

In the past, these domains have done nothing more than advertise products and services that are often ignored, but in recent weeks, many have started promoting lucrative gifts like iPads and US $1,000 gift cards to various retail outlets. Not surprisingly, the most popular choice for Typosquatters is Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Legitimate-Looking Logos Deemed 'Deceptive'

Another deceptive practice is to create the same graphics and web layout that have become synonymous with legitimate online destinations.

For example, if a user types "twiter.com" (instead of twitter.com) into a browser, a Twitter-like page appears, complete with a similar blue-bird logo -- but instead touts the message, "Dear Visitor, You've been selected to take part in our anonymous survey. Complete this 30 second questionnaire, and to say thank-you, we'll offer you a few exclusive prizes. This offer is available today only." (Source: yahoo.com)

What the page fails to inform the user is that qualifying for the prizes requires filling out many more surveys and signing up for unwanted services and subscription offers.

Facebook, Twitter Fight Back

The deceptive practice has raised the ire of more than a few people within the industry.

Twitter spokeswoman Carolyn Penner said, in a recent email, "We (Twitter) are aware of, and clearly not happy about, the site. We are working towards reducing user confusion."

Facebook representatives also chimed in on the subject of typosquatting, saying that "sleazy marketers" are the ones responsible for the ubiquitous "Win a free iPad" or "Win a $1,000 gift card" scams that have been making their rounds on social network-like pages. (Source: computerworld.com)

Given the fact that affiliated marketers can net anywhere from a few pennies to over $1 in driving traffic to their web pages, the incentive to use unethical measures to attain their ultimate goal might be a tad overwhelming.

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