August 2014: Have you ever typed in a URL and landed someplace totally unexpected? Or not realized you were on the wrong website until after you clicked around a while? Chances are you hopped onto a typosquat.
Typosquatting is when someone occupies a domain that’s super-similar to another domain in hopes you’ll land there by mistake. Here’s why you should avoid them:
1. You can get malware. It’s an old trick but it works. The malware can automatically download once you land on the site or the site may try to get you to click on another link that contains the malware — the usual slimy tactics. Don’t click! Leave the site.
2. You can get ripped off. Some typosquatters want to hijack business from competitors. Once you’re on their site, either you don’t notice it’s a duplicate site that looks like the hijacked site or you don’t care it’s a different site because you’re finding what you need. If you place an order, sometimes you’ll get the product, sometimes you don’t. And sometimes you may get nasty charges on your credit card or even your identity stolen. You may have heard of (or fallen victim to) the AnnualCreditReport.com scam — lots of possibilities for typos in that long URL!
3. You can inadvertently contribute to a pay-per-click scheme. There’s a ton of money in it. Your clicks drive up prices. And they generate revenue for sham businesses that are hurting legitimate businesses. Search engines, including Google, have profited passively from these schemes, too, by turning a blind eye. Google has faced at least one class action lawsuit for violating on the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA).
4. You can land on porn you don’t want to see. Typosquatters hope once you’re there, you might stick around. This is definitely NSFW and could even be traumatic if your kids are lousy typers (remember to use parental control options!).
5. You are not immune, sorry. You can transpose letters, skip letters, misspell, use .com instead of .net, forget to use a plural, type double letters when it should be a single letter or vice versa — plus there are all the “fat finger” errors. No human types perfectly all the time. In fact, researchers estimate typosquatters receive almost 70 million visitors every day.
That’s a lot of traffic! Which is why there’s a lot of typosquatting.
If you’re in a hurry, you could easily type in microsotf.com instead of microsoft.com. But if you click both of these links, you’ll see that the misspelled URL automatically redirects to the correct one. So do a whole bunch of other typosquatting possibilities, like microsof.com, mircosoft.com, mirosoft.com, microsft.com and microsoft.org. That’s because Microsoft has bought them up. Not all companies think about doing this. Or can afford to do this. Often scammers buy URLs specifically to try to sell them to the brand owners at super-inflated prices. (Note: It seems not to have worked for the owners of mcrosoft.com.)
In fact, Sophos, an IT security company, recently completed an experiment that looked at all things typosquat for high-profile, popular domain names and found more than 80% of the typosquat-able domains for Apple and Google were already taken.
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