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Cybersecurity

When You Mean Facebook but Type Faecbook

Scammy websites capitalizing on misspellings are on the rise

Any company that achieves a sizable online presence faces the threat of typosquatters. They’re the ones who buy up domain names spelled similarly to those of real companies and take advantage of fat-fingered users. In October, the National Arbitration Forum dismissed a complaint filed by Google seeking control of three typosquatting sites, goggle.com,goggle.net, and goggle.org. The arbitration panel said it lacked jurisdiction. The sites, registered to a Barbados-based businessman named David Csumrik—that’s not a typo—divert users to a visitor survey that promises a chance to win prizes such as iPads. According to several watchdog groups, it’s a scam: Victims don’t win any prizes, and their e-mail addresses are blitzed with spam. Csumrik did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Small typing errors are causing outsize problems for companies. A 2010 study conducted by FairWinds Partners, a Washington (D.C.)-based Internet consulting firm, estimates that typosquatting costs the 250 most-trafficked websites $285 million annually in lost sales and other expenses. “Typosquatting is rampant,” says Benjamin G. Edelman, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School who has researched the topic. “It’s not unusual for a top website to be targeted by more than a thousand typosquatting domains.”