Knowing about online brand use is vital for large organisations

How many .nl domain names incorporate your brand name? Sounds like a simple question. But many organisations don't know the answer. And cybercriminals are taking advantage of that. Every year, tens of thousands of businesses and professionals fall victim to crooks making use of popular brands. By sending scam e-mails and setting up fake sites using domain names that look like brand names, fraudsters trick people into parting with money and data. And that's bad news for brand owners.

Cybercrime corrosive for online brand reputation

Because, as well as costing the victims, such activities hit the brands by undermining their online reputations. Many brand owners find that once-bitten consumers are twice shy of legitimate marketing. With knock-on effects for retailers and even whole sectors. Just think of the many fake webshops that offer branded sneakers at knockdown prices, making life very difficult for genuine online shoe shops.

Damage is hard to quantify

It's hard for brand owners to quantify the reputation damage suffered. Most organisations don't know how often their brands are being used online, or by whom. Never mind what activities are involved. Indeed, some don't even have a proper overview of how their brands are being used by their own departments, subsidiaries and partners. Taking suppliers, advertising agencies and distributors into account, the number of domain names that make use of a brand can run into thousands. Sometimes, abuse doesn't come to light until the brand owner is directly targeted. Take cinema chain Pathé. Scammers using a realistic-looking e-mail address posed as an executive to trick local managers into transferring large sums abroad. While the Pathé case was extreme, it wasn't isolated. And incidents often prompt targeted companies to look for a solution.

Cybercrime isn't the only threat

Brand owners face other challenges as well. Well-meaning suppliers, distributors, retailers and other partners will often use a brand name in ways that create unintended problems. A while back, for example, we came across the case of an over-zealous employee at a large financial service provider. He'd independently built a website where visitors were invited to leave their contact details... never thinking that he was flouting his employer's policies on data protection and online security. Often, size can contribute to problems going undetected for long periods: a big company with numerous brands may be faced with thousands of lookalike domains that need checking out.

Help is at hand

Fortunately, there's a straightforward way to address such issues. Vast though the internet is, it's easy to search. As operator of the .nl domain, SIDN has an overview of all registered .nl domain names, plus almost all other domain names active in the Netherlands. Our Domain Name Surveillance Service (DBS) can quickly deliver a detailed picture of how a brand is being used. DBS features workflow tooling that enables large organisations to quickly and efficiently process numerous lookalike registrations. Taking action where abuse is suspected is also easier than you might think. Legal procedures aren't usually needed to get malicious domain names deactivated. For .nl and other top-level domains, there are special dispute procedures. And, in cases of serious abuse, the Notice and Take Down Scheme offers fast action. Unfortunately, there's a lack of awareness about the available schemes and procedures, even amongst lawyers.

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