With the growth of the internet, domain name “scams” have proliferated. Are you at risk? Mark Heritage and Rachael Sharples of ACID Accredited Law Firm Hammonds LLP, explain. 

ACID member Duresta, the exclusive furniture and upholstery designer and manufacturer, recently received an e-mail from a company called “Asia DNR” (Domain Name Registration). They claimed to be “the” domain name registration organisation “in Asia”, and warned that another company had “applied” to them to register various domain names similar to Duresta’s main domain name, duresta.com (e.g. duresta.asia, duresta.tw etc).

Inevitably, the next request was for Duresta to pay substantial amounts of money to register the domain names via Asia DNR. Following discussion with Hammonds, and as Duresta already suspected, it became clear that several of the domains had already been taken, and some did not even exist. Duresta sensibly refused to pay anything.This is only one of many domain name scams. They are typically operated from abroad over the internet or ‘phone, and try to sell non-existent domains, or existing domains at a hugely inflated price. The key giveaways are:- An initial, unprompted note, usually from somebody trying to sound “official”, that someone else has “applied” to register domains close to your own. There is no requirement to “apply” for a domain.  A domain can be bought in seconds through a mainstream, established domain name “registrar” service, such as Network Solutions or Fasthosts. Registrars do not conduct searches for domain names that have been applied for. - A follow-up demand for large sums of money (sometimes running into the hundreds or even thousands of pounds / Euros / dollars per domain) if you reply, expressing your concern about the domains names that have been flagged up. By this point, the scammer has “latched on” to you as a viable target.Some of the more common scammers and techniques (and there are many) are well known – see www.domainscams.co.uk and http://www.nominet.org.uk/disputes/legalinfo/scams for useful summaries, and further information.So what are the top tips for protecting yourself? 1. Never reply to an unsolicited e-mail notifying you of “applications” for domains similar to your company’s existing domain(s), or your company or trading name. Delete it. If you are called, hang up. Responding to any communication simply lets the scammer know you are a soft target.

2. Help your fellow industry members by circulating news of the scam to trade bodies. ACID has been contacted by several members who have experienced this problem and are able to reach a large audience with advice on scams, such as the ongoing Fairguide issue or the recently publicised fake Design Registration issue.

3. Consider establishing your “territory” before the scammers or other squatters get there, by applying to register key domains (e.g. .com, .co.uk, .eu, .info, .org, .biz) directly through a mainstream registrar. The fees are typically in the low tens of pounds / Euros / dollars per domain, plus a similar periodic (bi-annual or longer) renewal fee – i.e. much, much lower than fees charged by the scammers. Put those domains to good use by advertising your company on them and redirecting traffic back to your core website. 

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Mark Heritage

(Mark Heritage and Rachael Sharples are IP specialists at Hammonds LLP, Manchester)  

As the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 came into force there is no doubt that consumers are given greater protection in terms of misleading advertising and aggressive selling techniques, whilst the burden ultimately falls on traders.

The rather cumbersomely titled Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 came into force on 26 May 2008, implementing the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive 2005/29. These regulations prohibit unfair commercial practices, protecting consumers from unfair contracts, misleading actions or omissions and aggressive commercial practices. In the event of an offence being committed the penalty can consist of a fine or a possible prison sentence of up to two years.

Change in this area of law has been long awaited, and it is likely to be welcomed by most as it widens the scope of consumer protection and clamps down on unscrupulous traders. Moreover, by replacing much of the legislation previously in place, such as provisions in the Consumer Protection Act 1987 and the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 the aim of the regulations is to clarify and streamline the law in this area. One of the most significant aspects of this legislation is Schedule 1 as it identifies 31 commercial practices which are to be considered unfair in all circumstances. These include falsely stating that a product will only be available for a very limited time in order to elicit an immediate decision and deprive consumers of sufficient opportunity or time to make an informed choice (practice 7), and claiming that the trader is about to cease trading or move premises when it is not (practice 15). Of specific interest to ACID members perhaps, the regulations also provide that it is unfair to promote a product similar to a product made by a particular manufacturer in such a way as to deliberately mislead the consumer into believing that the product is made by that same manufacturer when in fact it is not (practice 13).The provisions are intended to provide generic rules for traders so that they do not trade unfairly. Transgressions of the regulations can be reported to Trading Standards, whose duty it is to enforce the regulations.In the short term uncertainty may arise in relation to the regulations, particularly in terms of the legality of different sale offers. Case law prior to the regulations is unlikely to have much relevance now, although European case law concerning the interpretation of the directive may be of use.One of the main objectives behind the legislation was to simplify consumer rights and bring the United Kingdom in line with other Member States in the EU who already have unfair trading legislation. Consumers will continue to be protected from misleading actions, omissions and situations where they are subjected to aggressive commercial practices. For businesses this legislation may mean a change to their working practices and greater scrutiny of what they say and omit to say and all businesses need to be aware of the changes to the law and alive to their implications. In cases where an offence is committed due to the default of another or a genuine mistake, where precautions have been taken to avoid such instances the defence of due diligence may be available to lessen the harshness of the regulations. Sarah Birkbeck

Sarah Birkbeck is a lawyer with DMH Stallard

An intellectual property seminar will be held by The British Library  on Tuesday 15th July at the British Library Business and IP Centre, between 10.00am and 12.00pm.  For further details click here or go to www.bl.uk/bipc

Benchmark

Why not enter the Benchmarks Awards 2008? Have you set a benchmark in brand design?Would you benefit from the prestige of having your work in print:

In the Shortlist Supplement, which will be sent to all Design Week subscribersDisplayed on the Design Week websiteSent to 5,500 influential marketing and design professionals in the Benchmarks Book?Would you like to demonstrate to your clients that you have worked within brand guidelines to deliver award winning designs?Would you like to enhance your reputation by demonstrating your point of difference?Can you demonstrate great branding, with a strong strategic concept, which has been applied across a number of communication platforms?You can celebrate the collaboration between yourself and your client that has resulted in great branding work – a sure way to win repeat orders.Submit your entries online at www.designweek.co.uk/benchmarksEntries can be made by design consultancies, branding agencies, in-house design teams and brand owners. Businesses or projects that have been launched, redeveloped, or that show substantial, measurable progress since September 2006 are eligible.The Benchmarks aim to judge entries against the backdrop of the market sector they were created for. Please here to view the categories. Extended Entry Deadline: Friday 18th JulyEntry Costs1 Entry £215+VAT2-4 entries £165 + VAT5+ Entries £138 +VAT per entryThe Benchmark awards will be held on Tuesday 2nd December 2008 at the Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, London.

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