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Cybersquatters Beware TypoSquasher

We've all done it. You type in the URL to a Web site, but make a slight misspelling and find yourself staring at a home page very different than the one you expected.

So-called cybersquatters have been able to make a lot of money off these typo and misdirected URLs. Last year Microsoft filed three lawsuits against cybersquatters it claimed were profiting off the software giant's trademarks and the growth of online advertising.

The lawsuits were filed under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act of 1999. The Act says companies can take cybersquatters to court and seek up to $100,000 in damages.

The domain owners of the misspelled brand names earn money by displaying ads or auctioning the Web site names.

CitizenHawk thinks it has a solution and some big name customers have signed on. The company formally launches its TypoSquasher technology today, which has been used by a number of customers in a pre-release trial for several months now.

The automated TypoSquasher is an on demand or Software as a Service (SaaS) system that crawls the Web to search for possible misspellings of domain names, identifies instances of "typosquatting" that infringe on trademarks, and sends notices of fraudulent activity to domain owners.

"We have a business process to triage the domain names and analyze, with clients, who to go after," Ari Master, chief operating officer and co-founder of CitizenHawk, told internetnews.com. "We find most companies don't realize the scope of the problem, it's overwhelming. But we can address it in a cost-effective manner."

CitizenHawk said TypoSquasher requires no training and is easy to implement. Pricing starts at $995 per month for basic service.

Jake Bailey, affiliate program manager at Overstock.com, said the online auctioneer was aware of some cybersquatting related to its name, but discovered it was more extensive after it engaged the TypoSquasher service.

"I would say we've found dozens of offenders that we're working through with our legal team," Bailey told internetnews.com. "Some are playing off the Overstock name and using [Google's] Adsense as a toll booth to get paid when people click there."

Up to 20 percent of hand-typed URLs are regularly misspelled, leading to affiliate fraud and millions in lost revenue for brand holders. CitizenHawk said it has uncovered over 10,000 typo domains on the Internet Retailer Top 50 online retail brands.

Another example, the company found 600 domains squatting on misspellings of Craigslist.org. CitizenHawk's TypoSquasher looks for abuse among .com, .biz, .net, .info domains as well as country codes. You can enter trademark names at the company's site for free to get a list of potential typosquatters.