Tracking Down Cyber Squattors
Posted by Dave Tiberio on: 2006-06-14 18:57:09
Self SEO > Domain Name Articles
I started using the internet in 1990, and the web in 1994. I remember when Yahoo! was only 1 page, and it was believed that there were only 100 web pages in the world. Companies were hiring html developers (with 5 - 7 years experience of course), and domain names were free.
I've owned my domain name for almost 9 years now. At one time, there was no such thing as "cybersquating", "typo domains", etc. Now its and issue that many of us have to deal with at any time or another.
I've discovered that people will resort to great lengths to protect their identity once they've squatted on a domain, but there are many tools to track down the truth about who they are.
How Squattors Hide - Fake Registration Info
One tactic I found used is that squattors will use fake registration information to hide the true owner of a domain name. I found one "company" that owned hundreds of domain names, many of large corporations, but registered each one using a different mailing address and a different name. Many of the names were silly like "Arthur Arthurson", but the company erred by listing all of its domains on link farms, exposing their tactic.
Another method the same company used would be to provide a contact phone number for a fictitious sounding company. For example, if they owned the domain "exxon.com", they would make a front company and call it "Exxon Secretarial Services". They then tried to create a realistic looking corporate web site. This method was exposed because they used the same phone number for all of their front companies. Searching Google for the phone number turned up a large number of fake businesses.
Changing Company Names
I am aware of another squattor who besides being heavily involved in the porn business owns a few domains that it really shouldn't have. Over the years, they have changed their company name but kept the same physical address, a sign that someone is after them and they keep on running. Their names tend to follow the same theme, so the company might be called "Diamond Web Services" this year, but maybe "Sapphire Web Services" last year. Keeping the same contact address exposes that they are in fact the same company. Using whois history tools, you can see how they change their company name ever year.
Most smart squattors will claim that they don't own the domain name, but they are just holding it for someone else. This creates a layer of anonymity that is hard to crack. The truth of the matter is that the registrant has control of the domain name, and anyone who is simply the administrator should be listed as the Administrative Contact. If someone is listed as the Registrant than they are by all means the owner of the domain name.
One company I cam across used a foreign registration in a distant country to hide its true identity. One might think it is hard or impossible to negotiate with a foreign entity, if you can even speak the same language. But in the case, the foreign registration was just a cover for another domestic company that was trying to hide the fact that it was a competitor. The mistake was that the registrant was squatting on 2 domains, and on one he left as an email contact the address of the domestic company, which led to the true identity.
Escrow services allow anyone to sell domain names without anyone knowing who is the true owner or who is receiving the proceeds from any sale. I contacted some escrow services regarding cyber squatting and was told that since true domain ownership is a complicated issue, they do not get involved. One cybersquattor was exposed because the NIC required a signed letter from the existing registrant, which exposed his true identity. This led to identifying other domains that he was squatting on.
Tools to Uncover Squattors
Whois history allows domain owners to see the whois records for many popular domain names. Not all domains will be listed, but surprisingly many are. I was able to use this to track previous owners for the past 6 years. Find this tool at http://www.domaintools.com/
HTML codes tend to be used repeatedly by squattors. Many squattors will use paid parking sites to earn revenue off of domains. However, in some, affiliate codes will be used by the individual, allowing multiple sites to be tracked to the same individual.
Google and USENET can be useful. Not only did I uncover the name of a squattor, but I found someone else who was looking for him. A great way to track these people down is to combine forces and work together. Post keywords identifying the squattor in domain forums along with your contact information.
Using domain name sales records, I was able to determine when certain domains transferred hands. I could also tell how much the owner paid for the domain name.
Find out which domains are hosted on an IP address at http://www.webhosting.info/. Some IP's might have a small number of domains hosted, while others might have hundreds of thousands. This tool is useful to find what other domains a squattor might own, some of which might be yours.