Cybersquatting, simply put, is the act of procuring someone else’s trademarked brand name online. The Anti-cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, a U.S. federal law enacted in 1999, describes cybersquatting as registering, trafficking in, or using a domain name with bad faith intent to profit from the goodwill of a trademark belonging to someone else.

Cybersquatters squat for many reasons. Some squat for fun or because they like the brand or name, while other squatters use the domain to advertise competitors’ wares, or for stalking, harassment, or outright fraud. Most cybersquatters offer to sell the domain at an inflated price to the person or company who owns the trademark contained within the domain name.

In particularly malicious cases of cybersquatting, identity thieves use a domain similar to that of a bank or other trustworthy entity in order to create a spoofed website for phishing. If the desired domain isn’t available, typosquatting is the next best option. After Annualcreditreport.com launched, more than 200 similar domains were quickly snapped up.

Computerworld discussed the havoc that cybersquatting can wreak on a brand’s reputation. Sometimes, criminals copy a brand’s entire website in order to collect usernames and passwords from unwitting visitors. The hackers then test those names and passwords on other websites. Cybersquatting increased by 18% last year, with a documented 440,584 cybersquatting sites in the fourth quarter alone, according to MarkMonitor’s annual Brandjacking Index report.

I’ve written before about the time I was accused of cybersquatting. I wasn’t, I swear! I bought myself some domains in the early 90’s, way before cybersquatting was illegal. I sold some, and regrettably gave up some others. And there was one that will haunt me until the day I die. I owned LedZeppelin.com for five or six years. Led Zeppelin was and is my favorite band, and as a fan, I bought the domain as a keepsake. I would get emails from people all over the world, saying things like, “I am Paulo from Brazil, I love the Led Zep!”

With cybersquatting on the rise, it makes sense to claim your name, your brand name, and your kids’ names as soon as possible. There are numerous new domain extensions coming out all the time. Dot Co recently launched without much fanfare, but it creates a new opportunity for criminals to hijack your brand. I just snagged “siciliano.co.” So go get your domain before the bad guy does!

Robert Siciliano, personal security expert contributor to Just Ask Gemalto, discusses hackers hacking social media on Fox Boston. Disclosures

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