Cybersquatters register domains for potential bank-mergers

Today in his Observer column, John Naughton takes account of the thriving practice of cybersquatting domains for potential bank-mergers:
Even as the short-selling vultures began circling Lehman Brothers, HBOS, Merrill Lynch and co, a legion of entrepreneurs began betting on domain names for hastily merged financial institutions. For example, when Barclays and Bank of America began to emerge as buyers for Lehman, names such as barclayslehman.com and bofalehman.com were promptly registered by enterprising hopefuls.

Some of these domains were being offered for sale on eBay last week. For example, www.bankofamericamerrilllynch.com was available at a starting bid of $1,500. 'With a deal between Bank of America and Merrill Lynch NOW ANNOUNCED', burbled the seller, 'this domain name will soon be incredibly popular. This is the only domain name that conveys the full picture, using the name of both firms... This is the most comprehensive and commonsensical domain name available concerning the MERGER OF BANK OF AMERICA CORP AND MERRILL LYNCH & CO.' The last time your columnist checked, however, the auction had attracted no bidders. Still - nothing ventured, nothing gained.

The proud owner of lloydstsbhbos.com, for his part, disdained eBay and simply set up a website with lots of ad links, clearly hoping to squeeze some Google juice from his property while waiting for the lawyers to call. Hope springs eternal in some breasts.

Computers are the only worthwhile asset banks have left

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  1. Although, as I’ve already noted, anyone who does this is going to run smack into ICANN and plenty of case precedent.

    Hint: if you have a really cunning plan for Making Money Fast, check to see if it’s been done before – and what happened to the people who tried.

  2. @#1, Simon: The game’s no longer about holding corporations to ransom, it’s about generating some ad revenue before the lawyers shut you down. Thanks to the extensive media coverage, if I were the owner of lloydstsbhbos.com I’d be crying all the way to the bank right now (assuming I banked with one the ones that will still be in business at the end of the month).

  3. Tubman @3 – interesting point! There is some legal authority in the UK (Tesco v Elogicom) that you might be able to take someone to court for, in effect, unjust enrichment via your trade marks, but that of course requires getting the other side to stand still long enough to sue them!

    The perceived value of domain names seems to bounce up and down. In the heyday of cyber-squatting cases the assumption seemed to be that people found web sites by entering the domain name, so MegaCorp would naturally want to own http://www.megacorp.com so that customers could find it. Then Google arrived, and the value of domain names seemed a bit less; after all, people now found your web site by searching for it, didn’t they? (And cue more litigation over meta-tags containing competitors’ trade marks). Now, with the prevalence of phishing, there is perhaps more pressure to have a legitimate-looking domain name. And, as you say, the value of a speculative domain as an advertising forum would be considerable.

    Thanks again for raising this – I’ll update my original post.

  4. With the way mergers and acquisitions are going to be running riot with our money, the only domain worth having will be bank.gov

  5. The days of cybersquatting (or domaining, or domain arbitrage as some call it) as a means to make a living are numbered. People simply won’t continue searching for anything by typing [something].com into their browser bar — We’re all learning to go to a good search engine instead.

    FWIW, I wish that the rest of us would quit spending so much time worrying about the domainers. They’ll fade away of their own accord soon enough.

  6. #4 has a good point that phishers might want to buy these domains. However, I don’t know how many people are smart enough to check the domain name in a link in an email, but wouldn’t mind the risk of clicking on it rather than following a previously-used URL from the Bookmarks/Favorites. Especially since so many cases of cross-site scripting have been documented (even if they’ve been fixed).

  7. My friend tried to do this right before Bank of New York and Mellon Bank merged. He was quickly contacted by a certain Federal Bureau that his actions are nothing short of extortion. Needless to say, he gave up the domains right away.

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