Cyber crimes have been around for a long time now, but they’re on the rise. From phishing personal information to hacking major corporations and pipelines, digital criminals are having a field day. The latest wave of cyber crime focuses on small business domains and can be particularly detrimental to the average consumer as well as the targeted business.
The Cloning Scam
Have you ever misspelled a website address? If you have, you might have noticed that a different yet similar website pops up instead. When the goal is to mimic the actual website in order to confuse consumers, it’s known as a cloning scam.
Cloners purchase a domain name nearly identical to the original website. Instead of Walmart.com the domain would read Wallmart.com, for instance. Users accidentally head to cloned website, which looks identical to the real one, and make a purchase.
From there, criminals take the money but never send a product. In some cases, they might send a counterfeit product. This scam has been around for a while, but there’s been a recent increase in cloning scams targeting small businesses.
The small businesses being targeted don’t lose money when a cloning scam takes place, only the customers do. However, the reputation of those businesses takes a massive hit. Customers might not realize the scam took place, instead thinking the company ripped them off.
Fighting the Scam
Plenty of small business owners and customers have uncovered these cloning scams, but there’s little they can do after the fact. Some have relied on this Boulder cyber crimes attorney and other legal professionals, which is effective in stopping these criminals and shutting down the clone website. However, the damage is done.
Special Agent Steve Foster of the GBI Cyber Crimes Division recommends the same tactic larger businesses use. The idea is to buy as many similar domains as possible, leaving nothing for cyber criminals to use. Owners can even have the misspelled domains redirect to their actual website.
For customers, the best course of action is to be aware of cloning scams and actively look for them. Doublecheck the domain in your search bar, look out for anything suspicious when you’re on an e-commerce site, and reach out to the business via phone or email if you’re unsure.
Customers can also protect themselves by shopping with a credit card instead of a debit card. Nearly all credit card companies offer protection against these forms of fraud. Foster recommends any payment option with fraud protection. As long as you know you have it, you don’t have to worry about losing your money to cyber criminals.
No Business is Safe
Cloning scams are rarely picky about the type of business they build their scam around. If a customer can purchase something, then it’s a way to steal money. The reason they primarily choose smaller businesses is simply because those brands haven’t bought up similarly spelled domains.
Larger agencies aren’t safe either, though. Georgia recently saw their Department of Natural Resources website cloned. Cyber criminals used the cloned site to sell fake fishing licenses, collecting a pretty penny off their scam. The department was entirely unaware until they came across a fake license in person.
If you find yourself a victim of a cloning scam or similar cyber crime, it’s vital that you contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and file a claim. This helps the government stay on top of cyber criminals and remedy online theft. Businesses should do the same, but it might also help to hire a lawyer skilled in handling cyber crimes.