Fake Websites: what to do, where and when

Let’s face it, internet scammers and fraudsters are clever as they often employ sophisticated techniques to deprive consumers of their hard earnt cash (and businesses of their revenue). It’s on the rise and the damage is significant, the Office for National Statistics reports that large increases in consumer and retail fraud were seen in 2022 and that the average loss per fraud was £79.

In addition to causing financial loss, website scammers also cause damage to a brand’s reputation. For this reason, and many (many) more, it’s important that businesses keep an eye out for any websites that may be impersonating them and/or their products. Of course, it’s all well and good knowing a scam website exists, reporting it to the authorities and warning consumers but as is often the case, and despite all the warnings and red flags, there will be some people who get caught up in the scam.

Luckily (or unfortunately) Briffa has had a lot of experience in dealing with fake and scam websites and here’s our three-point action plan for tackling them:

First you should act quickly. The longer a scam website is live, the more consumers will be diverted to it and persuaded to part with their cash. The first step in noticing any scam website should be taking screenshots of it. Next, a search should be done to see if any ownership details are apparent (we like to do a ‘WhoIs’ search, see below for more details, to see if the domain owner details are viewable, although often they are not) and then a report to Action Fraud is always a sensible bet.

Second, we would go back to the WhoIs search. The WhoIs records are a database of domain name owners and registrars associated with the domain name. Whilst the owner of the domain name may be out to scam consumers, generally the domain registrars and hosts like to play by the rules. Once they receive notice that a domain name or website is being used illegitimately they will take it down.

Third, if the domain registrars/website hosts are not playing by the rules, there may be a possibility to start domain name proceedings. Domain name proceedings relate to a trade mark being used in a domain name in bad faith (tip: using a domain name that includes a trade mark to scam consumers is a good indicator of bad faith). The joy of a successful domain name complaint is that the domain name can be provided to the rightful brand owner which means that the scam website will be shut down as the scammer will no longer have control of the domain name.

As is clear from the above, often we need to rely on legitimate third parties such as domain name registrars to take down a scam website. Having your ducks in a row in terms of trade mark registrations can be a great assistance and can reduce the amount of work required to shut down a scam website.

Briffa offers a free consultation and our lawyers are legitimate experts in illegitimate websites, why not get in contact to see how we can help.