By Leslie Nettleford, Associate General Counsel, AARP
In the Office of General Counsel, we monitor and protect the AARP brand by requiring that infringing companies and individuals cease and desist unauthorized use of the AARP brand.
Our goals are to:
- protect AARP’s valuable trademarks;
- minimize consumer confusion; and
- educate regarding appropriate brand usage
One of the problems that we often deal with is cybersquatting: the bad faith registration and use of domain names confusingly similar to our trademark. Sometimes the purpose is to divert traffic and other times, the purpose can be to employ a phishing scheme. Take, for example, a recent apparent ploy to obtain personal information using the AARP brand.
Some people received emails that stated:
You seem definitely qualified for our job opening, and more so than the other 16 applicants we received applications from…however, before I am able to schedule a formal meeting, my company will require that you enter our unemployment database.
The email ended with:
Web Presence: http://aarpbank.com
It’s not unreasonable to think that someone might have been interested in checking out this “opportunity,” and that they might believe the “under construction” note on the website. So, when they arrived at aarpbank.com, and saw a blank screen stating “Nope, nothing here,” it might not have raised any alarms because, from time to time, websites are reconstructed.
And just like that, someone could decide to respond to the email, handing over their personal information to potential scammers, opening themselves up to serious harm including identity theft.
Recently after AARP launched a dating service for the 50+ crowd, we became aware of similar sites that popped up using the AARP brand in the name. We took quick action to acquire domain names for websites that had no relationship with AARP but were using our brand and logo. We informed the offending companies that they were free to offer dating services to the over-50 population but they could not use our trademarks to do so. From the consumer’s standpoint, a fake dating site could snap up plenty of personal information that could later be used fraudulently.
The Office of the General Counsel is kept busy pursuing these types of bad actors who seek to exploit unwitting Internet users to steal their personal information, defraud them, or make money in other illicit ways. We expect our activities to ramp up dramatically when new top-level domains – the text to the left of the dot, as in .AARP – begin rolling out later this year.
We saw the potential benefits of the new gTLD Program and applied for .AARP with the intent to create a “trusted, intuitive namespace”. Our audience will know they’re getting authentic content if they visit a .AARP website. But we also have to make sure we’re smart about protecting our brand and our consumers in the hundreds of open new gTLDs that will begin launching later this year.
Key to that effort is educating consumers about this unprecedented Internet expansion and the dangers they may face in this new territory and want to increase public awareness so that companies and Internet users can be alert to changes in web addresses and understand how to navigate them safely.
No company can register every domain name variation of its brand to crowd out cybersquatters, who use brand names or variations of brand names, especially with so many possible new extensions. But if consumers are armed with the information they need to enjoy the good of the Internet and avoid the bad, we will be off to a positive start, and they will have more rewarding experiences online.