Don't Give In To Cybersquatters

January 12, 2009 ~ 01:22pm

Almost everyone familiar with the world wide web knows about cybersquatters. These are annoying opportunists who purchase domain names for website that they do not intend to use, but sell for a profit. Considering it costs less than $10 to purchase a domain and host a blank web page for a year, squatters will sell for much more, sometimes in the $100's or $1000's price range. Typically on these sites there are links which are basically ads. From the ads, squatters only need to recover the $10 cost per year to be profitable.

I registered this domain (mjmwired.net) in 2003, but over 2 years passed before I bought another domain name for a new site. It was incredibly difficult to find a good name both times. It occurred to me that if I ever had an idea and wanted to create a site around it, I would keep running into the same problem. Since then, anytime I think of something (however vague), I register a domain name. I'm fighting the squatters on their own turf.

Well, I thought I was. I picked a ".net" domain instead of a ".com", thinking it would be more personal and less commercial. I was shocked in Sept 2007 to see that some squatter had registered mjmwired.com. I only noticed when a google search for "mjmwired" put it on the first page, sometimes as the 3rd or 4rth result. Upon visiting the site it showed the standard list of ad links. The automated ad system these sites use place links that are relevant to the domain. For any normal domain that would make sense, but in this case it was showing all sorts of links that would be typical on my site. Now anyone who was looking for my site and ended up there would be confused. As annoyed as I was, I decided to sit still. If it did not show up on google, I really would not care, but I get majority of all my traffic from google searches.

Over the course of the year, I was tempted many times to email asking how much they wanted for the domain. However by doing that, I feared they would just raise the price. So I ignored it for a year hoping that it would not be renewed. Unfortunately at the end of Sept 2008, it auto-renewed. I was disappointed until I started receiving emails like this (emphasis added):

Our company specializes in acquiring expired domain names to help individuals and businesses protect their brand online.
The domain name MJMWIRED.COM is expiring and will be available to the public very soon.
We noticed that you own MJMWIRED.NET and felt that you may be interested.
We can assist in trying to acquire the domain name, as there are likely many interested parties competing for it.
We do not charge upfront, and the fee if we are successful is only $199 USD.
If you are interested, please let us know by December 16 at the latest.

It is not even clear if that price includes the actual cost of the domain, which most likely would be inflated through bidding and who are these "interested parties"? I ignored these emails and waited till the end of December hoping no one would purchase it. Unfortunately, sometime after Christmas another squatting domain service bought the domain. By this time I had totally given up.

About a week ago, as I was drafting this post, I looked up mjmwired.com again. To my shock it said it was available! I was uneasy for a few hours since it took a great deal of time to get approved after I purchased it, but it only cost $10! So that ends 16 months of minor irritation. Now I guess I can protect my brand online. ... There's only one thing that bugs me though: should I be worried about this problem for my other domains?

(FYI: I use 1and1 for all my new domain purchases.)

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