Web 'typo squatters' cash in on key errors

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It's easy to spell the internet domain name wrong - miss a dot, or put ".co.uk" instead of ".com". So easy, in fact, that a multimillion-pound industry has sprung up to benefit from the innocent typing error.

It's easy to spell the internet domain name wrong - miss a dot, or put ".co.uk" instead of ".com". So easy, in fact, that a multimillion-pound industry has sprung up to benefit from the innocent typing error.

"Typo-squatters" are buying up popular internet domain names to cash in on mis-typed letters. Firms such as Disney, Reebok and Nokia - as well as internet search engine Google - have all been hit. Children's websites are also targeted, with Simpsons and Teletubbies variations leading users to porn sites.

Equally common are close errors that lead to rival companies. As Christopher Benson, an intellectual property lawyer, said: "It's difficult for companies to protect every single variant of their name. There are literally hundreds."

US businessman John Zuccarini has made millions by typo-squatting more than 8,000 companies and brand names. Mistyping addresses for such stars as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Lopez may all lead instead to his porn sites.

In Britain, internet names are managed by Nominet UK whose managing director, Lesley Cowler, says typo-squatting disputes are on the rise as businesses realise the damage they do. "You never know where it might take your customers," she said.

Mobile phone company, Phones4U has been a multiple victim. Its website, www.phones4u.co.uk receives 250,000 visitors each week. It might get more were it not for the presence of www.phone4u.co.uk, www.fones4u.co.uk, and www.phones4you.co.uk.

"It's so easy for people to make typos," said Julian Neal, Phones4U's marketing director. "These companies are parasites, lazy cheats feeding off this fact, rather than bothering to create their own distinct image."

One of its doppelgangers is an affiliate of one of its biggest rivals, Carphone Warehouse. A spokeswoman denied any wrongdoing. "A lot of companies do it - there's nothing illegal or morally wrong," she said. "We just use it to divert traffic."

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