Trade & investment

Copycat websites on the rise

  • 25 February 2005

The International Chamber of Commerce’s Financial Investigation Bureau (FIB) is warning business owners, investors and consumers to be alert to the growing problem of copycat websites. In recent months, FIB fraud investigators have been called upon repeatedly to help shut down bogus websites.

FIB Assistant Director Jon Merrett stated: “We are seeing the number of copycat sites increasing exponentially and targeting nearly all industrial sectors.”

The potential for criminals to deceive and rob over the Internet has been well documented; however the growing scale of the problem now threatens to harm an escalating number of unwitting consumers and businesses. As methods of prevention increase, so to does the ingenuity and perseverance of cyber con artists.

In one example of a case investigated by FIB, a South African bank reported being plagued by no less than 20 copycat sites last year. Each time the bank succeeded in having the copycat site shut down, another would appear. In this case, nearly all the fake sites were working in support of some 419 e-mail frauds, using the mock site to add credibility to the scams. These rogue sites represented a serious threat to the credibility and reputation of the actual bank.

In another case of credibility theft, a firm of London based solicitors found content from its site copied onto a bogus site being used by fraud operators claiming to be escrow agents. The fraudsters also took the liberty of including the solicitors’ address and telephone number on their fake escrow site.

The solicitors have received a number of calls from individuals seeking escrow agency services. To date, all the calls have been from the United States. FIB experts believe the perpetrators of this fraud are only operating their scam in the U.S. and hosting the fake website there as well.

In yet a third example, a travel agency based in Northern England discovered a copycat version of its site after customers called to complain about services paid for but not received. At least one customer attempting to purchase an airline ticket reported being directed to send funds to Bulgaria.

“In each of these cases, the targeted firms saw their reputations tarnished by copycat websites. Loss of credibility and funds to bogus websites is a growing problem as fraudsters extend their sphere of activities. FIB is encouraging consumers to exercise caution and thoroughly investigate any website before turning over funds,” said Mr Merrett.

Firms suspecting that their website is being mirrored or copied, either in part or as a whole, are asked to report their concerns to FIB, which will collate the information and use it to warn others.

FIB can conduct investigations to determine who is behind a bogus website, and take the necessary steps to close it down. FIB has performed this service for several organizations in recent months. Being an independent body, FIB is particularly well suited to the task, and not constrained by the jurisdictional issues that have proven a problem for businesses attempting to shut down rogue sites themselves.