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What is cybersquatting, and how does it work?

Cybersquatting is an unauthorized registration and use of domain names linked to protected trademarks or people. People use domain squatting with ill or illegal intentions, mainly user deception or profit. Scammers register the domain names of well-known brands to trick visitors into believing they landed on legitimate sites. However, it can also be a get-rich venture, ransoming services for unregistering an internet domain.

What is cybersquatting, and how does it work?

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

What is cybersquatting?

Cybersquatting definition

Cybersquatting is the practice of abusing popular services by occupying domain names related to them. It does not always have malicious goals, like stealing sensitive information or money. However, it can be illegal if cybersquatting violates trademark law or intellectual property.

For instance, cybersquatting could involve speculators monitoring domain name expiration dates. During that brief window of opportunity, they purchase domain names and can offer previous owners to repurchase them.

Usually, scammers pick businesses or online shopping platforms for cybersquatting. According to Palo Alto Networks statistics, these were the most imitated domains in 2019:


Cybersquatting examples

Below, you’ll find more information about the most common cybersquatting examples.

Reaping the benefits of mistyped URLs

Instead of, users might type or In this case, the two mistyped URLs still lead to the real Facebook site. However, it is because Meta purchased these mistyped domains and redirected users. Criminals could find loopholes in such protection and host fake websites with misspelled names.

Domain owners offer to sell the domain

People can register domain names with the sole purpose of selling them. So, the mistyped name could not present copycat platforms. Instead, speculators are only after financial gain from the targeted service.

Abbreviated names of services

Instead of typing the entire domain name, users might try abbreviating it. So, instead of, they could try Meta is also the registrant of this domain name to prevent cybersquatters.

Taking advantage of popular name variations

Companies could create domain names that are confusingly similar to trademarks. It could be a way to boost sales and make false assumptions. In other cases, it could register domain names like or In such cases, the intention might be to get users to download software or provide their personal information.

Creating websites with different TLDs

Cybersquatting can involve registering domain names that do not use original top-level domains (TLDs). For example, instead of the original .com, it might feature .net, .info, .biz, etc.

Registering domain names of promising people

Registering a domain name of a person before they become famous could be an investment in the future.

What can cybersquatting aim to achieve?

Cybersquatting can be an unethical way for speculators to sell domain names for an inflated price. However, criminals could exploit domain names for more malicious intentions.

Stealing users’ credentials or private information

Phishing tactics could accompany cybersquatting. The registered domains then imitate well-known brands and can offer goods and services.

Trusting the site, users might make payments or provide their credentials for login. In both cases, criminals can steal these details.

Furthermore, some phishing attacks do not need to feature mistyped or related domain names. In 2017, researchers created an identical replica of by using Unicode.

Spreading malicious software

Cybersquatting can hide malicious software downloads behind notorious design elements. That can include exclusive free software deals or unrelated applications. In reality, such copycat websites can host malware.

In the Palo Alto Networks study, a website mimicking Samsung distributed Azorult malware. The latter worked as an information stealer. However, websites can spread various infections, like crypto miners, adware, Trojans, and spyware.

Reward or lottery scams

The domains registered with ill intent can include pop-ups or messages of giveaways or prizes. For instance, e-commerce websites could be the most believable venue for criminals to gain victims’ trust. However, even unexpected services can be bait.

Tricking users with deceptive tech support messages

Cybersquatting could pick domain names associated with antivirus or security software. Then, they set up tech support scams, which can be after multiple things:

  • Personal information like banking account details or PINs.
  • Remote access to allegedly infected devices.
  • Propositions for additional security software.
  • Recommendations to call tech support specialists.

However, do not fall for such fear-inducing messages and visual warnings. Legitimate tech support teams never require financial information, remote access, or premium plans to fix issues.

Username cybersquatting

Username squatting refers to individuals using a trademark or personal name to register a social media account. Usually, such action aims to release false information.

For instance, giveaways are one of the most common ways, likely requiring payments upfront. Scammers will post a message, hoping users apply for the advertised good. Then, they require alleged winners to send payments using Amazon or Walmart gift cards. In other cases, Zelle or Cash App could be the preferred payment method due to the lack of buyer protections.

Is cybersquatting illegal?

Yes, cybersquatting is illegal. One of the most notable anticybersquatting legislation is the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA). It is a federal law in the US forbidding domain names associated with trademarks or personal names.

Internationally, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) deals with cybersquatting cases. Trademark owners can issue complaints hoping to prove that an entity has abused their sites.

How to protect your domain name from cybersquatting

Brand owners should prepare for cybersquatting attempts. One of the first steps is registering your brand or personal name as a trademark. Only then will you have grounds for a case under ACPA or another law.

Another solution is buying more top-level domain names to prevent scammers from exploiting them. Remember to keep an eye out for domain name expiration dates. The most popular TLDs include .com, .org, .net, .biz or country-based ones.

How to recognize cybersquatting websites

Before buying or revealing information online, follow these recommendations to avoid cybersquatting:

  • Look at the website address. Perform all actions for checking link safety to ensure you land on an official page.
  • Find out whether the site uses HTTPS. A common red flag with fake websites is that they still use HTTP.
  • Take notice of suspicious visual elements. Scammers usually promote too-good-to-be-true deals, initiate redirects, or showcase too many ads and pop-ups.
  • Use a VPN. If a website aims to steal data due to unprotected connections, a VPN can help. It encrypts data, preventing scammers from reading it.

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