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MIRAMAR, Fla. – As if the World Wide Web wasn’t tangled enough, credit unions have to guard against cyber squatters who are just waiting to pounce on their domain names. Cyber squatters essentially pick up Web sites of companies using different top level domains. For example, the credit union may have an address with a “.org” top-level domain, and a cyber squatter will buy the “.com” top-level domain thus confusing Web surfers. So say www.abccreditunion.org were the CU’s official site, the squatter would register www.abccreditunion.com in hopes of drumming up traffic. There have been a couple of recent cases of cyber squatting in credit union land. Eastern Financial Florida CU and Xerox FCU were both victimized. Gary Lanier, VP of Marketing for EFFCU said he wants to get the word out to credit unions that cyber squatters can be beaten. His CU won its battle, but hasn’t been able to talk about it up until now due to legal issues. “We had effcu.org but not .com. That was owned by another credit union which was fine. If you went to the Web site you saw it wasn’t us,” said Lanier. The problem started when the CU using the .com name changed the name of the credit union and let its license on the Web site run out. This opened the door for the cyber squatter. “One day I typed in .com instead of .org and it said welcome to EFFCU and had all these links for everything from mortgages to healthcare, but it wasn’t us,” said Lanier. Eastern Financial didn’t take this lying down. The CU decided to contact a trademark attorney to file EFFCU as a registered trademark because it has more weight in the realm of domain name disputes than just a common law trademark. The credit union’s attorney sent a letter to the cyber squatter informing them it was planning on filing a complaint with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and would file a complaint in U.S. District Court for trademark infringement. It worked. “Our attorney’s letter was strong enough that they gave up the Web site without contention. I know he’s still out there doing this and targeting other credit unions,” said Lanier. Xerox FCU had the .com version of its Web site taken on the day it was up for renewal. Xerox filed with the National Arbitration Forum, an arbitration unit that bases decisions on ICANN’s Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy. The credit union was given its site back in just 39 days. If credit unions let their Web site licenses run out, why shouldn’t someone else be able to buy them up? They can, said Mary Hewitt, spokesperson for ICANN, but if they buy them in bad faith, such as trying to deceive consumers, arbitrators can strip them of the site. She said ICANN itself doesn’t settle the disputes, but arbitrators do so using its polices. “The first thing to do is just ask for the name back from the person. That’s usually the fastest and cheapest,” she said. Lanier said Eastern Financial was willing to buy its site back from the squatter, but the squatter wouldn’t return e-mails. “We wanted to get it back as fast as possible,” he said. Hewitt said if asking doesn’t work, you have to do what Eastern did and file the trademark or go to arbitration like Xerox did. Fortunately, said Hewitt, cyber squatting is on the decline. “It’s not as bad as it used to be,” she said. Hewitt suggested that credit unions register their site names for the maximum allowed time of 10 years and be aware of the renewal date. “They’re just trying to steal traffic. A lot of credit unions use .org or .coop but .com is still king. The month after we got .com back, over 25% of our members were using .com, not .org,” said Lanier. -

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