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#sextrafficking | What’s in a (Domain) Name? COVID-19 Scams, Sex Trafficking, and Date Rape Domains a Click Away, Report Finds | #tinder | #pof | #match | romancescams | #scams

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WASHINGTON, Sept. 8, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Spurred by reports of rampant fraud and price-gouging related to the COVID-19 pandemic, a new Digital Citizens Alliance investigation found that little to no effort is being made to police provocative domains that can be used to scam, engage in sex trafficking and sexual abuse, or sell dangerous painkillers.  At issue is whether domain registrars should offer for sale names with a seemingly clear purpose to create harm.

In the course of its investigation, detailed in its “Domains of Danger” report, Digital Citizens acquired from a number of well-known registrars domains whose sole purpose would be to scam (such as coronavaccinefree.com), endanger those most vulnerable (such as underage-girls-escorts.biz), engage in sexual abuse (date-rape-drug.com), or entice those seeking dangerous drugs (such as oxycodone-no-prescription.biz).

In another instance a domain broker, named in the report, offered to help acquire a COVID vaccine-related domain name despite the Digital Citizens investigator acknowledging he intended to use it to try to peddle a vaccine that didn’t exist.

At a time of scrutiny on the role of digital platforms in safeguarding consumers, domain registrars and the operators who engage in arbitrage and speculation by buying domains in hopes of selling them later for steep profits deserve scrutiny for their role in creating a safer Internet.

Americans are looking for a greater level of responsibility by those who offer the domains that are the foundations of the websites that Internet users rely upon. A Digital Citizens survey* of 1,136 consumers conducted last week found that 59% believe domain name registrars and domainers should withhold names such as “date-rape-drug.com” or “coronavaccinefree.com” that could be used to distribute illegal products or trick consumers with “cures” that have not been developed.

“The domain industry has always had an underbelly,” said Digital Citizens Executive Director Tom Galvin. “But over the last decade as the Internet has taken a dark turn, those with the most to gain from a booming market – website arbitragers, registrars, and domain agents – have increasingly let bad actors have their run at domain names designed to scam, harm, and worse.”

Just as “Platform Accountability” has become a call to action for Internet leaders such as Google and Facebook to do a better job of protecting those at risk, Americans are looking to the leading domain providers to take a greater responsibility for a safer Internet. More than three-quarters of consumers said that domain name registrars should not be allowed to sell domain names that could be explicitly used for sex trafficking and 66% believe that domains that could be used for Covid-19 scams should not be allowed for sale.

To test whether registrars voluntary impose any restrictions, Digital Citizens set out to acquire provocative names. In minutes, it was able to register a number of names scam-ready or designed to harm, including:

Domain

Registrar

getcoronavaccines.com

Google

coronavaccinefree.com

Domain.com

buycovidcure.net

GoDaddy

girlsforsale.biz

Namecheap

trackingsexslaves.com

Namecheap

barely18girlsforsale.biz

Google

date-rape-drug.com

Namecheap

In an exchange with DomainAgents, a company that helps acquire domains already registered, Digital Citizens said it was attempting to acquire “coronavaccine.com” to sell a bogus vaccine. In an email, the investigator stated the scam intent clearly: “I know there is not a real vaccine but want to sell something anyway. Is there an issue with that from your end?” The reply from DomainAgents: “We have no trouble trying to see if we can help reach out to the owner of domain.”

Digital Citizens says it’s time to have a discussion about domain responsibility. “This is not a question about whether they are allowed to sell domains designed to do harm – they clearly can. The question is whether they are putting profits ahead of Internet safety when they do so – and whether they should,” added Galvin. “The Internet is in dire need of more responsibility.”

For more information on the Domains of Danger report, go to https://www.digitalcitizensalliance.org/clientuploads/directory/Reports/DCA-DOMAINS-OF-DANGER.pdf

*Digital Citizens commissioned Survey Monkey for a survey of 1,136 U.S. consumers. The survey was conducted from Aug. 27-28 and has a margin of error of +/- 3%.

About Digital Citizens Alliance
The Digital Citizens Alliance is a nonprofit, 501(c)(6) organization that is a consumer- oriented coalition focused on educating the public and policymakers on the threats that consumers face on the Internet. Digital Citizens wants to create a dialogue on the importance for Internet stakeholders— individuals, government and industry—to make the Web a safer place. Based in Washington, DC, the Digital Citizens Alliance counts among its supporters: private citizens, the health, pharmaceutical and creative industries as well as online safety experts and other communities focused on Internet safety. Visit us at www.digitalcitizensalliance.org. 

CONTACT: Adam Benson, [email protected]

SOURCE Digital Citizens Alliance

Related Links

http://www.digitalcitizensalliance.org

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