Unfortunately, with every major crisis, bad actors are looking to leverage situations to their benefit, and the current COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. With people turning to digital and virtual resources in droves, the exploitation of the situation and abuse of copyrights, trademarks and intellectual property by criminals is exploding.
In one instance, a website promising to deliver much needed protective N95 masks was revealed to be a massive scam, run by criminals who took hundreds of orders from people for safety products but never actually shipped a single item. The domain registered was a subtle variation of an already established legitimate site, utilizing both the tax number and company address of the real business. While the fake site has since been taken down, the damage has already been done, with victims now out thousands of dollars.
Other COVID-19 related scam sites are peddling a wide variety of inauthentic medical and pharmaceutical supplies including fake and knockoff surgical masks and products like “corona spray,” and “coronavirus medicine.”
As of Thursday, March 26th, 2020, Appdetex found over 22,000 domains registered in 2020 that contained the strings COVID, COVID-19, or Coronavirus. While there is no question that there are legitimate websites out there providing vital information to people, there are untold numbers of domains being registered by bad actors for the intent of tricking unsuspecting victims into thinking they’re legitimate.
This spike in criminal activity has led to a crackdown by law enforcement and authorities across the globe:
- Interpol reported the seizure of over 34,000 counterfeit surgical masks between March 3rd and March 10 of 2020.
- In the United States, the Department of Justice filed its first enforcement action against coronavirus related fraud on the 22nd of May.
- ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, has reached out to registrars, encouraging them to step up efforts to reduce the number of domains registered for fraudulent purposes by issuing an informative .PDF entitled Registrar approaches to the COVID-19 Crisis.
- New York Attorney General Letitia James has reached out to six of the internet’s biggest registrars, asking them to deploy more vigorous vetting processes for domain registration when used in conjunction with COVID-19 and all coronavirus-related terms.
During these uncertain and difficult times, brand protection and brand security organizations have to remain hyper-vigilant for any instances of abuse of their own intellectual property in association with this pandemic. Increased scans for new apps, sites, ads, marketplace listing and social handles that seek to exploit intellectual property and a potential association with this crisis can help protect both a brand and the consumers who trust them.