Call Don’t Click Update: Discussion – How the Owners of the Misspelled Domains are Making Money on Consumers

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As discussed previously, the imposter domains fall into two broad categories: the imposters are either “SSN grabbers” or they are “link farms.” The SSN grabbers comprise a minority of the imposter domains. These domains make money by collecting consumer information and sharing it with others for a fee or for barter.

The most commonly encountered money-making scheme among the imposter sites is that of an affiliate partnership with credit bureaus and other credit-related companies. Affiliate marketing and link farms are often woven in a complex tapestry of Web sites and advertising agreements, and these sites can work in a variety of ways. [31]

But the essential way affiliate marketing works online is that a company pays a site to send Web traffic its way. This can be done directly through sites that are large collections of links, or link farms. Sometimes, ads based on keywords are taken out for a marketing campaign, and are posted on various search engines and other sites. For example, an online ad or affiliate marketing campaign studied for the February report included the keywords “free +credit + report + online.” This program sent consumers to Experian and other credit services via the imposter sites. [32]

The Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax credit bureaus all have active affiliate marketing programs, each of which operates slightly differently. [33] In research conducted for this report, the World Privacy Forum found that Experian and TransUnion were associated with link farms using domain names containing the keywords annual credit report in some combination or variation. Researchers did not find Equifax associated directly with any link farms using annual credit report in the domain names during the research period.

However, affiliate marketing services offering “3 credit bureau reports” were associated with the keywords annual credit report.

How the scheme works: specifics on the mechanics of an affiliate marketer imposter domain

This is a simplified explanation of what is happening to consumers. For more details and examples of how the source code looks and operates, please see Appendix A.

1.An individual types in official annualcreditreport.com domain name with a misspelling, or they click on an imposter result or ad in a search engine result list. In this example the domain is annualcresitreport.com, which is an easy typo mistake to make.

2. The annualcresitreport.com domain name is parked at or managed by a “pay per click” domain company, in this example, the annualcresitreport.com Web site is parked at DomainSponsor.com.

3. The annualcresitreport.com home page contains links to Free Credit Reports and similar topics. (PDF of home page).

4. Consumers who click on the “Free Credit Report Online” links will be taken to a page of “sponsored links.” The four sponsored links on the site in this example are “Free Credit Report Now,” Instant Credit Report, Online Credit Report, and Free Credit Report. (PDF of Sponsored Links page).

5. After clicking one of these sponsored links, individuals will be redirected through a series of Web sites. This will happen so quickly that most will never see the information flashing across the address bar. For example, say a consumer clicks on the sponsored link “Free Credit Report.” In this example, that link will take the consumer first to Information.com then to Google.com, then finally, the consumer will land on an Experian credit bureau site that lets consumers check their credit — for a fee. All of this redirection will happen in the blink of an eye and will not be obvious to most consumers.

(PDF of ConsumerInfo via Qspace, arrived at via clicking on the imposter site link).

The reason this redirection happens is so that keywords or search terms can be passed along to advertising partners. This ensures that everyone in the chain gets a commission from the click. Meanwhile, ConsumerInfo.com/Experian gets customers. And the owner of the annualcresitreport.com domain gets a potential financial payout from the click-through.

Everyone makes money or gets a benefit, except for the consumer who did not make it to the real annualcreditreport.com site.

For the record, the annualcresitreport.com imposter site in this example had four “sponsored links” leading to the following sites:

 

 

 

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Endnotes
[31] For general information about how affiliate sharing can work, Wired Magazine has a good article on this subject. Wired, “Shady Web of Affiliate Marketing,” Feb. 10, 2005, Ryan Singel. See< http://www.wired.com/news/privacy/0,1848,66556,00.html >.

[32] Online ad campaigns based on keywords and search engines can be dynamic and complex. For more on this, see Google AdSense and Overture as two examples of how these kinds of campaigns generally operate. Sites: < http://www.google.com/ads/> and < http://www.content.overture.com/d/USm/ays/ps.jhtml>. Also see Candian Yesup’s Clicksor program <http://www.clicksor.com/>, and Darkblue <http://www.fabulous.com/informationcenter/index_aboutus.htm > of Fabulous.com.

[33] TransUnion’s TrueLink affiliate program is at:< http://www.truelink.com/affiliate/faq.html#1>; Equifax’s Link Partner Program is at < http://www.equifax.com/link_partners/ > ; Experian’s CreditExpert affiliate program is available at: <https://www.creditexpert.com/CE_site/Message.aspx?PageTypeID=Affiliate Program_CE>.

 

 

Roadmap: Call Don’t Click Update – Still be smart about ordering federally mandated free credit reports:Discussion of Findings: How the Owners of the Misspelled Domains are Making Money on Consumers

 

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