How can my friend intervene to stop a fake website called [HerName].net?
September 19, 2022 10:49 AM   Subscribe

A friend of mine used to own SallySmith.net (with her name, of course). She changed the kind of work she was doing, so she let the domain expire and canceled her hosting. Now someone has bought her old domain and is pretending to be her by putting up fake, SEO-driving articles as well as old photos of her (scavenged from archive.org, we think). She's getting a runaround from everyone potentially responsible.

Here's the short timeline:

1. Friend changes focus in her career and decides to stop using SallySmith.net.
2. She archives her own files and lets the domain and the hosting lapse. [Both were with GoDaddy.]
3. Someone else registers her lapsed SallySmith.net and puts up a fake website we'll call SallySmith.wtf.net (even though this is obviously still just "SallySmith.net")
4. People who work with her and look her up are now visiting SallySmith.wtf.net and are getting confused about her work and are potentially exposing themselves to phishing scams.
5. GoDaddy says they can't do anything because SallySmith.wtf.net is registered to a different domain host and web host.
6. Cloudflare hosts the domain now. Friend has filed a DCMA complaint. This has gone nowhere because they don't own the hosting.
7. Hosting is owned by Singlehop, which is owned by INAP. I have contacted INAP on her behalf and have heard nothing back from them.

What's the best, most efficacious way to deal with this situation?

She doesn't want to own the domain again. She just wants the identity-impersonating website SallySmith.wtf.net taken down.
posted by yellowcandy to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think you can also file a DCMA either Google, to limit their SEO success at least.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 11:09 AM on September 19 [1 favorite]


Does she own anything being hosted on the fake domain, either text or images? If not, it's not clear to me what legal basis she has for a complaint (unless she's extremely famous or well-known, in which case she should talk to her lawyer and/or agent).
posted by inkyz at 11:12 AM on September 19 [2 favorites]


After filing with the registrar, can she file an abuse complaint with ICANN?
posted by mcgsa at 11:40 AM on September 19


A quick-and-dirty stopgap idea (based on nothing but a gut instinct, I will admit) -

At the very least, would a cease-and-desist warning about Sally's photos maybe help? It strikes me that "you're using photos of me and I didn't say you could" might be an easier legal battle to fight. And - not having the photos on there might make it less confusing to people because "oh well, I guess this is a DIFFERENT Sally Smith."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:41 AM on September 19 [1 favorite]


Don't bother filing DMCAs/complaints with Cloudflare, they forward the claim to whoever owns the website and do not bother with sending anything else to hosting companies or anything, as they claim that since they don't host or store anything themselves, they have fulfilled their obligations. If you find out who is providing the underlying hosting for the website, you could potentially file a DMCA with them, but this assumes that they're hosting in a friendly jurisdiction which isn't a bet I'd take.

Filing a DMCA/complaint with Google and other search engines will likely be more effective, but if the only acceptable resolution is for them to lose the domain, or at least cease impersonating them, then you'll likely need to lawyer up. Cloudflare starts paying attention to you when lawyers are involved and filing subpoenas.
posted by Aleyn at 12:07 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]


Just to clarify, the fact that she used to own sallysmith.net and let it lapse is immaterial. A bad actor could put up a website at sallysmith.wtf.net while she still maintained her site, or if she had never had that site at all.

If a sniper has bought sallysmith.net and is redirecting traffic from that to sallysmith.wtf.net, it's a slightly different matter, but my previous point stands.
posted by adamrice at 12:18 PM on September 19


My (shuttered) personal site from the blog days is in a similar state, a mixture of stuff I wrote that I think they pilfered from the Wayback Machine and possibly AI-generated text about the patent system. I tried everything from DMCA complaints to sending them fake invoices for using my content. This has been going on nigh-on ten years now. They have never replied to anything at any point in any way.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:03 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]


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