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What Is WHOIS and Why Should I Care?

september 03, 2021 | internet scams
Scam Alert written on red key on computer keyboard

Have you ever wondered who controls the use of internet domain names? If there were no controls, we could all use the same ones. So, someone's in charge. Understanding how the system of doling out web addresses works is valuable, too. You could use collected domain data to spot a questionable website.

Rights to specific web addresses like ScreamLord.com are bought from registration agents; technically, you lease these internet locations for a while. You cannot purchase them. A non-profit group, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), runs an international registry for unique internet addresses.

The group also offers a lookup service that yields some potentially valuable details for folks debating whether to do business with or purchase from an unknown entity.  

WHOIS Means Just That

No individual or company vets the integrity of domain registrants when they first set up shop. Anyone can lease an online address. The lessee must agree to terms and conditions of use, but if crooks created the site, they wouldn't read that fine print. So the domain address lookup tool can reveal who is behind the domain. Who Is. Get it?

Valuable data on WHOSIS includes the date of original registration. If the domain was registered last week, be skeptical. It might seek to cash in on a current trend—at your expense.

Lessees can add a note that reads "clientTansferProhibited" if the domain holder wants the address protected against unauthorized transfer. You can also locate the date the current lease expires, but the critical detail is when the domain was created and reserved with ICANN. 
 
Apple.com, for example, was established on February 19, 1987. It took over 10 years for Google.com to hit the scene in 1997. Longevity may indicate stability or successful business practices.

ICANN and the Pandemic

Since the organization's stated goal is to provide "a stable, secure and unified global internet," ICANN had its hands full as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in 2020. During the initial months of the epidemic, thousands of website addresses that referenced the virus were filed, and not all of them were well-intentioned. Phishing emails, malware-riddled websites and money grabs proliferated.

The quest for personal protective equipment, or PPE, started the ball rolling. Many consumers purchased from groups like Trend Deploy, which reportedly failed to deliver PPE products on time or at all. There was no notification of shipping delays or a method to cancel an overdue order and seek a refund. The firm run by Frank Romero also sold masks as N95s when they weren't, according to a complaint filed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) two months ago.

FTC enforces rules that govern online sales. For example, orders should ship within the promised window or within 30 days if no timeframe is advertised. If that's not possible, you should get a chance to cancel and get a refund. Between January 2020 and August 2021, the FTC received nearly 360,000 complaints about fraud tied to coronavirus.

Typos Pay Dividends

Contact WHOIS to check for bogus web addresses that appear to be from legitimate businesses, too. Often the domain looks right at a glance, but a diligent inspection might indicate the domain creator swapped the lower case l for an upper case I to confuse recipients. Hackers love typos that muddy the water. Don't respond to unsolicited job offers without doing some WHOIS homework.

Bogus employment offers have surged in the past two years—thanks in part to coronavirus. It's fun being showered with email offers, but pause. Copy the domain and paste it into WHOIS lookup. Compare that to the actual company's web address to sift out the fakes.

 

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