Stichting Internet Domeinregistratie Nederland or SIDN, the Registry operator of the country code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) .NL (the Netherlands) appears to be increasing its efforts in its fight against cybercrime.

A recent publication by SIDN indicates that using self-developed tools, in 2019 SIDN was able to take down some 4,340 fake shopping websites.  SIDN's tools continuously scan websites hosted at .NL domain names for signs that would indicate fraudulent activity.  According to SIDN, its tools are self-teaching, therefore, as more and more data is gathered, the profiling characteristics used by to identify suspect sites are constantly refined – the toolset effectively teaches itself how to recognise fake sites.

Factors such as the email address linked to the respective domain name registration, the time of registration and whether the domain name had a previous owner are relevant for the purposes of detecting illicit websites.  As noted by Thymen Wabeke, Research Engineer at SIDN Labs, "the timing is significant because a high proportion of fake webshops are registered during Chinese office hours [...] The re-registration of used domain names is another popular tactic with scammers.  If a domain name is dropped by its user, it can be re-registered by someone else after forty days.  And more than half of suspect domains turn out to have been re-registered as soon as the forty day period expires."

Before taking any action in relation to websites that are flagged as being potentially fraudulent, personnel in SIDN's support department carry out analysis on the flagged websites to ensure that genuine websites are not taken down.  If the conclusions of SIDN's support department correspond with the findings of the SIDN tools then the registrar of the domain name associated with the website in question is alerted and asked to take down the site.  In cases where a flagged website is linked to a domain name whose registrant details cannot be confirmed as genuine within five days, SIDN may de-link the name server, preventing Internet users being directed to such a website. 

Of the flagged websites hosted at .NL domain names examined between September and December 2019, close to 80 percent were confirmed as fakes. 

While SIDN is cognizant of its responsibility to monitor and police abusive behaviour in the .NL namespace, it also urges consumers to be cautious when shopping online and to educate themselves as to signs that a website is fake, which may include the following:

  • A lack of comprehensive legal information on the website, such as the website's privacy policy, terms and conditions of use, and/or dispute resolution policy.
  • A lack of accurate or complete contact information.  The website operator may appear to be based in a location that has little relevance to the company purporting to offer goods or services via the website in question.
  • A lack of comprehensive payment options.  For instance, a website operator may not allow payment through a secure payment service such as PayPal or a verified credit card transaction facility.  Heavily discounted prices may also indicate that the website is not genuine.
  • Spelling (including in the domain name itself), grammatical errors, and reduced website functionality often indicate fake websites.

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