June 6, 2010

June 6, 2010

Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Sunday and it has been a very busy weekend for Dab the AIDS Bear and I while doing multiple events around the world. I hope you have been having a safe and great weekend.

This weekend,Dab the AIDS Bear and I have been racking up some frequent flier miles like crazy. We are making appearances at the London Walk for Life, Gay Days at Disney, LGBT Prides events in Kansas City, Queens NY and Honolulu and at the AIDS/Lifecyle from San Francisco to Los Angeles. So if you see us, get your picture taken with Dab the AIDS Bear at the events in support of people living with HIV and AIDS.

Also this evening, The Fire Within is having its network premiere on The Documentary Channel at 8 p.m. (ET) The documentary provides an intense look into the everyday life challenges faced by long term AIDS survivor, Bob Bowers, HIVictorious' Founder and one of our Ambassadors of Hope. The Documentary Channel is available through DISH Network (197) and DIRECTV (267) You can join The Documentary Channel here on Facebook and Twitter.

Now on to the topic for today which is cybersquatting. Now I know I only heard about it in the past couple of years but I know many also do not know about it.

I was doing some very early online Christmas shopping when I typed “Tiffany & Company” into the search bar. Up came a website called Tiffany & Company On Sale and I thought, wow! They were selling a sterling silver necklace and bracelet for $228 what it usually costs for just the bracelet.

But the website did not belong to the famous New York jeweler, despite looking quite a bit like the one that does. Its address www.tiffanyco.mn was a tweak of the real Tiffany website, www.tiffany.com, and the .mn meant it was registered as a Mongolian site.

And the discount designer jewelry that I ordered? It did arrive in a package with a Chinese postmark. It was chrome like junk. But the gift box was a very clever copy of a Tiffany box.

It took me nearly four months to get a refund from my credit card company. The fake Tiffany company ignored my e-mails requesting a refund, and its website had no telephone number.

Popular brands make prime targets

The scam here is called “cybersquatting.” It occurs when a dishonest business steals or alters the website domain name of a well known company and launches a copycat site to deceive online shoppers.

“There are many, many websites out there counterfeiting high end, well known brand names Tiffany, Nike, Ray Ban and others,” says Sue McConnell of the Better Business Bureau in Cleveland. “Anything that is popular and pricey is ripe for these counterfeiters, who lure you in with bargain prices.

“They often simply copy and steal pages from the real website and place them on their own,” says McConnell. The merchandise, if it is delivered at all, is usually poorly made knockoffs.

The BBB has fought an uphill battle against these sites. “When you are dealing with scammers in foreign countries as is the case with many cybersquatters it is tough,” says McConnell.

You do not get a lot of cooperation from those governments or other authorities, who do not care [about protecting American customers]. And it is not as though a company in Mongolia is interested in resolving BBB consumer complaints.

How to recognize a counterfeit website

* Carefully read the address, or domain name, that appears in the line at the top of your browser. Beware of any website whose address has even the slightest change from the company’s name. That includes extra words, such as TiffanyonSale or SterlingTiffany, says McConnell, or anything but the usual .com or .org ending.

* Call first. Some cybersquatting customer service telephone numbers are outright bogus; others connect to fax machines (so you can not reach a person). Avoid any website that has no posted phone number.

* Verify any brand touting bargain website at the corporate headquarters of the real company. A phone call by the BBB to the authentic Tiffany & Co. revealed that it neither operates nor sanctions any sale or overstock websites. Also check with the BBB for past complaints about specific websites.

* Check the domain name registration. Websites such as WhoIs.net can reveal who owns a website’s name. Avoid sites that shield that information behind a proxy registration service. Another red flag: a familiar American brand name being sold at an Internet address that ends with the ID letters of a foreign country as did the fake Tiffany site. MN is the abbreviation for Mongolia.

Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope, happiness and just enough.

big bear hug,

Daddy Dab