by Jeremy Malcolm, Internet lawyer
There is a saying that on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog. Extending this, nobody knows whether you are a bank on the one hand or a scam artist on the other (if we assume that those are alternatives!). This has been the source of one of the most prolific Internet scams over the past twelve months, known as phishing.
Phishing occurs when you receive an email apparently from your bank (or occasionally a Web business such as eBay) asking you to re-enter your account or credit card details into their Web site. In fact, although it may appear that the email and Web site are legitimate, they are a fraud, and when you re-enter your details, they will be used to steal your funds.
If you fall victim to phishing, you are unlikely to have any recourse against the bank, since it is entirely innocent of the fraud. Given that the scam artists themselves are likely to be based in Russia or China, all that you can do is to report the fraud to the police and to the bank and to hope that they will be able to recover your funds for you. So far, Australian victims have not had any such luck.
A similar scam is known as slamming. If you have a registered Internet domain name, you have probably been the intended victim of domain name slamming. It occurs when an unscrupulous domain name registrar or reseller sends the registrant of a domain name an unsolicited letter that appears to be a legitimate domain name renewal notice. In fact, the letter is not what it appears to be: by signing and returning it you may be transferring your domain name to a different registrar, or you may be accepting an offer to register a new domain name similar to your existing domain name or business name but typically at an inflated price.
A group of companies that has been involved in slamming in Australia has twice been the subject of legal proceedings in the Federal Court by auDA, the organisation that administers domain names in Australia. The latest proceedings allow members of the public who have been deceived by this practice to join a class action of victims seeking a refund or compensation from the company.
In both cases, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Don't assume that an email or letter that appears to be legitimate really is. Don't click on links in email messages, type the address into your browser manually (and be sure it is authentic). Check any domain name solicitations against the documentation you received when you first registered the domain. Justice may catch up with these scammers in the end, but being too smart for them is quicker and safer.