By Rich Best

The cyber universe is full of information, opportunity, and – if you’re not careful – it can be the demise of your brand. Your name and the name of your business are your brand, which is the foundation of your business future, so they need to be protected just like any vital asset. The internet has spawned a whole industry of cyber thugs who capitalize on unwitting people who don’t see the danger in allowing their names to wander, unprotected in cyber space, until they realize that they no longer own their own name. It’s your name, so don’t let someone else own it on the web.

Why would someone want to own my name?

As with any industry, the internet world is full of people who find ways to make money off other people’s efforts. In order to participate in the internet marketplace, businesses must establish a web presence that is anchored by a domain name. The domain name is very important because it is how people find you or your business on the internet.

When a name pops up on the radar, for instance when a new business is established, “domain squatters” spring into action and buy domain names related to the new business, through a domain registry for $10 or $15. Then, when the business goes to register its name as a domain, they will find that someone else already owns it and that it is up for bid as in an auction. Some companies have paid millions of dollars in order to buy back their name brand.

Similar kidnapping of names occurs on social networking sites such as Twitter® and Facebook®. In these instances, a variation of the brand name is used to establish an account, and the perpetrators then post messages that can malign the reputation of the person or organization they intend to impersonate. Celebrities are especially vulnerable to this sort of name-stealing.

How do I prevent name stealing or kidnapping?

The best prevention is through a proactive offense that cuts domain squatters and cyber thugs off at the pass. There are two key steps that business owners should take immediately in order to protect their brand and their reputations.

Trademark your name: It’s your name, and even though it may be unique, that doesn’t mean that someone else can’t own it. Although an established business may enjoy common-law trademark rights, it won’t have full protection against infringement until it registers the name with the federal government. This way, the public is duly notified that your name is already owned and that any infringement will be considered a violation of trademark laws.

Defensive registration: In the case of protecting your web properties, the best offense is a strong defense. Defensive registration is a process of building a digital wall around your name by registering your name and all possible variations of it as a domain. The same defensive registration process should be used with the social network sites such as Twitter®, LinkedIn®, Facebook® and MySpace®. With these sites, your name becomes a part of the identifying account or URL used to access your page. For instance, Nevada State Bank’s Twitter account reads twitter.com/nevadastatebank.

Whether it’s your own name or your business name, protecting your brand is critical. If someone else lays claim to your name, you not only lose your branding advantage, you open yourself and your business up to possible harm to your reputation.

Rich Best has spent 28 years in the financial services industry, as an advisor, a managing partner, directors of training and marketing, and now as a consultant to the industry. Rich has written extensively on a broad range of personal finance topics and is published on several top financial sites. Recent books include The American Family Survival Bible and Annuity Facts Revealed: What You MUST Know Before You Invest.

The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice.  Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank.