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01|09|2010 03:27 pm EDT

False Registration of Domains Leads to Severe Criminal Punishment in the U.S.

by Adam Strong in Categories: Legal Issues

A story in Dallas that made headlines regarding a massive cyber-criminal ring that defrauded telecommunications companies of millions of dollars, has also shed some light on a little cited provision in US law that involves domain names.

According to the Dallas Morning News , a group of 19 defendants were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud.

According to court documents [PDF], the group used shell corporations, false identities, false representation and of course domain names to aid them in defrauding insurance companies, creditors, leasing companies, power companies and telecommunication companies  for over $15 million in goods and services.

The false registration of domain names cited in Count 7 and 8 of the charges (page 51-2) states that defendant Matthew Norman Simpson and Michael Blaine Faulkner knowingly registered the domain names camophone.com and officelinkplus.com with false contact information and used this domain name in the course of committing a felony.

These counts can add a much more severe penalty to the overall charges that Simpson and Faulkner now face.

“False registration of a domain name” — according to http://rs9.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c108:H.R.3754.RH:

SEC. 4. AMENDMENT TO TITLE 18, UNITED STATES CODE
f)(1) If a defendant being prosecuted for a felony offense (other than offense of which an element is the false registration of a domain name) knowingly falsely registers a domain name and knowingly uses that domain name in the course of that offense, the maximum imprisonment otherwise provided by law for that offense shall be doubled or increased by 7 years, whichever is less.
(2) As used in this section–
(A) the term `falsely registers’ means registers in a manner that prevents the effective identification of or contact with the person who registers

The 2004 revision to this bill was clearly designed to deter criminal activities using the internet. In the guidelines to the US Sentencing Commission the amendment clearly states

“to ensure that the applicable guideline range for a defendant convicted of any felony offense carried out online that may be facilitated through the use of a domain name registered with materially false contact information is sufficiently stringent to deter commission of such acts.”

This is concept for deterring the use of domains as a smoke screen for criminal activity but it’s highly likely most criminals don’t know about this law (or care).  If you are going to hide your criminal activity behind domains, it’s going to cost you.


Kudos to George Kirikos and DomainBoardroom.com

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16 Comments

uberVU - social comments

January 9, 2010 @ 3:31 pm EDT

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by domainnamenews: #domains: False Registration of Domains Leads to Severe Criminal Punishment in the U.S. http://bit.ly/65WNxP

jp

January 9, 2010 @ 3:39 pm EDT

Texas is making quite a name for itself.

Belmassio

January 9, 2010 @ 5:07 pm EDT

That’s a very interesting angle I have never heard of.

Thanks for sharing.

Belmassio

January 9, 2010 @ 5:09 pm EDT

Yes…JP….in Texas there are many clandestine efforts going in to pry domains away from owners. There are a ton of scumball trademark lawyers that are inventing UDRP’s out the yang to steal domains from rightful owners. Those lawyers should be thrown in jail for abusing the system. Total corruption.

In this case they just used their domain knowledge to attack what would appear to be a legitimate case against bad people.

Scott Roberts

January 9, 2010 @ 6:28 pm EDT

@jp & Belmassio

If you follow the links it’s actually a federal law and the prosecution occurred in federal court.

Josh

January 10, 2010 @ 12:05 am EDT

Thats kind of odd to me, its one thing to charge and sentence based on a specific crime but to add years because a domain was used with false info in that crime?

Basically a domain in TX is as deadly as a gun.

Adam Strong

January 10, 2010 @ 12:44 am EDT

Guys read a little will ya. This is a US law. . . FEDERAL. It has nothing to do with Texas, other than this is the district that these clowns were caught in . If you commit a felony, in North Dakota and hide behind false whois of a domain to do, you are going to face stiffer charges there as well.

Danny Pryor

January 10, 2010 @ 9:45 am EDT

Very interesting. I wonder if the feds actually take time to move in on prosecuting cases of this kind, after a person is alleged to have committed other crimes, at a state level. For the US agencies operating in the various federal districts, it seems to me they would not be actively pursuing this kind of criminal activity, but would allow it to be revealed to them, as in this type of case.

Either way, knowing about the law is very interesting. I guess I better stop selling those fake widgets to sheep herders in Ireland on fakewidgetsforirishshepherds.com.

Belmassio

January 10, 2010 @ 11:45 am EDT

My bad….I should have read it before commenting.

I guess the domains are like tools used in the commission of a crime. Kind of like have bolt cutters in your floorboard when caught with stolen property.

Steve M

January 10, 2010 @ 7:48 pm EDT

Use a domain, go to jail (longer).

Sheesh.

Adam Strong

January 10, 2010 @ 11:31 pm EDT

@steve – Commit a crime using a domain as part of the crime, get caught, go to jail longer.

stewart

January 12, 2010 @ 7:23 pm EDT

all this as Mr Nelson Brady, aka ‘halvarez’, has been charged with what?

Max Levin

August 7, 2012 @ 7:46 pm EDT

Interesting

[…] Copyright violation is both a criminal and a civil offence.  Whether ‘spun’ content is a violation of copyright under UK law would require a test case.  Under US law the situation is a little clearer according to this lawyer who confirms that the practice would be illegal.  As Shapps (or his wife) registered their website in the US under a fake name, this would be an aggravating factor which could lead to up to seven years in prison.  […]

[…] Copyright violation is both a criminal and a civil offence.  Whether ‘spun’ content is a violation of copyright under UK law would require a test case.  Under US law the situation is a little clearer according to this lawyer who confirms that the practice would be illegal.  As Shapps (or his wife) registered their website in the US under a fake name, this would be an aggravating factor which could lead to up to seven years in prison.  […]

[…] Whilst this in itself is not a crime, it can be an aggravating factor if a website registered under a false name is used for criminal activity, such as copyright violation.  Whether spinning content in the UK would be classed as copyright violation is so far untested by the courts.  In the US, where Shapps’ website was registered, this would be considered a violation of copyright which could lead to serious criminal charges.  And were Shapps ever found guilty of this then he could have seven years added to his sentence for registering the site under a false name. […]

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