UK’s domain name registry cracks down on fake websites as COVID-19 fraudsters increase


In the wake of COVID-19, people are relying even more on the internet to buy goods and services they would normally go out to purchase. To combat the growth of fraudsters, Nominet, the Oxford-based organisation responsible for the UK’s domain registry, is working with law enforcement to identify and flag fraudulent coronavirus sites claiming to offer vaccines, protection and similar cures to the public.

Nominet is planning to introduce law enforcement landing pages for domains suspended due to criminal activity. The organisation has been working alongside the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the City of London’s Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) to find and flag these sites.

Instead of shutting sites down, as they have done previously, Nominet will redirect web users to a secure site providing consumer advice and education for potential victims of sales of counterfeit medicines and other branded goods.

This will be the first time this has been done in the UK,.

This is the first time a national registry will facilitate the provision of trusted information and guidance from law enforcement agencies following the suspension of domain names for criminal activity. Landing pages are sometimes used by law enforcement globally but only in circumstances where the agency in question, for example the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, has seized control of a domain name. This is the first registry-led initiative to provide informative landing pages.

The change follows a policy consultation with industry experts, law enforcement agencies and consumer advice bodies.

Nominet’s open policy consultation process engages with a wide variety of stakeholders to ensure that .UK registry policies reflect emerging threats, changes in stakeholder expectations and new industry practices. In total, 64 respondents shared feedback on how to improve consumer safety online, including the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), law enforcement agencies, consumer interest organisations, the financial sector and civil society groups.

Eleanor Bradley, MD of Registry Solutions and Public Benefit at Nominet, said: “We see this as a great opportunity to help alert people to dangerous scams, and point them in the direction of organisations, such as MHRA, that can help.

“We are delighted with the engagement we received from across the UK internet community on this initiative. Nominet has a responsibility to ensure .UK is a safe and trusted namespace. Introducing landing pages with valuable advice and guidance is the latest example of Nominet working alongside law enforcement to identify and address common challenges. Developing .UK policy is a process of continuous improvement, we look forward to engaging further with stakeholders as we implement our next steps.”

Detective Chief Inspector Nicholas Court, of the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) said: “We work closely with Nominet to disrupt criminals who try to operate in the .UK domain. The introduction of law enforcement landing pages, including advice and guidance for the public, will help us in protecting consumers from the dangers of counterfeit goods and protect their personal information when shopping online.”

A spokesperson for the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said:“One in 10 people in the UK have bought fake medical products online in the last year. Medicines supplied from unregistered websites are unlikely to be genuine licensed medicines, not only is this not compliant with UK law, the health of patients are put at risk.  Redirecting visitors to our #fakemeds website provides them with the tools they need to avoid fake medical products in the future. Your health is important – don’t risk it!”