HMRC’s efforts to crack down on fraudulent websites and emails used to scam taxpayers has received a boost after a ruling from internet registrar Nominet that the department is entitled to the rights to the domain name inland-revenue.org.uk sayHarris & Co accountants Northampton
As well as sending out regular warnings about phishing emails, HMRC is purchasing all domains that could be interpreted as linked to the organisation, for example hmrc.co.uk or hrmc.com to prevent fraudsters using them for criminal purposes. However, the move may be expensive and could result in more intervention from Nominet as it is ten years since some of these common domain names have been registered, and not by the tax authorities.
Last month Nominet, which is responsible for running the .uk country code domain name registry, gave its ruling in a mediation case involving the inland-revenue.org.uk website name and effectively returned the name to HMRC and disabled the domain name. A source at Nominet said this was an achievement for HMRC as "this is often not straightforward", as in the case of a recent Ryanair case where arguments centred around the viability of a campaign group"s use of a website.
This website was set up in 2009 and registered with Nominet by ‘Wes & Dave’ at an address in Congleton. In evidence to Nominet, HMRC said it had written a letter to this address concerning the use of the Inland Revenue name, which had not been returned as undelivered and to which there had been no reply.
At the hearing to mediate on the case, HMRC argued that it was the owner of trademark rights in the name ‘Inland Revenue’, which had been the department’s title until 2005 and was still being used in both media reports and general discussions. HMRC said the inland-revenue.org.uk had a similar look and feel to its own website, as it was labelled ‘The Entitlements Agency’ and sub-titled ‘Tax Rebate Services’.
In its submission, HMRC referenced the growing problem of commercial websites which faked the appearance of official government websites, and which asked for fees for services which are normally provided without charge. It said the inland-revenue.org.uk was designed to cause and benefit from this kind of confusion and there was a serious risk that taxpayers could be fooled into handing over money for what they erroneously believed to be HMRC services.
While HMRC claimed that these actions were clear signs of attempts at passing off a fake website as being a governmental one, Nominet"s Dispute Resolution Service (DRS) said the law was less certain on this point, as ‘Inland Revenue’ was not a trademarked name.
However, the DRS accepted that the name Inland Revenue had been in constant use since at least 1849 and was closely associated with HMRC. It also said that while HMRC could not be said to have suffered a loss of ‘trading goodwill’, since it was not a trading organisation, it was at risk of losing the goodwill of taxpayers.
Accordingly, Nominet ruled that the domain name inland-revenue.org.uk should be transferred to HMRC, as the department had rights in respect of a similar name, so ‘Wes & Dave’ were found to have made an abusive registration.