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Merged banks' names cybersquatted

Merged banks' names cybersquatted

Internet addresses corresponding to recent bank mergers are already being hoarded and sold online.

In "cybersquatting", likely addresses are bought cheaply in the hope of selling to the businesses involved, or as a medium for advertising.

Domain names for the merged Bank of America/Merrill Lynch as well as for Lloyds TSB/HBOS have been snapped up.

In one case, the domain name has already been listed on eBay, with the site directing visitors to the auction.

As reports of Lehman Brothers' intent to sell itself first surfaced last Friday, cybersquatters had already spotted Barclays, HSBC and Bank of America as potential buyers.

Accordingly, barclayslehman.com, hsbclehman.com, hsbclehmanbrothers.com and bofalehman.com had been acquired.

With the acquisition of Merrill Lynch by Bank of America this week, cybersquatters registered bankofamericamerrilllynch.com and bofaml.com.

In the UK, speculation surrounding the merger of Lloyds TSB with HBOS prompted yet more cybersquatting, so that now lloydstsbhbos.com and hboslloydstsb.com are owned.

"It shows how there are opportunists out there waiting to pounce on any event," says Jonathan Robinson, chief operating officer of NetNames.

"We've seen it in the case of celebrity with David Beckham going to LA Galaxy, we've seen it in the case of tragedy, with Princess Diana's death. There's a subtle twist on the whole thing now, which is the anticipation of the event."

'Click-through value'

Many cybersquatters have pay-per-click ads as revenue generators while awaiting potential buyers.

"Back in the mists of time, these names had a capital value and could be exchanged for cash," says Mr Robinson.

"There's another value they have nowadays and that's a click-through value, a cash flow that they generate in the whole world of online advertising.

"There's even automated software that will populate a website with relevant content."

The speculative HSBC/Lehman site, for example, looks like a news site about the myriad mergers and movements but features Google adverts along the margins.

In the case of bankofamericamerrilllynch.com, the object is more apparent; a visit to the site directs visitors to an eBay auction in which the domain name is for sale.

"The lesson has been there for a while for anyone working in the mergers and acquisitions area that this is a key area to focus on in the due diligence process," Mr Robinson says.

"One can't wait until after the deal is announced or the product is launched."

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