Identity theft by domain name: what Afnic does

10 September 2018 - By Nathalie Boulvard

Time goes by peacefully when suddenly you are accused of every evil or almost all, and simply because your identity has been hijacked by a domain name... or even several. How can that happen? Quite simply when domain names are registered using all or part of your personal data (family name and contact details).

In most of these cases, without your knowledge, you are the victim of domain names used by third parties for cybercrime, such as online fraud, sales of counterfeit products, business scams, defamation, etc.

In one ruling of the Paris district court handed down on March 02, 2017, Ms. X. found that a third party identified in the .fr Whois database as Ms. Y. had registered a domain name in November 2016 that was used to operate an online sales site of shoes and accessories, in all likelihood fraudulent. However, in this case, Ms. Y. was not at the origin of the registration of the domain name in dispute. The registration occurred after her identity was stolen.

In cases of identity theft in order to register a domain name, Afnic and the registrars are called upon to intervene, within the limits of their prerogatives, when the victims of these processes bring the case before them.

Since 2015, Afnic has identified and processed 50 motions for identity theft involving the registration of 115 domain names[1].




If at our level we have only record a small number of cases compared with the total number of domain names registered under the .fr TLD (3 million), the fact remains that these practices can have an impact on the victims who may have to account for themselves, without knowing why, to the police or as part of judicial or extrajudicial proceedings.

It is about this type of situation that Afnic wishes to warn you, inform you and when it can, intervene on your behalf.

Afnic warns you!

First of all we invite you to be vigilant in your browsing and your use of the Internet.

To do so, it is important to adopt a number of good practices to protect your personal data. In particular:

  • Do not connect to a website or order products online or perform any other operation without first checking: the name and legal existence of the publisher of the site, the conditions of sale or supply of services, the security of the site (URL https, security certificate indicated by the presence of a green padlock), or the consistency of the site (logo, pages, consistent content, presence of non-fake legal notices, etc.).
  • Do not disclose your personal data, including on the social networks.
  • Be wary of contentious sales sites or bogus surveys, pretexts for the collection of identifying data that are then resold to third parties for fraudulent uses.
  • Only communicate relevant personal data via secure channels.
  • Configure your tools in private mode.
  • Know how to exercise personal rights in order to protect your personal data.
  • Learn about and train yourself in the use of digital security and digital identity protection through the following websites:
  • Defend yourself by putting the website in your favorites: the site provides assistance for the victims of malicious cyber activity.

Afnic informs you!

Even if you know all of this and use good practices, the risk of identity theft by domain name exists.

It is important to remember that there is no prior control of registrations of domain names.

In accordance with the legal framework specific to domain names under the .fr TLD, Afnic does not conduct any due diligence of applications for registration, except those relating to the terms subject to prior review as provided by the naming policy. Domain name are registered on the basis of statements made by the applicant and under their sole responsibility.

This means that, at the time of registration, Afnic has no obligation to control or verify the identity of the holder of the domain name. Afnic, therefore, cannot be held responsible for incorrect, false or misleading information or any omissions in the "Whois" database. Similarly, Afnic accepts no liability arising from the registration or use of a domain name, or for any direct or indirect prejudicial consequences arising from same.

Given these methods of registering domain names without prior verification of identity, the public authorities in the course of their investigations as well as private persons confronted with cybercrime by domain names must allow persons appearing unwittingly in the Whois database to demonstrate that they are the victims of identity theft. 

The SYRELI College was faced with this situation, particularly in decision reference number FR-2018-01537. In this case, Afnic had notified the opening of the procedure to the holder using the e-mail address as well as the postal address appearing in the Whois database; however the postal address of the holder turned out to be that of the victim of identity theft. As part of the SYRELI procedure, the victim can then respond on the platform to defend and agree to the request of the Applicant to obtain the transmission or deletion of the domain name in dispute.

Afnic intervenes!

The provisions of the naming charter allow Afnic to conduct verification or control operations under specific conditions presented on the Afnic website and explained in its legal brochure: Guide for Rights Holders.

In addition, the provision of inaccurate data by the holder may lead to the deletion of the registration of the corresponding domain name once Afnic has enabled the holder of a domain name to rectify the situation.

In case of identity theft involving the registration of a domain name, the first thing to do is to file a complaint with the police. With this complaint, Afnic will ask the registrar to contact their client, the owner of the domain name in question, and provide an answer as soon as possible. In parallel, Afnic will freeze the domain name. The domain name will be deleted if the registrar is unable to authenticate the identity of the holder, thus confirming the identity theft.

Faced with this type of situation, together with the registrar with which the domain name has been filed, Afnic takes all the measures at its disposal to put a rapid end to proven identity theft.


[1] These figures only take into account the identity theft of individuals in order to register domain names.

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