Lawmakers Worry CPA Domain Name at Risk of Deceiving Consumers

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Terry Sheridan
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Four U.S. legislators have warned the nonprofit group overseeing internet domain names that certain generic top-level domain strings (gTLDs), such as .cpa, could be used to deceive consumers about professional services – in this case, the services of certified public accountants.

Representatives Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico), Michael Conaway (R-Texas), Steve King (R-Indiana) and Ruben Kihuen (D-Nevada) wrote a letter to Göran Marby, president and CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), urging him to develop verification regulations for the top-level domain strings that the legislators believe are at the greatest risk for fraud and abuse.

“By their very nature, gTLDs pose a far greater risk to the public than standard internet domains,” the legislators wrote. “As a result, we ask for an immediate review of the policies surrounding gTLDs to ensure the highest level of safety and accountability possible.”

It’s not a new concern. A 2013 communication from ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee identified several domain strings that are linked to regulated or professional services.

The committee “recognized that ‘these [gTLDs] are likely to invoke a level of implied trust from consumers, and carry higher levels of risk associated with consumer harm,’” the legislators wrote. “Further, the [committee] communique highlighted that gTLDs such as ‘.cpa’ could be used to deceive consumers of CPA services in the United States and around the world if granted to those outside the global CPA community.”

The committee recommended that ICANN work with regulators or industry groups to develop ways to “mitigate as much as possible the risks of fraudulent and other illegal activities.” The committee also cited .cpa as a domain string that requires Category 1 safeguards.

Why ICANN hasn’t fully implemented its committee’s recommendation isn’t made clear in the legislators’ letter.

 “While it has taken steps in the right direction, gTLDs, such as ‘.cpa,’ are still not regulated in a way to prevent fraud and abuse,” the four legislators wrote. “For a gTLD that has a strong connection to a regulated industry, such as ‘.cpa,’ the protection of the public against fraud or other illegal activities should be of paramount concern to ICANN. Strong, reliable verification procedures are essential to protect the public interest. The importance of the public trust to the CPA profession around the world cannot be overstated, and the potential harm to the public of fraudulent or illegal use of a ‘.cpa’ domain is immense.”

The legislators suggest that ICANN develop a verification process for gTLDs such as .cpa.

“ICANN cannot combat fraud by simply requiring applicants to make a representation without any verification,” they wrote.

While the legislators recognize that verification isn’t a simple process, “it is an essential one,” they wrote.

Several entities, including the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), have filed applications for the right to register the .cpa domain name. Donuts Inc., a Bellevue, Washington-based company, is also vying for the domain and opposes Australian group CPA Australia Ltd. in registering the same domain name. 

About Terry Sheridan

About Terry Sheridan

Terry Sheridan is an award-winning journalist who has covered real estate, mortgage finance, health care, insurance, personal finance, and accounting and taxation issues for newspapers, magazines, and websites. A Chicago native and former South Florida resident, she now lives in New England.

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Sep 27th 2017 17:36

Honestly, in my opinion, in this day and age, we should all be at a point where we're Internet savvy enough to vet out a company regardless of it's domain name extension.

Personally, it doesn't matter to me what the extension is. If I'm going to do business with a company, I'm talking to it's people anyway; I'm not simply relying on a domain name; especially the extension.

I think, again in my opinion, the actual company names sometimes are more misleading than anything else. For example - and this is a fictitious name - Let's say you find a company called Expert Tax Services that claim their employees are all CPAs, EAs and Tax Attorneys with over 100 years of combined experience. While this may be true, one doesn't know the extent of that experience. They could simply be a "return mill" processing simple returns while the more complex issues get clogged up with the IRS. And, it could be more than likely that the "professionals" listed are nothing more than absentee owners that employee rudimentary tax preparers to prepare the bulk of the work.

As always: Buyer beware and check references!! ESPECIALLY when it comes to professional services...

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