WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center
ADMINISTRATIVE PANEL DECISION
Equifax Inc. v. Robert Chris
Case No. D2021-2730
1. The Parties
The Complainant is Equifax Inc., United States of America (“United States” or “U.S.”), represented by The GigaLaw Firm, Douglas M. Isenberg, Attorney at Law, LLC, United States.
The Respondent is Robert Chris, United States.
2. The Domain Name and Registrar
The disputed domain name <equlfaxs.com> is registered with NameSilo, LLC (the “Registrar”).
3. Procedural History
The Complaint was filed with the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center (the “Center”) on August 20, 2021. On August 20, 2021, the Center transmitted by email to the Registrar a request for registrar verification in connection with the disputed domain name. On August 20, 2021, the Registrar transmitted by email to the Center its verification response confirming that the Respondent is listed as the registrant and providing the contact details.
The Center verified that the Complaint satisfied the formal requirements of the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (the “Policy” or “UDRP”), the Rules for Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (the “Rules”), and the WIPO Supplemental Rules for Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (the “Supplemental Rules”).
In accordance with the Rules, paragraphs 2 and 4, the Center formally notified the Respondent of the Complaint, and the proceedings commenced on August 26, 2021. In accordance with the Rules, paragraph 5, the due date for Response was September 15, 2021. The Respondent did not submit any response. Accordingly, the Center notified the Respondent’s default on September 20, 2021.
The Center appointed Anne Gundelfinger as the sole panelist in this matter on September 29, 2021. The Panel finds that it was properly constituted. The Panel has submitted the Statement of Acceptance and Declaration of Impartiality and Independence, as required by the Center to ensure compliance with the Rules, paragraph 7.
4. Factual Background
The Complainant Equifax Inc. is a leading global provider of information solutions and human resources business process outsourcing services for businesses, governments, and consumers. Among its many services, the Complainant offers a well-known credit reporting service under the EQUIFAX mark (“Mark”) that provides consumers with a summary of their credit history, and certain other information, reported to credit bureaus by lenders and creditors. The Complainant was incorporated in the United States in 1913, and is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. It operates or has investments in 24 countries in North America, Central and South America, Europe, and the Asia Pacific region, employing approximately 11,000 people worldwide. The Complainant is a member of Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 Index, and its common stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
The Complainant has used the EQUIFAX Mark for decades and owns registrations for the EQUIFAX Mark and various EQUIFAX-based marks in the United States and in major markets around the world for a wide range of business and financial services, including the following United States registrations:
- EQUIFAX: U.S. Reg. No. 1,027,544 (first used in commerce March 4, 1975; registered December 16, 1975) for use in connection with “insurance risk information reporting services concerning potential policy holders”;
- EQUIFAX: U.S. Reg. No. 1,045,574 (first used in commerce March 4, 1975; registered August 3, 1976) for use in connection with “conducting investigations and reporting on individuals and firms concerning credit, character and finances […]”;
- EQUIFAX: U.S. Reg. No. 1,644,585 (first used in commerce March 4, 1975; registered May 14, 1991) for use in connection with, inter alia, “providing on-line access to computer databases containing information relating to applicants for insurance, credit, mortgage loans, and employment”.
The Complainant is also the registrant of the domain name <equifax.com>, which was created on February 21, 1995 and resolves to the Complainant’s primary corporate website.
The disputed domain name was registered on June 14, 2021 and does not resolve to any website, instead generating only an error message.
5. Parties’ Contentions
The Complainant contends that the disputed domain name is confusingly similar to its well-established and widely registered EQUIFAX Mark because the disputed domain name is identical to the Mark, with the exception that the disputed domain name replaces the second “i” with an “l” and adds an “s” to the end. The Complainant argues that these differences are nominal and/or irrelevant and thus do not prevent a finding of confusing similarity.
The Complainant further contends, and has presented substantial supporting evidence, that the Respondent has used the disputed domain name in connection with a business email compromise scheme that resulted in payment by the Complainant to the Respondent or another bad-faith actor who used the disputed domain name as part of the deceptive email address “[redacted]@equlfaxs.com”. The Respondent (or other bad-faith actor) employed social engineering techniques to impersonate both the Complainant and the Complainant’s vendor as part of a successful effort to obtain invoices from the Complainant’s vendor that were intended for the Complainant. As a result of this business email compromise scheme using the disputed domain name, the Complainant submitted a phishing report to the Registrar on August 9, 2021, after which the Registrar notified the Complainant on August 10, 2021, that it had “placed the domain on Client Hold status.”
Accordingly, the Complainant argues that the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name, and that the disputed domain name was registered and is being used in bad faith. Specifically, the Complainant asserts inter alia that (a) the Complainant has given no authorization or license for use of the disputed domain name, (b) the Respondent is not commonly known by the disputed domain name, and (c) the Respondent’s use of the disputed domain name for the above-described business compromise scheme both fails to establish rights or legitimate interests, and also demonstrates the Respondent’s bad faith registration and use.
Finally, the Complainant contends that the Respondent is a recidivist bad faith actor, having been found to have used another domain name to impersonate another complainant to fraudulently solicit payments in a scheme similar to the one alleged here. See, PragmaticPlay Limited v. Robert Chris, NAF Claim No. 1932464.
The Respondent did not reply to the Complainant’s contentions.
6. Discussion and Findings
Paragraph 4(a) of the Policy requires that the Complainant prove the following three elements to be successful in this action: (i) the disputed domain name is identical or confusingly similar to trademarks or service marks in which the Complainant has rights; (ii) the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the disputed domain name; and (iii) the disputed domain name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.
A. Identical or Confusingly Similar
The disputed domain name is identical to the Complainant’s distinctive and well-established EQUIFAX Mark, with the exception that the disputed domain name replaces the second “i” with an “l” and adds an “s” to the end. Such minor alterations are insignificant, and do not prevent a finding of confusing similarity between the disputed domain name and the EQUIFAX Mark, especially given the visual similarity between an “i” and an “l”. Panels have consistently found slightly misspelled domain names to be confusingly similar to the mark in question for purposes of the first element under the Policy. See, section 1.9 of WIPO Overview of WIPO Panel Views on Selected UDRP Questions, Third Edition (“WIPO Overview 3.0”) and cases cited therein. Moreover, here there is clear and undisputed evidence (discussed below) that the Respondent targeted the Complainant’s Mark, which affirms a finding of confusing similarity between the disputed domain name and the Complainant’s Mark.
Accordingly, the Panel finds that the disputed domain name is confusingly similar to the Complainant’s Mark under the requirements of the Policy, and that the first element of the Policy is satisfied.
B. Rights or Legitimate Interests
It is well-established that a complainant must present a prima facie case in relation to the second element of the Policy, not mere allegations. Once a prima facie showing is made, the burden of production shifts to the respondent to come forward with evidence of rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name. This burden-shifting is appropriate given that the respondent is often the only party with access to evidence of its own rights or legitimate interests. Accordingly, where a respondent fails to file a response, a UDRP panel may draw inferences from the failure to respond as appropriate under the circumstances of the case and while still weighing all available evidence irrespective of whether a response is filed. See, section 2.1 of the WIPO Overview 3.0 and cases cited therein. See also, Croatia Airlines d.d. v. Modern Empire Internet Ltd., WIPO Case No. D2003-0455.
Here, the Complainant has convincingly demonstrated its rights in, as well as its decades-long use of, the EQUIFAX Mark; thus demonstrating that it is a distinctive and well-known mark. While this alone would generally be sufficient to infer the Respondent’s knowledge of the Complainant’s rights, here it is not necessary to make such an inference, because the Complainant has demonstrated with credible unrebutted evidence that the Respondent used the disputed domain name (as well as the Complainant’s name and the address of one of its offices) to send fraudulent emails for commercial gain. Of course, such use can never give rise to any right or legitimate interest on the part of the Respondent in the disputed domain name (see section 2.13 of the WIPO Overview 3.0). Moreover, such use establishes the Respondent’s knowledge of the Complainant’s rights.
The Complainant has further asserted that the Respondent owns no trademark registrations for the disputed domain name, is not commonly known by the disputed domain name, is not making a legitimate fair use of the name, and further that the Complainant has no relationship with the Respondent and has not licensed or otherwise permitted the Respondent’s use of the disputed domain name.
In the absence of a response from the Respondent, the Panel accepts the Complainant’s evidence and assertions, and finds that the Complainant has made a prima facie case that the Respondent lacks any rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name. Accordingly, the Panel concludes that the Complainant has met its burden and that the second element of the test is satisfied.
C. Registered and Used in Bad Faith
The third element of the test requires a showing that the disputed domain name has been registered and is being used in bad faith. As previously concluded, the disputed domain name is confusingly similar to the Complainant’s distinctive, well-established, decades-old EQUIFAX Mark. Given the foregoing, and the fact that the Respondent used the disputed domain name to send fraudulent emails, one can only fairly conclude that the Respondent was clearly aware of the Complainant’s rights in the EQUIFAX Mark when registering the disputed domain name. This suffices to establish bad faith registration. See, paragraph 4(b)(iv) of the Policy, and section 3.1.4 of the WIPO Overview 3.0.
Turning to bad faith use, while the disputed domain name resolves only to an inactive website, the Respondent sent fraudulent emails for commercial gain using the disputed domain name as well as the name and address of the Complainant. Such use of the disputed domain name clearly constitutes use in bad faith. See Facebook, Inc. v. WhoisGuard, Inc. / Donna E. Fleming, Mansmann’s Department Store, WIPO Case No. D2019-1777, and section 3.4 of the WIPO Overview 3.0.
Accordingly, the Panel concludes that the disputed domain name was registered and has been used in bad faith, and that the third element of the test is satisfied.
For the foregoing reasons, in accordance with paragraphs 4(i) of the Policy and 15 of the Rules, the Panel orders that the disputed domain name <equlfaxs.com> be transferred to the Complainant.
Date: October 7, 2021