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The Dot-Coms That Want You to Think They’re Dot-Govs

One of the oldest traffic-grabbing tricks in the internet book is to pick a popular website and register your own variants of the address, hoping that web users typing in the address will get it wrong. An easy way to do this is by swapping in a new top-level domain (TLD), which is the suffix of a URL—like .com, .net, or .gov. 

While you need to be part of an official government organization or program to use .gov, anyone can register a .com. This leaves government sites vulnerable to impersonation by people who want to flip the domain for big bucks or just rake in money by displaying ads and links on it.

A prime example of a not-quite-government site is Whitehouse.com, the rogue version of the official Whitehouse.gov. The imposter site was originally purchased in 1997, back when people all across the internet were just figuring out how to troll. The owner of the site set it up as a “parody and commentary site of the White House and U.S. politics,” according to a CNET article from ‘97. Unfortunately this didn’t earn the kind of money the site’s owner was hoping for, even with the similar URL, so he added an element of porn, linking to adult sites and featuring images of politicians Photoshopped onto naked bodies. This resulted in traffic rising from 10,000 visitors a day to 30,000, according to CNET.

In 2004, the site was finally sold off after the owner ironically became worried that his children would get teased about the content on it. Since its sale, Whitehouse.com has hosted everything from real estate searches to free speech forums to a search engine to find personal injury lawyers, all of which were undoubtedly hoping to get some of that sweet accidental traffic.

With the advent of search-engine-based web browsing, manual URL input is not what it used to be, and thus the chance of mistaking a .com for a .gov isn’t as common as it once was. But that doesn’t mean that people aren’t still trying to take advantage those mistakes. Here are what is sitting at the .coms of many high-profile government .govs.

Many government knock-off sites are parked, like Whitehouse.com, to display shady-looking search engines or links. Some of them actually link out to the related government website, but most are just hoping someone without much internet savvy will give them some clicks.   

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs can be found at VA.gov, VA.com is another parked domain. At least it has a soldier on it?

You will only find fool’s gold at Treasury.com’s parked domain, the knock-off version of the U.S. Department of the Treasury at Treasury.gov.

Some of these .coms are looking to sell their popular domain names. CIA.com is supposedly for sale, although when we tried to contact the email address provided, our message was immediately bounced back.  

If you bought CIA.com, those at CIA.gov would likely take notice.

The Department of the Interior at DOI.gov has a counterpart in this scammy link site at DOI.com, but maybe you could buy it and change it.

Some of these .coms are legitimate businesses that just happen to have chosen basic names that happen to overlap with those used by .govs. 

At State.gov you can learn about the Department of State, but at State.com you can learn about a new social media platform. 

The Department of Defense at DOD.gov does not likely sponsor the guitar pedals sold at DOD.com

Healthcare.com is absolutely not Healthcare.gov. But you can still get some health care there. 

The Neptune Shipping Agency at NSA.com is not monitoring your emails like the National Security Agency at NSA.gov. We think. 

Some of these .coms are are neither mistakes nor for sale. For instance, FBI.com states that it is “Coming Soon.” The site’s operators, Digimedia.com, did not respond to our request for comment. The mystery continues.  

Maybe someone at FBI.gov is on the case of exactly WHAT is coming to FBI.com.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives at ATF.gov likely have nothing to do with whatever strange pink thing is going to happen on ATF.com.

Ed.gov is the home of the U.S. Department of Education. Ed.com is the home of two odd, downloadable widgets described as “Fun Software.”

These sites seem to have been built in the hope that someone will accidentally stumble on them and end up staying..

Looking for the United States Senate at Senate.gov? Don’t be fooled by Senate.com, even with their picture of George Washington.

Benefits.gov desperately wants you to take advantage of beneficial programs. Benefits.com desperately wants you to purchase the rights to the word “Benefits” as a brand. 

We see what you did there NASA.com. (For space and science, visit NASA.gov)

Maybe strangest of all, the U.S. House of Representatives at House.gov, can be mistaken for House.com, which is a Chinese site full of pictures of women in bikinis.

Lastly, at least one agency is not putting up with all this internet tomfoolery.

It is unclear whether the Department of Homeland Security at DHS.gov are behind DHS.com being blocked, but it seems like the kind of thing they’d do.