Small business owner losing online customers to unwanted redirects

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(KTVI) - The Internet has its strengths and its weaknesses.  Businesses big and small use it to grow their operations.  It’s supposed to drive customers to businesses.  But a growing number of small business owners complain that potential clients are redirected without permission.  Robert Viviano relies on his website to market his business Viviano's Windows Doors Kitchens and More.  There is no effort put into print or broadcast advertising according to Viviano.  "We use the website and that is our sole connection to the world other than being referred to me by another customer or repeat business.”

But for months now he's been struggled to figure who is redirecting potential customers away from his site and sending them instead to larger companies.  Viviano says, "We`ve been getting hijacked on our leads by companies basically calling themselves Viviano’s Windows with a very close URL.  You see right here where it says Viviano Window You think you`re on my website, but you`re not."

It starts when you search for the business name.  You may see one that looks familiar.   If you want an estimate you put in your zip code.  Then someone calls to schedule a meeting.  But Viviano says he's not making the calls.  A former customer says her internet search sent her to a different business according to Viviano. "It really hurts us like this particular job for Ms.  Dunsford.  Over time we're going to do about $10,000 worth of work for her, I could have lost this job completely."

Some website designs have inherent flaws.  Cyber security expert Eric Aguado of Throttlenet cautions business owners to prevent intrusion. "If you`re a business owner and you have a website you need to make sure that that those servers that are hosting your website are being kept up to date, make sure all the third party software is being patched and updated, just like your regular  desktop."

Aquado says catching the culprits is tricky because they bounce all over the place redirecting traffic.  "They can say I only want to redirect people on a Tuesday between 3 and 5 `clock, I only want to redirect people who are using Firefox."

In the meantime Viviano says it should be treated like any other crime.  "There should be a streamlined way for law enforcement to say you`re using this company`s name and you can`t do that. "

Do not ignore the security updates for your computer and discuss with an experienced IT expert what you need to reduce the chance your site will be hijacked.

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