Not content with faking up similar-sounding journal names and web sites, some lowlifes are actually hijacking entire scientific journal domains out from under the rightful owners. John Bohannon has an alarming report here,
Long ignored by the criminal underworld, academic journal websites are finally getting noticed. One reason is the sheer scale of today’s online publishing—more than 2 million digital articles were published by more than 20,000 journals last year. Another may be the money changing hands. Most of this $10 billion industry is still tied up with subscriptions, paid primarily by libraries, but a growing slice comes from gold open-access publishing, the business model in which authors of accepted papers pay up front for their publication. This part of the market took in about $250 million last year and is on course to double in a few years. That cash flow and the amateurish website administration of many scholarly publishers make for juicy targets. . .
. . .Until domain-snatching came along, journal hijacking was easy to spot. You just turned to a trusted list of reputable journals, such as Web of Science. Curated by Thomson Reuters, it lists the International Standard Serial Numbers (ISSNs), titles, and Web and postal addresses of more than 12,000 publications. If the Web address of an online journal matches its official record on Web of Science, then you could be confident that it’s the real deal. No longer: There is no simple way to identify a journal that has lost control of its own Web domain.
Well, that’s just great. The article quotes from the work done on this by Mehdi Dadkhah, an Iranian IT researcher who was himself scammed a couple of years ago, and who has been digging into this problem. Bohannon himself gave it a try, and was able to redirect the traffic of a small Croatian journal to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” video for a while, a nice touch. (The journal itself had already moved to a new site, but the old URL was still listed in Thomson Reuters, so this stunt didn’t take them off line).
But the people doing this for a living aren’t Rick-rolling their visitors; they’re ready to collect publication fees, subscriptions, and whatever else they can grab onto. In a couple of cases, Bohannon found hijacked journal domains that are now directing their traffic to sites promoting baldness cures and payday loans, which really makes you wonder if anyone back at the ranch is paying any attention at all. But if you own a domain, you have to watch for when it comes time to renew the registration, or risk getting it bought out from under you. The entire DOI cross-reference system went (partially) down earlier this year because of just such an issue – it’s easy to miss, and the consequences can be very bad indeed.