There is a rumor spreading on social media that Ralph Lauren is selling a shirt called “Mens New Ralph Lauren Short Sleeved Dual Polo N*gger-Brown.”
It’s not true, which might seem obvious, but it has fooled a bunch of people because the fake site purporting to sell the shirt is designed to look legitimate. Its URL is “ralph-lauren.us.com” and includes pages for a large catalog of other Polo Ralph Lauren products. The checkout system even collects billing and shipping details.
Counterfeit sites like these can be a headache for companies caught up in them—sometimes causing years of misunderstanding—and they are likely to become more common.
The site is registered using an email address from the Chinese instant messaging service QQ. And us.com domains can be registered by anyone, just like those ending in dot-com, dot-net, and dot-ninja.
A near identical scenario developed in 2012 when an online Abercrombie & Fitch store was selling “mpa11 N*gger Brown Pants.” At the time, Gawker attributed the epithet to a bad translation of the Chinese phrase for “dark brown,” using software by a company called Kingsoft.
Incidents like this can haunt companies for years. A false rumor originating in the 90s that Tommy Hilfiger didn’t want minorities wearing the clothing he designed has dogged him and his company to this day.
David Silver, an executive at MarkMonitor, which provides similar services to CSC, told Quartz last year that spoofing of this sort is likely to become more frequent in the future as it is impossible to buy web addresses for every permutation of a brand name.
The real Polo Ralph Lauren site ralphlauren.com has no products matching the description on the fake site (and similar ones that appear throughout the web). The Dual Match Cotton Polo comes in six colors: bittersweet orange, deckwash white, french navy, polo black, and sapphire star—no brown.
The official Ralph Lauren website is registered through CSC Corporate Domains according to internet “whois” records and administered by PRL USA Holdings, Inc. CSC—among other services—protects its clients brand identities from hoaxes such as this one. There was no one at CSC available to immediately comment.
A spokeswoman for Ralph Lauren confirmed that the online store is a “rogue website” and told Quartz that the company is preparing legal action to get it taken down. She said they first learned of the site today, through social media. Ralph Lauren’s official Twitter account hasn’t mentioned it.