Approximately 2.3 million domain names have been registered with obviously false information, such as (999) 999-999 for a telephone number or "XXXXX" for a postal code, and another 1.6 million were registered with incomplete information, according to the US Government Accountability Office.

The GAO said individuals or organisations registering the names of their websites may have provided inaccurate information to domain name registrars to hide their identities or prevent the public from contacting them. The 3.9 million wrong or incomplete registrations represents 8.6 per cent of the 44.9 million the agency was asked to check by Congress.

Who Is?

Contact information is made available online through a service known as Whois. Data accuracy in the Whois service can help law enforcement officials investigate the misuse of intellectual property and online fraud, as well as identify the source of spam and help Internet operators resolve technical network issues, the GAO said.

The GAO was asked to determine the prevalence of patently false or incomplete contact information in the Whois service for the .com, .org and .net domains. It was also asked to determine how much of the wrong information was corrected within a month of being reported to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the regulatory group that oversees the Internet's technical infrastructure.

Five per cent fake

The GAO said it found 45 error reports in a random sampling of 900 registrations and submitted those 45 error reports to ICANN for further investigation. The GAO said it determined that 11 of those 45 domain name holders provided updated contact information that was not patently false within 30 days. One domain name, which had already been pending deletion, was terminated after the GAO submitted the error report. The remaining 33 were not corrected at all within that time frame, the GAO said.

According to the GAO, the Commerce Department and ICANN generally agreed with the report and have taken steps to ensure the accuracy of the contact data in the Whois database.

One such move includes implementation of a Registrar Accreditation Agreement requiring registrars to investigate and correct any reported inaccuracies in contact information.