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Hamptons real estate firm sues over Web identities

Lori Barbaria.

Lori Barbaria. Photo Credit: Prudential

Prudential Douglas Elliman, a major real estate agency, Monday sued a Hamptons competitor for allegedly concocting a “cyberpiracy” scheme to “slyly and stealthily” divert potential clients.

Saunders & Associates began “exploiting” Prudential’s identity six months ago by registering Internet domain names of brokers from other companies, including Prudential, the suit said.

Web users searching for two of Prudential’s top sales agents in the Hamptons would find the sites loribarbaria.com and michaelakeszler.com, which routed them to saunders.com, the suit said.  Lori Barbaria, a Prudential broker, is shown at left.

But Andrew Saunders, who started the business in 2008, said taking those names was a mistake made last fall when the company embarked on a strategy to capture business from online searches. It began purchasing 3,000 domain names for streets and communities from the Hamptons to Montauk, a follow-up to the $100,000 purchase two years ago of hamptonsrealestate.com, which was lucrative for the agency, he said.

“One of our staffers got a little overzealous,” Saunders said.

He said he learned of the “improper” purchases when the real estate blog site curbed.com called about the domain names last month and quickly relinquished control of the domain names of other brokers and companies. He said his firm never owned loribarbaria.com.

“It is not our policy or institutionalized practice here of using the names of other brokers in the Hamptons to enhance our website,” he said. “We have our own mojo and our own action here.”

The Prudential suit, filed in State Supreme Court in Suffolk, asked for an unspecified damage award, saying its business was affected.

Photo: Lori Barbaria, a Prudential broker.

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