When the Internet burst into popularity in the mid-1990s, the rush to get popular names resembled the Oklahoma land run of 1889 – but for far more fertile cyberspace locations. Cybersquatting became rampant, as parasites tried to trade on the reputations established by others.

Cybersquatting on the Internet is far less of a problem now, but now businesses and individuals face a new problem – Twittersquatting. Two years ago, Former Oakland A’s manager (and current St. Louis skipper) Tony La Russa sued Twitter over a parody Twitter account purportedly by him. The account was quickly shut down and the dispute settled, but apparently precedent has been set. Twitter squatting has been born and is set to fly.

During the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, an inspired Twitter squatter sent out tweets purportedly from BP’s public relations department. In June 2011, a secondary life insurance company called Coventry First has sued to find the identities of whoever started the @coventryfirst Twitter account, which pretends to note Coventry First’s distress when there are no plane crashes that “increase shareholder value.”

While the above examples have been mostly humorous, twits using your business’s name could destroy your company’s reputation before you even know about it. Twitter does have an anti-squatting policy, but every business should participate in the Twitter land rush by claiming its own name. Besides being a potential marketing device, claiming your business’s name prevents it from being claimed by someone else. It’s free and took me less than 30 seconds to do.