Associated Press (AP) journalists were left red faced today when they had to publicly admit they published a story about General Electric (GE) which was based on a fake press release.

So what happened? It all boils down to a single letter of the alphabet.

The press release looked authentic – armed with the GE logo and linked to a website which mimicked that of the company. However the site it linked to was www.genewscenters.com/ as opposed to the actual GE news site, www.genewscenter.com. The difference being an added ‘s’ in the domain name. Easy to miss by a busy journalist when the site design is similar.

That said, the press release copy should have raised a flag with someone in that it declared that GE, responding to criticism over the amount of taxes it pays, would repay a $3.2 billion tax refund for 2010 to the Treasury Department.

The AP published a 90-word story based on the release which they then withdrew just 35 minutes later. Commenting on the mistake, AP Business Editor Hal Ritter told ABC news that: “The AP did not follow its own standards in this case for verifying the authenticity of a news release.”

The moral of the story?

When purchasing a domain name consider ‘brand protection’ by buying variations of your company names, products or core services when possible. Similarly secure various Twitter handles, YouTube channels and other social media accounts to ensure that your brand cannot be hijacked as was the case with BP around the time of the infamous oil spill.

This story also underscores the importance of online brand monitoring. After all…if you aren’t aware of what’s being said about you online, how are you going to be able to react (in a timely fashion) to what’s being said?

To read the full hoax release click here.