Scam artists are at it again. Hardly a week goes by when one of my clients doesn’t get approached by some sort of Internet scam. Yesterday, a client forwarded one of the latest variations of the domain name registration scam. Although this very common scam is over 10 years old, site owners and companies still fall for it all of the time.
There have been several variations of the domain name registration scam over the past 10 or more years. In the late 1990s and early into the new millennium, companies with web sites used to get letters stating that their domain name was about to expire and advising them to pay the registration fee immediately or risk losing their domain name. The problem was that the letters did not come from their domain registrar. They came from a scammer who tried to scare domain owners into paying outrageous fees to renew their domain names. Annual fees were typically in the $75 to $100 per year range, when the going rate was $20 or less.
In some cases, the scammers did actually pay the renewal fee, even though they had no relationship with the registrars. That kept them from being arrested for theft. When they actually followed through and did something, they could get away with calling it a service, albeit a high-priced service. Some of these scams went beyond that and if you read the fine print in the letter, when you paid the fee you were authorizing the scammer to transfer the domain registration to them. Registrars today have safeguards in their systems that are designed to stop these types of scams.
A more common form of the domain registration scam was perpetrated by a call, letter or e-mail that claims that the sender represents a domain registrar or an intellectual property rights company who has discovered that someone is trying to register variations of your company’s domain name. They offer to intervene and register the domain names on your behalf to prevent someone from grabbing variations of your web site’s domain name.
The latest variation of this was sent to me yesterday. It comes from a Chinese company who approached one of my clients through an e-mail which claims that they discovered a company who is trying to register Asian variation’s of the client’s domain name. These included ccTLDs (country code top level domains) .asia, .in (India), .hk (Hong Kong) .com.hk (Hong Kong), .com.tw (Taiwan), .net.cn (China) and .org.ch (China). In order to look legitimate, the e-mail even mentions the name of a fictitious Hong Kong company trying to register the domains. They ask if that company is authorized to register the domains on the client’s behalf and infer that the fictitious purchaser is registering them so that they can sell them to the client “to gain profits.”
The e-mail claims that they have “postponed this company’s application temporarily.” However, they do not claim to be a registrar, but do claim to be “a professional intellectual property right consultant organization” (this sounds familiar). They offer to register these domains on the client’s behalf to prevent the other company from spoiling the client’s good reputation. What a bunch of nice guys!
This message does not mention a price, but offers to send an application form so that the registration can be disputed. I am willing to bet that there is an outrageous fee associated with each registration and the payment will need to accompany the application. If someone is foolish enough to follow through with this scam and send them a payment, I strongly suspect that the client would never see the registrations. It is also likely that the payment would have to be made by a certified check or a Western Union wire transfer. Western Union is used in a large number of international scams because there is no way to retrieve your money.
The first thing to realize is that these scammers are not doing anything on your behalf and there isn’t any company trying to register variations of your web site’s domain name. Their goal of the scam is to extract a large registration fee from you. The registering of multiple domain names just makes it easier to extract a larger fee.
The second issue is that the registration of an Asian variation of your domain name will not affect your business in any way. Unless you have a trademarked name that you wish to protect, it doesn’t matter if someone registers a variation of your domain. If your company is large enough where you do own trademarks, there are legitimate services that can register the ccTLDs for the countries where your trademark is valid.
The third issue is that there is nothing that you can do to Internet scammers in China. The Chinese government will not prosecute them and there isn’t anything that you can do to retrieve your money after you send it. We recently saw one of the largest click fraud scams ever detected that was being run out of China. The FBI managed to shut it down, presumably because the web servers that they were using were located in the USA and Europe. Over 1000 Chinese students were involved in the the click fraud scheme, yet not a single person in China was arrested.
The only legitimate domain registration or renewal offers will come from your domain name registrar. Anything that comes from anyone else if likely to be a scam. Simply ignore messages from any questionable source. There are, however, some messages that appear to come from your registrar, but may in fact be phishing scams designed to get you to reveal the username and password for your domain registrar account. That will be the topic of another article.