Domain Name Scams
The average website owner doesn’t know the details of domain name registration, and shouldn’t need to. Sadly, opportunists take advantage of this understandable ignorance to try to extract money from them.
If you have registered a .com, .org or .net domain name, you are likely to be the target of a scam.
Domain Registry of America
Once a domain name has been registered, the name and address of the person or organisation registering the domain name are made publicly available. An outfit called Domain Registry of America sends official–looking letters to the people on this list, warning them that they may lose the rights to their domain name unless they renew the registration promptly with Domain Registry of America.
This company is careful to send out its misleading sales letters several months before a domain name is due to expire, long before a legitimate agent will remind a domain name holder.
The firm also trades under the names Domain Renewal Group and Registration Services Incorporated. Watch out for any letters or envelopes with these headings:
How Domain Names are Administered
International domain names, including .com, .org and .net names, are administered by ICANN, which is based in America. ICANN does not deal with the public, but with accredited agents, who in turn sub–contract to other agents (such as Lab 99 Web Design), almost all of whom are honest and legitimate.
Any person or organisation may transfer the handling of their domain name registration from one agent to another, and there are sometimes good reasons for doing so. It is this that Domain Registry of America tries to persuade people to do unwittingly, by posing as an official body and predicting dire consequences for non–compliance. Domain Registry of America is an agent, not an official body, and its letters can be safely ignored.
UK domain names (anything ending in .uk) are administered officially by Nominet, which does occasionally send legitimate notifications to domain name holders. So far, Domain Registry of America has not targetted holders of UK domain names.
In the US, the Federal Trade Commission has acted to prevent this company misleading domain name holders. In the UK, however, the company has received only a slap on the wrist from the Advertising Standards Authority in 2002, when they were trading as Domain Name Registry of Europe.
The outfit appears to be based in Canada; their UK postal address (56 Gloucester Road, London) is just a mailbox. They do, however, supply an unstamped envelope so that you can tell them what you think of them, once they have paid the postage.
In their defence, Domain Registry of America do seem actually to register domain names, rather than just take the money and run. Against that, consider this extract from the small print on the back of their demands, which also appears on the Registration Policy page of their website:
If we are sued or threatened with lawsuit in connection with Service(s) provided to you, we may turn to you to indemnify us and to hold us harmless from the claims and expenses (including attorney’s fees and court costs). Under such circumstances, you agree that you will, upon demand, obtain a performance bond with a reputable bonding company or, if you are unable to obtain a performance bond, that you will deposit money with us to pay for our reasonably anticipated expenses in relation to the matter for the coming year. Such deposit will be drawn down as expenses are incurred …
In other words: if you sue us, we will send you the bill. No doubt this wouldn’t stand up in court, but it may frighten people into paying.
- The Domain Scams website gives a depressingly long list of domain name scammers.
- Dave Shea’s blog contains an interesting discussion of domain name scams.
- There is another scam going around, to do with Windows computer support.
- If you get an email asking you to register the Chinese version of your domain name, watch out. There is a first–hand account here, and a long list of scammers here.