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Beware of Domain Name Scams

9/1/11 3:50 PM / by Market Hardware

Every week at Market Hardware headquarters we get inquiries from our clients asking about a mysterious "bill" regarding their domain name (aka website address). These "bills" usually come from a company with an official sounding name - Internet Listings, Inc. or something close - saying that they need payment quick or else the client's domain name will expire and their website and email will go dead.

A typical domain name slamming letter.

Guess what? It's a complete fraud. But it catches a lot of business owners who end up throwing money away when they don't have to.

This scam is called "domain name slamming" and it has two versions. The first involves sending an email or letter to a small business owner with a fake invoice for a domain registration renewal.

The second version is a solicitation for a domain name transfer to another registration company. The transfer is almost always unnecessary and delivered in a guise that is quite unethical.

If Market Hardware built your website, contact us before you respond to any solicitations about your domain name! We will help you decide if it is real or if you are being scammed. 

Ask us any question!

I want to use this newsletter to let you know how these work so you can recognize these scams and avoid getting stung. If these next few title lines look familiar, but you can't quite place them, start humming "The Entertainer".

Scammer's Psychology - "The Set Up"

Companies called Domain Name Registrars register domain names (web addresses) for businesses, individuals and organizations. Three of the well known registrars are Network Solutions (networksolutions.com), GoDaddy (godaddy.com), and Dotster (dotster.com).

Each company operates differently, but at the end of the day, they all allocate web addresses to an owner who pays for the privilege of controlling that name for an agreed upon time (1 to 10 years).

What the scammers can find out from publicly available information gives them the Set Up - they can find your contact info and when your website address expires. If you want to see the info related to your domain, go to domaintools.com and type in your web address.

Scammer's Psychology - "The Hook"

The Hook here is straightforward. Your unique Web address is important to your business and you don't want to lose control of it. Scammers and registrars who play on the edge of good conduct know that and use that legitimate concern against you.

Scammer's Psychology - "The Tale"

The Tale gets told in a letter or an email. Emails have scary subject lines like, "DOMAIN EXPIRATION WARNING." Letters arrive in envelopes with equally scary text like, "You Are About to Lose Your Web Address!"

They will tell you that you need to pay them right now to maintain your registration. If you don't pay, your ownership of that unique web address will lapse. They may even tell you that someone has signed up on a waiting list to get your web address the minute your term expires.

Some of the tales are poorly told and reek of rip-off. But some are told with sophistication and are quite convincing.

Sample of the deceptive language used in domain name slamming.

Scammer's Psychology - "The Shut Out"

By ramping up the fear that you may lose your website address, slammers encourage hasty decision making. By convincing you that the window of time is closing, you may let your guard down and not read the fine print in that letter or fraudulent invoice.

That's what they are counting on.

Like any scam or hard sell, they are trying to get you to make an emotional decision rather than using your head. And sadly, that fear of getting "shut out" causes lots of folks to reach for their checkbooks.

Scammer's Psychology - "The Sting"

Unlike that great movie from 1973, this is not a high stakes sting. The slammers simply want to get your 100 bucks.

If it's a total fake, they will take your dough and nothing will happen to your domain.

If they are working you over to get you to switch registrars, they will take your money and in a few weeks, you will have a new company managing your web address.

And that company may have terms you don't want, customer service you don't like, or they will make it very hard to transfer registry out of their control. At the very least, you will have paid money for something that is entirely unnecessary.

How to Protect Yourself

Prevention is the key here. Once the check has left your hands, it is difficult and time-consuming to right the wrong. Prevention is the best cure. Here are the steps I recommend:

  1. From the start, make sure you, not your web development company or the registrar, owns your unique domain name. If you are a Market Hardware customer and we registered your domain for you, you can rest easy - we do this in your name so you, not us, or anyone else, has the legal right to control it.
  2. Keep track of your expiration dates and renew your domains in a timely fashion. If you had your website address before you came to us, it's very important that you make sure it's renewed every year. If we registered your domain for you, we do this for you automatically every year.
  3. When you get any notice or something that looks like an invoice, read the fine print. If it becomes clear that it is a solicitation to switch registrars, or if the notice is from a company other than your registrar, toss it in the recycling bin.
  4. Take your contact information off the public registration info by buying a private registration. If we registered your domain, you can request that we remove your personal data for no extra charge. If we don't manage your domain, check with your registrar - most sell a "private domain registration" service.
  5. If you want to see if your registrar is accredited or if you want more info on this topic, go to http://www.icann.org/.
A Related ScamThough domain name slamming is one of the most prevalent frauds out there, there is another louse in the family - search engine marketing scams.The scam here is fairly simple - it's actually a version of the older game where companies would be sent fake invoices for office supplies.

The scammer finds companies advertising online and sends them a totally fake (but official looking) invoice. These usually mention "search engine submissions," "online directory listings," "online business promotion" or something similar.

Be diligent in reviewing anything that looks like an invoice and make sure that when you start a Search Engine Marketing campaign, you pay the right company.

If you are working with Market Hardware, we handle all our billing. We can guarantee that any piece of mail requesting payment for our Get Listed or Search Engine marketing services is not from us, and we highly recommend that you not pay it. Call us if anything looks fishy. And note, Market Hardware handles all payment notices through email.

A typical mailing from a search engine marketing scam.

Web Power Stat: 50,000 consumers duped. And counting…

In December 2003, the Federal Trade Commission requested that a Federal district court issue an order requiring a single company - Domain Registry of America - to pay redress to 50,000 consumers who had been subject to deceptive practices according to the FTC. The company is still operating today.Source: FTC.org and Domainmonster.com

Quote of the Month

"Caveat emptor!"Latin phrase for "Let the buyer beware."
Griff's Last WordI hope this never happens to you. Domain name slamming leaves a bad taste in your mouth and fewer dollars in your wallet. And the transitory nature of the Internet and the global reach of slammers makes it hard to get satisfactory redress.

Read the fine print on any domain name solicitation, examine invoices carefully, keep good records on your registrar and always own your domain name yourself.

These few steps can keep you from getting scammed and then blowing a gasket. No one likes an unhappy small business owner.

But don't get so nervous you don't explore aspects of Web marketing that may be new to you. We can help you navigate the sometimes choppy waters of search engine marketing and local listings.

See you on the Web.

(PS - Drop me a line at newsletters@markethardware.com if you have received one of these notices and tell me your story. And if we can help you with web marketing of any kind, call us at 1-888-381-6925.

This article was written by Market Hardware's Griffin Davis. Reach Griffin at Griffin@MarketHardware.com or reach anyone on his web expert team at 888-381-6925.

 

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