Domain name scams are sneaky but legal

July 15, 2020 11:26 am Published by Leave your thoughts

If you get a “Domain Expiration Notice” in snail mail, read the first few sentences carefully. Or call us and we’ll look. It’s a scam, and it isn’t new.

Domain name information is available for all to see, and some scammers use this information to trick unwary consumers into transferring their domain name. If you pay their renewal fee, which is high, they will renew your domain name and transfer it to their control. Then they will send you a renewal invoice each year and continue to renew your domain name annually or for multiple years, if you choose that option.

As scams go, this is relatively small potatoes. But it will be a hassle to transfer the domain name back to your control or back to us if we’re managing it for you.

How do they get away with this? Well, many people don’t read. They see the headlines, look down at the bottom and see what looks like a bill. Fearing the loss of their domain name and the deadline pressure, many people might just write a check or hand it to their payables department.

In the example shown, the second sentence gives it away. “When you switch today …” tells you that this company does not have your domain name.

But that might be too subtle. If you read a few sentences in, you will almost always see words to the effect of “this is not a bill.” My assumption is that these kinds of deceptive solicitations are required to have such wording, but I’m not a lawyer. These words have been on every one I’ve read.

The deceptive “courtesy notice” is perfectly legal if they include the required wording. If a scammer tried to leave it out, the mail piece would be disallowed pretty quickly by the postal service.

If you figure what it costs a scammer to use software to find expiring domain names, automatically generate these “courtesy notices” and mail them, vs. the lifetime revenue of 1 taker out of 100, you see why they continue.

It’s worth noting that the expiration of the domain name in question might be a long way off. Most domain name holders don’t know when their domain name renews. We got this notice in May for one of our domain names that renews on August 27.

It’s also worth noting that these prices are high. $50 for a year? $45/year if you sign up for 2 years? $38/year if you sign up for 5 years? These are the highest prices I’ve ever seen.

And yet more notes: If you go to the the website shown, WWW.Giv.com, you will find the same prices there. In the second sentence of this notice, it says “… when you switch today … you can take advantage of our best savings.” This implies some kind of time limit and incentive for acting quickly. There isn’t one, and yet the sentence is not false. You CAN take advantage of their best savings when you switch today (or tomorrow, or any day). Their best savings is to sign up for five years, and their best savings is not very good. It’s most likely way more than you’re paying now.

One of our customers just got both solicitations at once! I have blacked out their name. I also added the underline to highlight the disclaimer: “This is not a bill. This is a solicitation.”

What is a domain name listing service? Another scam

There are other scams that ride on the backs of domain name renewals. I saw one a few weeks ago that doesn’t even renew your domain name, nor transfer it. It simply adds your domain name to its website, called DomainListings.directory. As it happens, one of our customers asked us about this scam as we were putting this newsletter together. They sent us their solicitations. They had gotten both scams together – domain transfer and domain listings.

These scams use names like Domain Registry that sound official. When you add up enough cues – official-sounding name, deadline, payment options and amounts, etc. – it’s easy to see how some people would be fooled.

What about “domain name privacy”?

If you have ever registered your own domain name, this is an option. GoDaddy, in fact, includes it by default, but it is a checkbox and an extra charge of $7.99/year. (GoDaddy’s website is notorious for pushing a lot of add-ons with a dust storm of pop-ups, boxes already checked, and so on, but that’s another article).  In our opinion, as managers of more than 350 domain names, it’s not worth it. So long as you can read the occasional piece of paper that comes in the mail and throw it in the trash can, there is no need for domain name privacy. It also can create problems for web companies and IT companies trying to do work for you.

The easy answer is to let your web company or IT company handle your domain name

We make it clear to all of our customers, as we’re doing again here in this public e-newsletter, that you own your domain name. Most reputable companies do it this way. We set up domain name renewals so that they are automatic. They send us a bill, we send you a bill.

There are several additional reasons to allow your IT or web company to handle your domain name

– If you handle your domain name and miss a renewal, the first thing you will notice is that your branded email — John@AcmeWidgets.com — will stop working. Your website will also be down, but generally customers notice email problems first. We have this happen to about 6-10 customers a year, among our 314 (because most of our customers let us manage their domain names).

– When we handle your domain name, we can manage its DNS settings. Without getting too technical, these settings point to a web server for the website and an email server for email. We often upgrade web servers and move our customers’ websites to better servers, unbeknownst to them, and with no downtime. To do this, we have to change the DNS settings. If we don’t have easy access, your website doesn’t get these upgrades.

– If there is ever a server problem, the sites and emails that get fixed first are the ones whose domain names we manage. And there is no charge. The sites and email of those domain names we don’t manage come later and incur hourly charges.

If your time is money, it pays to let your web company manage your domain names. Everything will be taken care of. You don’t have to become an expert, and you can throw those scam notices in the trash bin.

— Michael Byrd

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