Domain Registration Scams
At least a couple times a month we get a question from one of our web clients, confused by a solicitation they received, either online or by regular mail. The solicitation wants you to send money to renew your domain registration. Since domains are renewed for one or more years, you tend to forget about it until it’s due, and then you may not remember exactly how you registered it in the first place. The scammers are counting on this!
For many of our web hosting clients, we are the domain registrar. That means, when it’s time to renew your domain, we’ll contact you and give you your choice of how many years you want to renew for. This is the way we prefer to engage with our hosting clients, because if we need to move your website to another server, we can take care of all that for you. Otherwise, you might have to change your DNS pointers, the arcane gibberish that tells a computer exactly where to find the web server for a given domain name. However, some clients, such as government entities, may have to register their own domain, so we work with clients both ways.
One reason we prefer to be your domain registrar is because if you get a legitimate notice from your domain registrar and you fail to respond, your domain will expire and your website will “go dark”, meaning it can’t be found. Sure, the files are still there on our server, but no one can find your website using your domain name. And if you ignore this for a few weeks, your expired domain will be auctioned off by your registrar! No, we don’t do that, but all the big guys do.
Would you be surprised that we’ve had many angry phone calls over the years that a website is not working, and when we check, it’s working just fine, but the client, who registered the domain elsewhere, accidentally let the domain expire? This can be a serious issue in a business where an ex-employee registered the domain, and now the owner needs to prove they, and not the ex-employee, are entitled to make decisions about the domain. To prevent people from hijacking domain names, you may be required to produce utility bills, a driver’s license, and various business papers like your incorporation, partnership, or DBA registration. Letting your domain expire can be a nightmare!
So, it’s not surprising that if you registered your domain for, say, 3 or more years, that if you get a notice like the following, you won’t know what it means.
It has your domain name in there in multiple places, it warns of dire consequences, and it may be 3 or 4 pages long! However, if you read all the pages, eventually you may come to a statement like this:
These scammers have preyed on the public so long that most of them have been caught and prosecuted, and now they have to include a statement that it’s not really a bill, even though it sure as heck looks like one. It’s merely a solicitation for your business.
The other tip-off that something isn’t right, is that the rate, in this case $64 for a year, is about THREE TIMES higher than what we charge for domain registration. Of course we don’t make any money giving these things away, but we do find it makes it much easier for both our clients and ourselves if we just manage domain registration and take care of everything for you. We do this as a client service, not as a revenue enhancing business!
Sometimes you’ll get a solicitation that really isn’t a domain registration at all. It’s actually a solicitation for a LISTING, not registration. What’s a listing? We have no idea since it makes no sense at all! Why would someone go look at a list of domain names when you can Google whatever you’re looking for? That’s really nonsensical. Here’s an example of a printed solicitation for a listing. They want $228 for a year, and they’re hoping you’re too busy to read their “offer”, and you’ll just send your money in.
As it turns out, there is one legitimate email that you might receive yearly. We use Network Solutions as our “domain wholesaler”, meaning they handle some of the technical details of domain registration for us, while we work with you, our clients. Unfortunately, in recent years they’ve started contacting our clients directly from time to time, which can be confusing.
The organization that supervises all domain names around the world is called ICANN, and one of their rules is that all domain holders should be contacted annually to make sure their contact information is still valid. Network Solutions thinks their wholesale clients can’t be trusted to do this, which admittedly may be true, so they go directly to the people listed as the registrants. The following is what their email looks like. If you haven’t moved or changed your email address, you can ignore this. If you have moved, you need to make sure your address is up to date with us, if we’re your domain registrar, or whoever your registrar is.
So that’s it! Know who your registrar is, and if it’s us, you can ignore the spammers. And if you’re ever in doubt, go ahead and contact us and we’ll look at whatever you’ve been sent, and possibly put it in our collection of creative scams!