It’s been a while since we’ve talked about domain registration scams, but the shysters are still up to the same old tricks. We recently received a small pile of scam mail for various registrations, and decided it was time to remind customers about the existence of these operations and how to avoid losing domains to these companies.
Over the years, a few registrars decided they could make more money profiting from registrants’ fears of losing their domains than through selling new ones. Companies such as the Domain Registry of America and Canada, Domain Renewal Group, and other registrars make their living by preying on domain owners’ worries of accidentally losing domains to expirations. Before the FTC put a stop to it, they even sent transfer request forms disguised as expiration and renewal notices, hoping registrants would skim the form and pay without realizing they were giving permission for the registrars to transfer the domains away. To make matters worse, they often charge upwards of $30 USD or higher for their “services,” when most registrars charge half that for a renewal.
A similar breed of domain-related scammers are the domain “listing” providers, such as the Internet Corporation Listing Service. These companies simply submit your domain names to search engines and provide other ranking and SEO-related services which can all be accomplished for free using tools like Alexa and Google Analytics. Like DRoA and DRG, their physical bulk mailings appear to be bills at first glance, but the services they provide are even less useful; whatever DRoA charges for their services, at least your domain is renewed for another year after transfer.
To help protect your domains from these and other types of scams, here are a number of suggestions to ensure you aren’t caught unawares.
- Throw it out. Customers of our DynDNS.com services will never receive physical postal bills, and users of our DynECT Platform generally only receive postal bills by request. If something shows up in your mailbox claiming that your domain registration is about to expire, it’s a good bet the mail isn’t from us!
- Use private WHOIS services to protect yourself from junk mail. All domain registrations are required to have valid WHOIS information, but a service such as Secret Registration will protect you from unwanted bulk mail, and ensure only first-class postal mail is relayed to you.
- Google it. If you receive something strange in the mail, don’t go to the website printed on the paper; instead, enter the domain name into Google and check the results. If something is a scam, you’ll know it right away, often within the first half-dozen results. For example, a search for “icls.net” the homepage for the Internet Corporation Listing Service brings up this detailed About.com article on these scam artists, how to recognize their mailings, all of their sister companies, and how to report them to the FTC, BBB and other governmental bodies.
- Lock your domain. Nearly every ICANN-accredited registrar offers domain locking features (including ourselves), which prevent the domain from being transferred until and unless you expressly unlock the registration. In addition to keeping registrars like DRoA from taking the domain in case someone does pay their “bill” (like a secretary or accountant that doesn’t know any better), it also adds an extra layer of security on your domain by ensuring no one can take it without direct access to the registrant account.
- Trust your judgement. The old adage “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is” will always be relevant. Companies offering to improve your search engine ranking are usually bogus, providing services that range from useless or redundant (submitting your domain to search engines, something you can do yourself for free) to potentially damaging (“spamdexing” your domain name to illegally boost its rank, up until Google catches on and penalizes your domain). While there are plenty of SEO consulting firms, these businesses work with clients to reshape their websites to be more search-engine friendly, tailoring content for better indexing and higher ranking; any company simply asking you to throw a check their way and they’ll “do the rest” is up to no good.
- Renew early. There is no reason to ever wait when a domain registration is coming up for renewal. Domains never “lose” unused time; the existing expiration dates are simply moved forward. For example, a domain expiring on May 10, 2009 will be renewed to May 10, 2010 whether you renew it in May or January. Many providers (including DynDNS.com) also offer automatic renewals to ensure your domain never runs the risk of expiring.
Unfortunately, these scammers won’t likely go away any time soon. The best weapon against them is common sense and knowledge. Remember, DynDNS.com does not send physical expiration notices, so any postal mail referring to your domain expiring is junk.