I've been around in the domain name industry long enough to see most internet scams and attempts to defraud or confuse consumers online. Every couple of months there seems to be a new attempt to profit from online loopholes, or a chancer trying to make a quick buck. But one that’s constant in those long years has been the practice of Domain Slamming.
I had genuinely thought that this process had disappeared, as consumers have become more educated and online savvy. But then last week, my curiosity was restored as I received a reminder by post that my domain name was due to expire. The notice, sent by the Domain Renewal Group had all my details on it, including the correct expiry date, and informed me that the best value renewal was a five year term at £90. Delightfully, they also informed me that the .net and .org domains were available at just £40 each. Great service right?
Err no. My domain names aren't with the Domain Renewal Group and this wasn't a renewal request. It was marked as a “notice” and they were doing it out of “courtesy” to me, as I was the registrant of the domain name. I used speech marks in the previous sentence because those two words were highlighted in my renewal letter. This was an attempt to get me to transfer my domain name to the Domain Renewal Group.
Domain Slamming is the term used to describe the above fraudulent practice and has been the subject of numerous legal actions over the past decade. A company will use this technique of sending what appears to be renewal notices, using language such as "renewing your name with us will ensure you retain exclusive rights to it on the web and now is the time to transfer and renew your name from your current registrar to us” to scam users. They do however add warranties such as “you are under no obligation to pay the amounts stated below” and “this notice is not a bill”, but the approach still has been criticized at the highest level in domain terms.
My particular example comes from the Domain Renewal Group, who according to their website is owned by Brandon Grey Internet Services Inc. An internet search on the company name reveals a number of interesting court hearings including one in Canada in September 2010 where their license to offer .ca domain names were revoked.
Any organization can search the WHOIS database to find details of domain names you hold as an individual and the respective expiry dates, so it isn't that difficult to target people with these confusing notices. The lesson here is that virtually all domain name companies only send renewal notices via email to the address you hold in your control panel, as these details are more often than, not publicly available.
This isn't the only problem facing domain name owners. A growing trend is for businesses to receive an email from scam organizations based in the Far East informing them that another company had just attempted to register a number of domains that contains trademark or domains similar to their existing domains. Again the approach here is that the scam company is doing the email recipient a favor by letting them know. But the purpose is to get the email recipient to register more domain names with the pretense to 'protect their good name'. Of course someone may well have registered such domain names or even the trademark, but these emails never actually tell you what they have attempted to register. The call to action is to contact the company who will for a fee, register the names on their behalf in order to ‘save the day’.
The reason why companies still fall for this scam is that they do not have a proper domain name strategy. If a brand owner has a clear idea of what domain registrations it has and in which countries, these emails can easily be identified as spam, and will never darken your inbox again.
With the domain name world about to explode with new gTLDs, it is vital that brand owner has a clear strategy to avoid over registration. NetNames is able to work with clients on creating and maintaining a domain name strategy that looks at the world of the Internet as it is today and what is about to happen with new gTLDs.
Keeping One Step Ahead is not just about the dangers today, but the risks of tomorrow. Scams only continue to exist because they cost very little to attempt and have a high return on investment.
Written by Stuart Fuller, Director of Communications, NetNames
11 April 2013