It has been nearly a decade since I wrote about a scam that was circulating by a company that called itself Domain Registry of America. Their modus operandi was to send out bulk mailings to domain name registrants like you and me, after harvesting our names, addresses, and domain names from public registry records. The letters looked official, exploiting the American flag and warning that you were ready to lose your domain name unless you took immediate action by paying them a “renewal” fee. Many people failed to read the fine print, panicked, and paid the fees. In other instances, company accountants handled accounts payable, failed to recognize the scam, and paid the fees – always without reading the fine print. If 1 or 2% of the people who received solicitations these panicked and made payments, these thieves made an absolute fortune
The fine print was buried at the bottom or on a second page of the letter, had nothing to do with protecting your rights, and had everything to do with protecting the interests of the perpetrators. Basically, the fine print said that this was not an invoice, that it was a solicitation for goods or services, and that by paying the fee you were authorizing your domain name registration to be transferred to Domain Registry of America. You paid the nonrefundable fee, whether or not the company was successful at transferring your domain name registration away from its current registrar. If you have wisely locked your domain, which would prevent its transfer, you would have nonetheless lost the fee that you had paid. Should you realize your error after the fact and demand a refund, or ask your credit card provider to charge back the fee, Domain Registry of America would be willing to sell your domain name back to you for an added fee of $200.00. Additional fine print stipulated that, if you attempted to sue them, you would be responsible for payment of all of their legal expenses.
The parent company was Brandon Gray Internet Services (dba NameJuice.com). Though the letters from Domain Registry of America had a return address in Buffalo, New York, the company’s offices were actually located over the border in Markham, Ontario. The scam was so successful that there were international variations such as Domain Registry of Australia, Domain Registry of Canada, Domain Registry of Europe, Domain Renewal Group, and Liberty Names of America (where the letters would exploit the Statue of Liberty instead of the American flag.) In December of 2003, a United States District Court order on behalf of the Federal Trade Commission prohibited Domain Registry of America from engaging in these practices, but that failed to stop them. Today, the NameJuice.com website is still live, hosted on the company’s own servers, and the DROA.com website of Domain Registry of America now opens a suspiciously similar site that is operating under the Domain Registry Services name.
Very similar scams (often involving email rather than more expensive bulk mail) include one where the recipient is warned as some sort of “courtesy” that somebody has inquired into registering the .CN, .HK or .TW (the country codes for the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, respectively) version of your domain name and thereby jeopardizing your online presence. They then offer to sell you these versions of your domain name, along with a laundry list of other worthless variations – for an annual fee. First of all, unless your business has an internationally recognized brand name – such as Microsoft – nobody is interested in wasting money registering alternate versions of your .COM domain name, nobody has inquired about doing so, nobody would legitimately warn you, and these thieves are looking out for nothing but your money and your credit card number.
Another similar scam is the yet another that looks like a domain name registration renewal invoice, also preying upon the common fear of losing one’s domain name. It is actually a “warning” that some sort of non-existent SEO (search engine optimization) services are ready to expire, which will result in Google dropping your website from its search engine listings. One that is currently making the rounds comes in the mail and says it is from a company called United States Domain Authority, operating out of a post office box in North Carolina. The letters look both official and urgent, and they once again exploit the American flag to add to their credibility among the naïve. The “notice” says that it is for an “Annual Website Domain Listing” at an annual price of $289.00. Basically, you would be paying this fee for an essentially worthless listing on its own usdomainauthority.com website. The fine print reads that “This website listing offer is provided to leading websites throughout the United States to enhance their Website exposure and expose them to new customers through our directory. We are not a domain registrar and we do not Register or Renew Domain Names.” It continues, “THIS IS NOT A BILL. THIS IS A SOLICITATION. YOU ARE UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO PAY THE AMOUNT STATED ABOVE UNLESS YOU ACCEPT THIS OFFER.” The company is covering the legal requirements, though ethics, decency, and honesty and tossed aside. Fortunately for them, many people do not take the time to read.
This mailing from United States Domain Authority encourages payments by return mail or credit card online, asking that checks be made payable to “Domain Authority”. It lists a Web address of usdomainauthority.com, a domain name that was registered with GoDaddy on March 12, 2021. In other words, this outfit is selling $289.00 directory listings on a website that has barely been in existence long enough to be recognized itself.
Why do you get these letters, emails, and junk faxes? Simply put, because there are thieves in this world. When you register a domain name, your contact information is publicly accessible unless you pay for a so-called “private registration” … an additional $5.00 or $10.00 annual fee with most registrars. If you are capable of detecting scams, save that annual fee and let these people waste their money on postage; otherwise, you may want to pay for a private registration, where your contact information cannot be readily harvested. It is also important to always keep your domain name registration in “locked” status until such time as you might want to voluntarily transfer to another registrar. Most importantly, if you receive one of these solicitations, rather than just throwing it away, try to do your part to help put these people out of business by forwarding a copy of the correspondence to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the office of your state attorney general. There have been instances in the past where several state attorneys general have banded together and have gone after people like this.
Now if we could only stop the TV commercials with Joe Namath selling Medicare supplements, Pat Boone selling walk-in bathtubs, and Marie Osmond selling weight-loss products …
This post was written by Peter Pelland