Pelland Blog

Don’t Get Caught by the US Domain Authority Scam!

September 27th, 2021

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

Domain Name Registration Essentials

May 16th, 2014

In recent weeks, I have been in a position where it was necessary to transfer several domain names from one registrar to another. In another instance, I successfully negotiated and rescued a domain name that had been lost four years ago by a previous webmaster who had since dropped off the face of the earth. Time and again, I am reminded of the importance of choosing a reputable registrar AND being aware of your domain name registration details.

As most people know, nobody actually owns a domain name. Think of it as a long-term lease (from 1 to 10 years) that you enter into with a domain name registrar (the equivalent of a rental agent, in this instance.) If you were leasing an apartment or an automobile, you would probably try to avoid getting burned by somebody working out of a back alley or who prefaced the conversation with the words, “Have I got a deal for you!” The same gut feelings apply to domain name registrars. My general recommendations are to never choose a registrar based solely upon price, avoid registrars that are based outside of the United States, and to resist the lemming-like tendency to choose a registrar based upon name recognition. Just because a registrar advertises on the Super Bowl does not mean that it should be your first choice.

When the time comes to transfer a registration, I have had transfers complete within 24 hours, and I have also had transfers that have dragged on for a month. I have generally found that the worst nightmares involve working with registrars based in foreign countries. In one instance, I had a client willing to pay $500.00 for an unused domain name, the widow of the registrant eager to facilitate the sale, but a registrar in Norway that refused to cooperate and eventually prevented the sale from taking place.

The first step in preventing that you ever find yourself in this type of nightmare scenario is to check the status of your existing domain name registration(s), particularly if they were registered by a webmaster or somebody else acting on your behalf. The quickest and most accurate way to check the registration of any domain name (and also to explore the availability of new domain names) is to perform a whois lookup. Go to www.whois.com, and enter the domain name in the “Whois Lookup” search box in the upper right of the page. If checking an existing domain name, the first thing that you want to check is the “Registrant” information. This should list YOUR name and YOUR business name and address, along with YOUR e-mail address. If the information is outdated or incorrect, update that information without delay. If the information is not recognizable, you may be paying for a so-called private registration. More on that later.

Another important piece of contact information associated with a domain name registration is the Administrative Contact. This will often be the contact information for your webmaster. The important things are for this to be updated if you change webmaster and for the associated e-mail address to be current and correct. Nothing will hold up a domain name registration transfer like an old e-mail address that has not been used in years. Finally, check the expiration date on your domain name, just so you can be aware of that timeframe.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you register or renew a domain name:

  • Avoid Add-Ons: I mentioned private registrations earlier in this article. That is probably the most commonly purchased domain name registration add-on, usually incurring an annual fee of $5.00 or $10.00. In almost all instances, a private registration is a total waste of money, and it will prevent you from confirming your domain name registration details without logging into your account.
  • Don’t Take the Bait: Domain name registrations can be registered for terms from one to ten years. Unless there is a significant long-term discount, I would suggest registering domains and renewing those registrations on a year-to-year basis. Of course, any registrant would like to have your business locked up for the maximum 10 years. In fact, one registrar (GoDaddy) actually spread the misinformation several years ago that a 10-year registration would enhance a domain’s search engine placement.
  • Be Aware of Scams: The reason that registrars would like you to register for 10-year periods is because of the domain slamming that contributes to the already high rate of “churn” within the industry. Be particularly wary of any mailed solicitations that you WILL receive in the mail from a company using the names “Domain Registry of America”, “Liberty Names of America”, or “Domain Registry Services”. The letters always show an icon of the American flag or the Statue of Liberty next to the return address, which will also show an address in either Buffalo or Niagara Falls, even though the company is conveniently located over the border in Canada – beyond the reach of prosecution by a number of otherwise eager state attorneys general. The letters imply that you are at risk of losing your domain name and must renew it now. Your domain name expiration date is probably months away – remember, the actual renewal date will appear in the whois lookup – and the fine print at the bottom of the letter will explain that by signing and returning the form with the required fee, you will actually be initiating the transfer of your domain name to the new registrar.
  • Beware of Country Code Solicitations: You will probably also receive e-mail solicitations (spam) from companies (usually in China), alleging that another company has “expressed interest” in registering the .cn version of your domain name. They further imply that they are paying you the “courtesy” of offering you a right of first refusal to “protect your trademark”. They will then offer you the dubious opportunity to register the .cn (the country code for China) and various other versions of your .com domain name. Doing so is a total waste of money.
  • Avoid Working with Drop Catchers:Drop catchers are people who make a living offering expired (dropped) domain names to businesses with similar domain names. When a domain name is not renewed by its registrant, it goes into a 30-day grace period, then another 5 day lock period. It is during this time period that drop catchers, without even having to actually register the expired domain in most instances, will offer it to you for purchase.Usually, they will imply that the domain name has a high value and will be going to auction. In fact, if it is of interest to you, it is highly unlikely that it will be of interest to any other business, unless there are many businesses with names similar to yours. Sometimes the drop catcher will insist that the name will go to auction. Either way, if you really want the domain name, I typically offer only $100.00, and the drop catcher will generally jump on the opportunity, since they rarely have other prospects and will have just earned about a $90.00 profit.

    The domain name registration that I recently rescued after it had been lost four years ago by an old webmaster was registered with a drop catcher. Although I was able to persuade him to do the right thing and release the domain name to my client at no charge, this is a highly unlikely scenario and a stroke of extremely good luck. The most common registrars that tailor their services to working with drop catchers are SnapNames, Enom, Pool, and GoDaddy.

When you transfer a domain name from one registrar to another, it will renew the registration and extend the expiration date by one year. This is a reciprocal arrangement that applies to all registrars. Also, once a domain is transferred to another registrar, it will be locked from further transfer for 60 days.

If you are wondering why any of this is important, just keep in mind that your domain name is essentially your second business name. Losing your domain name can be just as damaging as a wildfire or flood that devastates your business. Whether you handle your domain name registration(s) yourself or have a trusted webmaster who handles that responsibility on your behalf, take a minute to check the details of your registration and be aware of the scams and pitfalls that proliferate in the online industries.

This post was written by Peter Pelland