Mail and email scams are no recent phenomenon, but schemesters are always getting more creative and finding new ways to target unknowing victims. Domain name renewal scams have been popping up for several years, initially starting with mailed letters and now becoming increasingly popular via email. Even some of our clients have been targeted by shady registrars looking to squeeze a quick buck.
So What Is a Domain Name Scam?
The most common form of this scheme is called “domain slamming.” It goes something like this: You receive a letter in the mail or an email stating that your domain name is nearing expiration. It appears to be an official notice, and it gives you the option to pay a fee for your domain renewal.
Once you pay the fee, you have unknowingly switched your domain registration from the company you originally purchased to a questionable registrar. Depending on your situation, this may cause your website to go offline. You most likely didn’t need to renew, and it’s also likely that you were significantly overcharged, even though the message made it sound like you were getting a great deal. Ouch.
Here’s an example of what a typical domain slamming message might look like:
Domain Expiration Notice: As a courtesy to domain name holders, we are sending you this notification of the domain name registration due to expire in the next few months. Failure to renew your domain name by the expiration date may result in a loss of your online identity, making it difficult for your customers to find you online. Your registration for [your domain name] on [date]. Act today!
Under this message, they will list pricing for domain registration renewals and tell you how to pay. It may be a link to their website or a physical form for you to fill out with your credit card information and mail back.
A domain scammer’s objective is to get website owners to transfer their domain at a high price by tricking them into thinking they have to. They use big, bold terms like “URGENT RENEWAL NOTICE” to disguise their offer as a bill and scare you into paying. Companies that use this unscrupulous tactic also include specific language within the letter or email to protect themselves from legal action. “This notice is not an invoice,” “you are under no obligation to pay,” and “solicitation” are either cleverly woven into the text or hidden in the fine print.
About Domain Names
For starters, anyone who owns a website must purchase and register a domain name. It is the name linked to your website’s IP address; our domain name, for example, is ollyolly.com. You may have purchased your domain from a company like GoDaddy, Bluehost, Namecheap, or HostGator. If you paid a company to build your website, they might have registered the domain name on your behalf.
Domains are typically purchased in yearly increments, and most providers offer greater discounts for purchasing multiple years of registration in one payment. Most domain name registrars also offer automatic renewal as an optional feature.
It’s not uncommon for businesses to purchase multiple domains that all redirect to their website or establish multiple websites for various purposes. When this is the case, it becomes even harder to keep track of when domain registrations need to be renewed.
How to Spot Domain Slamming and Avoid Getting Burned
The most common domain slamming victims are website owners who don’t know what company they are registered with. If you know your domain registrar, you can safely ignore any communication that comes from another registrar. If you don’t know who your registrar is, look it up!
You can search for your information using a free service like WHOIS Lookup or ICANN. Both of these tools allow you to enter your domain name and get instant access to information about who owns it (you), who the registrar is, and when the registration expires. Unless you have paid for private registration, your information will be accessible.
If you find that your registration is close to expiration, you can contact your current registrar about renewing it. Most providers make it extremely simple and convenient to renew. If your domain hosting was purchased by the company that manages your website, you could contact them with any questions about renewal. At Olly Olly, we automatically renew our clients’ domain registrations so that they don’t have to worry about it. If you manage your registration, we strongly recommend setting up auto-renewal or purchasing as many years of hosting as you can. Most providers allow you to register for up to 10 years with one payment.
Other Domain-Related Schemes to Watch Out For
Offers for Similar Domains
You may receive a letter or email stating that your competitors are attempting to buy up different variations of your domain or domains that include your company name. It will offer to sell you these domains so that you can protect your brand name. The company may even state that they are holding the domain for you for a limited time.
For example, the message may offer you the .org, .biz, or .cn version of your domain. These companies are attempting to scare you into buying domains you don’t need, often at inflated prices, using the threat of fictitious competition.
Suspect Website Listing Services
These messages will often claim that your website isn’t ranking well on search engines and that they can solve the issue by submitting your website to be listed on social media sites, directories, and other places across the internet. While obtaining backlinks by listing your website on popular online directories can be a legitimate and effective SEO tactic, there are many shady companies offering this service and using “black hat” (manipulative) techniques that do more harm than good. Your website can be penalized for posting too many spammy links, and it can take a lot of time and effort to reverse the damage.
If a company is offering you this service, make sure to research the company and ask plenty of questions before you pay anything. Reputable companies do not commonly send mail and email solicitations like these, so you should be looking elsewhere if search engine optimization is one of your digital marketing goals.
Our Final Recommendations:
- Find out who your domain registrar is and ignore letters, emails, and calls that come from other registrars offering to renew your domain
- Ignore any message that at first glance appears to be an invoice, but upon further investigation, turns out to be a solicitation
- Set up auto-renewal or purchase your registration in longer increments to avoid service interruption and have peace of mind knowing you don’t have to worry about renewal
- Research any company offering you domain-related services before you decide to do business with them
Article by John Kennedy
Born and currently based in Lowell, Massachusetts, John is an impassioned copywriter and Olly Olly’s fearless Content Manager.
Like what you read? Send John a message here.