Watch out because even after being convicted in the courts, some domain scam artists are still in business and maybe they’re preparing to sting YOU next.
Yes, unscrupulous companies trying to deceive you exist in every field, and domain names are definitely not exempt.
One of the most common tricks is known as “domain slamming“.
What usually happens is that an online company or individual manages to obtain, I mean steal, a list of domain names registered by one of its registrar competitors. Usually it’s a WHOIS database or part of one which includes domain names and email addresses of the owners and administrative contacts.
The fraudster then uses this data to send letters and emails aimed at having you transfer your domains away from your current registrar to his own registration service, and not surprisingly, with prices often higher than you are currently paying.
So what’s wrong with that? It’s just spam and you delete it, don’t you?
Well no, it’s not that straight forward because the courts have decided these messages are seriously misleading. The way they are written leads people to believe they are just renewing their domain. Often folks can’t remember where they registered their domain so they think it’s simply a renewal notice they are accepting, when in fact they are agreeing to have their domain transferred to different registrar.
For example, in a number of lawsuits in 2002, registrars and consumer groups asked a U.S. court for an injunction and damages against VeriSign Inc., who was sending out mailshots to customers of rival domain name registrars.
In case you don’t know, VeriSign Inc., also known as NetworkSolutions.com, is the world’s biggest registrar and owns the registries for the .COM and .NET top-level domains. VeriSign’s letters were headed “Domain Name Expiration Notice” and “Domain Name Renewal Form” and asked the customer to send $29 to VeriSign for “Renewal and Transfer” of their domains. This domain slamming case was eventually settled out of court with VeriSign agreeing to cough up undisclosed sums of money.
Since then VeriSign appears to have improved its behavior. But another company which had a number of court orders against it for similar domain slamming behaviour, was unrepentant.
In December 2003, in a case brought by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, a federal district court prohibited Canadian company “Domain Registry of America, Inc.” (DROA) from continuing its “deceptive conduct”, and ordered financial redress to customers who had fallen into their trap.
But when I looked at their web site recently, I see DROA goes out of its way to stress the court’s order was just an “allegation” which they deny. That gives me the impression they intend to continue their old policies… So I guess we all better continue to watch out for DROA and avoid them like the plague.
In case DROA removed their web page when you read this, here is the text of what they said:
As part of a settlement between the Federal Trade Commission and Domain Registry of America , DROA has agreed to offer you the opportunity to switch your domain registration from DROA to a different registrar, and for you to receive $6.00 for each registration you transfer.
In its complaint, the FTC alleged that DROA misled consumers into transferring their domain name registrations from their then-current registrars to DROA. DROA denies the allegation.
How to avoid DROA:
DROA trades under various names, all of them sound like they are official state enterprises, which they are not, of course!
Here are the names to avoid:
Domain Registry of America (DROA.COM)
Domain Registry of Canada (DROC.CA and DROA.CA)
Domain Registry of Europe
Domain Registry of Australia
So what can I do to ensure I don’t get caught in DROA’s trap, or another domain scam?
A hijacked domain can be disastrous and expensive.
Here Are Some Precautions You Can Take to Keep Your Domain Names Safe:
► Make sure your domain records are up to date. The owner’s identity and email address is obviously important, but equally important is the email address of the Administrative Contact because it’s the first line of contact for registrars who always need confirmation for domain transfer requests.
► Keeping your domain’s Administrative Contact email address up to date is only half the story. Also make sure you and your ISP do not have spam filters installed which might be blocking receipt of emails from your registrar.
► To keep your domain records updated you’ll need to keep a careful note of the name of your registrar as well as your account UserName and Password. But if you forget where you registered your domain you can always search the WHOIS central database.
► Don’t answer phony “renewal notices” by email or regular mail! This is the No.1 way the domain slamming fraudsters try to catch you out.
► Choose a reliable registrar. A good sign is one who gives a real address (not a POBox) and who has easy to find contact information on their site.
► Use the domain “Locking” feature offered by many registrars. This adds an extra security layer.
► Renew important domains in good time. Domains can be registered for up to 10 years in advance. Many registrars offer discounts. 5 year renewal at 1stDomainNameServices.com for .COM domains is only $40.50, including the ICANN (Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers) mandatory fee. That’s equal to just $8.10 per year!
► Consider using a Private Domain Registration service. It protects your real identity and contact data by not listing it in the WHOIS database. CheapToRegister.net offers private registration for just $7.95 /year.