Domain Scams 101
If you’re a small business owner, you no doubt deal with a lot to stay in business, stay profitable, and stay on top of all the fake news. We’re here to help as your partner, and to share insights into those trying to trick you and your team into believing the false to be true. From phone scams to cyber scams, it seems like the world of crooked behavior has no bounds.
Today’s topic is on a very basic scam that targets people that own an active domain – which is basically every business owner with a website. When you register a domain with a service like GoDaddy, unless you pay extra for private registration, you are automatically making your information including name, email, and address available to the public. Anyone can look up this information on sites like whois.com, but scammers have tools to capture millions of records like this quickly and easily. Domain Listings scammers use this info to mail your office a fake invoice labeled “Website Listings Service” or “Domain Name Expiration Notice.” These are bullshit. They’re made up bills to trick you or your office manager, and they’re all generally a low enough amount that many people pay them thinking they’re legit.
For the average person opening business mail, the domain listing invoice may appear valid thanks to a professional look, clear verbiage, and generally accurate information on your business (remember, you provided this information). False identities and websites are created along with customized messages, emails and authentic addresses for not-so-authentic scam companies. The “service” being sold is completely fake.
How to Spot a Domain Registration Scam
Read through the notice in its entirety and pay close attention to details. As a domain owner, you only have two mandatory costs to keep your website live and active. One is registration, typically through a site like GoDaddy this is generally about $10-$18/year depending on promotions and length of registration. This service protects the ownership of your domain. The other is website hosting, typically about $15/mo for cheap hosting up to $50/mo for premium hosting. This keeps your website up and active. Anything else is suspect, and could be a scam. As a business owner, you need to take responsibility for knowing where your domain is registered and where your website is hosted. Write this down and keep it wherever you keep your other important business records like bank info and EIN.
A few example fake invoice titles we and our clients have come across include the following:
- WEBSITE LISTING SERVICE – This doesn’t even make sense, there’s no such thing (there is only “domain registration” and “website hosting”)
- DOMAIN NAME EXPIRATION NOTICE – This you should know is fake if you remember where your domain is registered. It’s not the place listed on this letter.
Generally these letters also have very clear language that people often skim past, which clearly notes that this is NOT a bill, but a solicitation of services. Here’s an example of this from one scam company, DOMAIN LISTINGS, based in Las Vegas, NV:
This website listing offer is provided to leading websites throughout the United States to enhance their Website exposure and to expose them to new customers through our directory. We are not a Domain Registrar and we do not Register or Renew Domain Names. The listing period is for 12 consecutive months and must be renewed annually if you wish to renew your Domain Listing and keep it active on our online website directory.
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.
What Scam Companies Should I Look Out For?
Here are a few of the companies we or our clients have received these letters from. Look out for these and toss them without paying the bill. If you have someone assigned to open the mail in your office, make sure they know about these.
Is There Anything Else That Would Help Me Know It’s a Scam?
Here’s a quick list of items that can help you identify a domain listings scam:
- When reviewing the invoice, check to see if it has a contact telephone number. If a number is listed, do a test call. Usually, false documentation does not provide direct contact information.
- Do a web search to see if the company has any scams documented on the Internet. Also, check the Better Business Bureau page to see if the company has any complaints on file.
- The cost or invoice amount won’t make sense. For domain name renewals is around $15-$20 so if the amount is significantly higher, it’s a possible red flag. If you purchased your domain name from a reliable domain hosting site such as GoDaddy, you will receive an invoice directly from the company, and they never use snail mail. They only email you.
- Keep track of your domain name’s purchase date and the website you registered it on. You should receive a renewal reminder just before your 1-year purchase anniversary.
- If you are still not certain of the invoice’s authenticity, take a photo of it and call your digital marketing company or partner.
If you need help, or you want us to take a look at a possible scam, please feel free to reach out to [email protected].