Domain name scams are as old as, well, domain names, but there’s one in particular that, like the proverbial cockroach, just won’t seem to die. A company calling themselves the Domain Registry of America continues to send out misleading letters, confusing the unprepared and convincing them to switch domain name registrars. In doing so, the customer’s annual fees typically take quite a jump – sometimes as much as three times the original cost. Since we’ve had a couple of clients encounter the issue lately, we thought we’d address it and hopefully help stop these hucksters from cheating their way to more money.

The Scam

The letters they send are expertly fashioned. “Domain Name Expiration Notice” reads the top heading, as can be seen pictured below (courtesy of rootwork.org). Nowhere do they explicitly state that they are your current domain name registrar, but a person without much tech savvy might not know how the process works and assume that they are. They inform their targets (“customers” is surely not the right word here) that their domain name is about to expire, and this is probably true. But they make sure to sneak in before your actual domain name registrar contacts you about renewal.

Domain Registry of America letter

The DRoA gets this information from the easily accessible “whois” database, which includes a collection of contact information for registered domain owners. Some domain registrars will offer “whois privacy” by using their own contact information instead of yours, but not everyone is aware of this or takes advantage of it. It’s not difficult, then, for the DRoA to look up names and addresses and send out their letters.

Between the American flag, the deadline (“Reply Requested By”), and the prominent pricing information, it’s no wonder the uninitiated are easily conned. Everything looks so official!

Ratings and Reviews

It should come as no surprise that the Domain Registry of America has been given an F rating by the Better Business Bureau. Furthermore, they’ve received 251 complaints on the BBB website in the last three years. That’s more than one per week! Here’s the BBB’s take on the company:

Better Business Bureau review

It’s not just consumers that have expressed their disdain. The DRoA was sued by competitor Register.com in 2002 for illegally tricking their customers into switching. They’ve also been hit by the Federal Trade Commission and the United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority. Somehow, through all of this, they’ve marched on and continue to mislead people into purchasing their overpriced services.

Prevention

Once you’ve paid, there’s not much to be done. The DRoA states that payment, once received, is non-refundable. But what you can do is arm yourself with knowledge beforehand to prevent being taken advantage of. If you’re reading this post, you probably won’t have to worry about the DRoA anymore. Any mail from them will go right onto the trashcan. Unfortunately, they’re not the only ones.

This kind of trickery is not exclusive of the domain name industry. Content Writing Manager Amy Daniels offered her experience with a one-time car warranty. The dealer assured her the warranty did not need to be renewed when it expired, but as soon as it did, a host of calls and emails came her way telling her to renew it – all, of course, from companies other than the one she initially bought from. She wasn’t fooled.

Whatever the product or service, these kinds of frauds can be stopped with an attentive eye. There are some simple steps you can take to avoid falling victim to them:

• Look for formatting changes to your bill.

• Check your schedule to see if the new statement has come at an unusual time.

• Talk to your manager/owner/financial officer/website provider (or whoever else may be applicable to your situation) before making any major or unfamiliar payments.

• Check previous records to make sure it’s the same provider and the same pricing.

• If working online, make sure the URL is the same and that the site itself hasn’t changed. (This can happen with fake social media sites that want to grab some of your personal information.)

Take any other steps you think will help you stay prepared. Domains are usually registered once a year (and many registrars offer plans of three or even five years), so you won’t see that bill very often. It’s easy to forget about it. Set some guidelines to ensure you won’t make any fraudulent payments.

Many people will never encounter these kinds of letters, especially those who take care to keep their contact information off the “whois” database. For the unlucky few, however, take note. A little preparation could save you a lot of grief down the line.