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Is this email about my domain name a scam?

Updated on March 23, 2014

Introduction

As an owner of a large number of domain names I receive a significant number of emails in relation to those domain names generated by people trying to scam money from unsuspecting domain name owners. Over the years these scams have changed some are more complex now but others remain frighteningly simple, this is my guide to scams you need to be aware of as a domain name owner.

Renewal Scams

Renewal scams have the very simple objective of getting you to move your domain name from a reputable registrar with normal pricing to a less reputable registrar with inflated pricing.

The scammer can identify using any WHOIS service the date when your domain name will require renewal. Prior to this date the scammer will contact you either by email or quite often by postal mail with a message inviting you to renew your domain with their registrar rather than your existing one. The renewal fee at the registrar they want you to use will normally be significantly more expensive.

Often the scammer will try to convince you to renew the domain with another registrar using false information informing you that they are from the governing body of the domain extension or that you will lose the domain if you don't comply.

People are vulnerable to this scam because the scammer is in possession of a lot of detail when that mail arrives, all of this detail is easily retrievable through the WHOIS but seeing that detail in an email or letter can convince you that it's contents are genuine.

Worst case scenario with someone who falls for a renewal scam is that their domain gets hijacked after being transferred to a dodgy registrar or they are stung for that over-expensive renewal fee.

The Brand Identity Theft Scam

The identity theft scam begins when you receive an email warning you that someone in another part of the world has tried to register your domain name in another domain extension. For example if you owned randomdomainname.com you may receive an email stating that someone has tried to register randomdomainname.com.cn therefore potentially aligning themselves to steal your online brand identity or pass off on your company name.

The scammer usually poses as friendly registrar who has claims to be offering you the chance to register that domain name in that extension and usually other extensions as well. Without confidence that you are being scammed you can feel pressured into complying with their recommendations especially if the domain name belongs to your company. These scammers are banking on getting you to make a quick emotionally charged decision to protect your property by registering the other domain name.

These scams in my experience typically originate from China or other south-east Asian countries. Often I've checked the WHOIS for the sender's website and have found that their domain is only days old, purchased purely to support this scam.

Ignore these emails, the information contained in it is false and given that there are hundreds of different domain name extensions the very idea that you should started buying every domain extension as some sort of defence strategy is ludicrous.

The Hijacking Scam

The domain hijacking scam is the most sinister of all and most worryingly the hijacking scam is the hardest to spot or defend against.

Typically in a domain hijacking scam the scammer will use WHOIS information to identify the registrar and your administrative email for the domain. Their objective is to take control of your email account which will then allow them to access your registrar account and then take control of your domain. You are particularly vulnerable to this scam if you have either a successful website, a highly valuable domain name or a large number of domain names with the same registrar.

To hijack your domain using this technique the scammer must gain control of your email account, their attempts to do this will not be obviously related to your domain(s) and therefore it will be hard to spot what is happening if you are being targeted.

What you can do protect yourself from this scam is to use a WHOIS privacy service and to use a specific email address for your domains if they are particularly valuable. If your domain's administrative email account is your everyday email account then it will be associated with many other website registrations, subscriptions, forum memberships, etc..... because of this it will be easier for the scammer to phish for your details and obtain your email password. The other security measure you need to take is to ensure that in your email account and your registrar account you have fully utilised all of the security features such as secondary emails and phone numbers. We never expect to have to be using phone numbers or secondary emails to try to recover accounts but people end up having to do just that every day because they've had accounts taken over by a hacker.

Your experiences?

Domain related scams are constantly adapting to the changing internet and becoming harder and harder to spot.

Basic security internet security measures and a cautionary approach to any domain-related correspondence should largely keep you safe but as a domain name owner you do constantly need to be aware of which scams are operating and how they work.

Please leave comments if you've experienced scams which I've not detailed here or have a particular experience of story to highlight.

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