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Weblog Entry

Domain Registry Scam

July 16, 2008

I was about to Flickr this and leave it at that, but then I remembered oh yeah, I’ve got a web site.

Domain Registry of Canada is a big old scam

This morning’s mail brought me a renewal notice from my domain registrar. The currently-dormant personal nameplate domain I’ve been sitting on is coming up for renewal at the end of the year, so they’re really staying on top of it by sending me the renewal notice during the summer.

Except, wait. Domain Registry of Canada? That doesn’t seem right. This domain was registered with a US-based company. I don’t have any business with Canadian registrars that I’m aware of.

I’ve been hearing about this tactic for years, and received one or two of these in the past, so it didn’t take long to conclude that, yes, this is a scam. Even though the notice is deceptively formatted to look like an invoice, the wording tells me exactly what’s going on (emphasis mine):

“When you switch today to the Domain Registry of Canada…”

“…and now is the time to transfer and renew your name…”

“Domain name holders are not obligated to renew their domain name with their current Registrar or with the Domain Registry of Canada. Review our prices and decide for yourself. You are under no obligation to pay the amounts stated below, unless you accept this offer.”

They’ve obviously spent time honing their text so this practice may not run afoul of the relevant consumer protection laws. The company has been at it for years in other countries with multiple legal proceedings in the past, so they’ve had the time to get it right. It may be that the notice I received is technically legal.

But I still think they’re scum, and this is a scam-like practice whether it’s legal or not. They’re obviously counting on people to focus on the invoice and ignore the text. (Web users skim, they don’t read, right?) With an official-sounding name like “Domain Registry of Canada” it’s easy to understand how their targets might not pause to consider that this company isn’t in fact the one they originally registered with (do you actually consider your domain registrar more than once a year?). If someone web-savvy like myself has to seriously think about what’s going on here, how many average small business owners or office administrators do they sucker annually?

There may be legal recourse here, but I’m willing to bet that if they’re still doing it after all these years, they’ve managed to figure out how to avoid prosecution. So there’s not much to be done aside from wasting 50 cents on a stamp for their return envelope to return them a personal F U. Ineffective and useless to be sure, but if I can kill at least a fraction of a second of their anticipation of taking in another sucker while they open the envelope, to me that’s good enough.


July 16, 13h

I’ve received these myself (from Domain Registry of America), as have several of my clients. In a few cases, some of them have even transfered their registrations - and it’s no easy task to get them back (usually involves calling their office, waiting on hold forever, getting an unlock code, and then waiting weeks to complete the transfer - not to mention all the money lost in the process). Lame. Totally lame.

July 16, 13h

I got one last year and was puzzled by it, thinking I needed to renew. Of course, I get all my renewal notices via email. After some consideration, I tossed it. When it came around this year, it got tossed without a second thought. Sending the postage-paid envelope back, though, would’ve been fun.

Lindsey says:
July 16, 13h

I hate this practice. I actually have received quite a few of these. It’s a total low-life “marketing” scam that I’m sure many people fall for :(

Rian says:
July 16, 13h

I receive at least one of these letters a year for each of the domains I have registered. And they look and sound almost identical to what you have posted. They usually come from “Liberty Names of America”, though I wouldn’t be surprised if “Domain Registry of Canada” turned out to be a sister company, both owned by some parent organization. Notably the rates they charge are usually 3-4 times the rate I pay through my host. Total scum scam.

July 16, 13h

I have received at least one of these per year for my site.

A friends folks got duped into this — not sure what happened. I guess there DNS is now registered through “Domain Registry of Canada”. I should ask them how the service has been — might be funny if it wasn’t a low ball scam.

Hub says:
July 16, 13h

I get this quite often, and it just end up in the shredder. What a waste of paper. I guess it is really to bait these people that still deal with dead-tree letters…

Jack says:
July 16, 14h

I am almost certain these guys get your personal information from the DNS information that is publicly available. I’ve received several letters from them but they all stopped when I no longer had my mailing address linked to my domain name.

The upshot of their shady practice is that most domain registrars now allow you to avoid entering in your name and address into the DNS info. Eg. http://private.dnsstuff.com/tools/whois.ch?ip=mezzoblue.com

July 16, 14h

I got this a month or two ago. I just laughed. Obviously a scam.

cam c. says:
July 16, 14h

My friends run a web hosting / domain registration company and they’ve had to rescue a few companies who’ve been successfully scammed by these guys and one more similar outfit… you’d really only need to have about a 0.1% success rate to make some cash if you spammed every domain owner in Canada…

10
Luke says:
July 16, 14h

My boss actually came to me with one of those the other day.

July 16, 14h

I actually get Domain Registry of America letters fairly frequently here in the UK, having seen them a bunch of times I know they’re a scam. However, I’ve had two clients receive the letters and fall for it and attempt to ‘renew’ their domains.

What is really underhand is that they seem to send these letters to the Registrants address and not the domain admin address which would be me! I’m sure it’s intentional in the hope that whoever receives it just presumes that it’s required!

Jordan says:
July 16, 14h

I just got one of those yesterday! I honestly had to read through it three times before I was certain it was a scam. Thanks for your post Dave, I’m glad I’m not the only one who is web savvy but still nearly duped by their clever wording. Stupid scammers.

13
Dave (not Shea) says:
July 16, 16h

Is it just me or does the whole domain-registrar business seem kinda sleazy? This kind of “marketing” seems about par for the course.

Totally off-topic but: So glad you changed your picture which in turn changed the color scheme. That funky green was really becoming tiresome.

14
Sean Elfstrom says:
July 16, 16h

Something similar has been happening for years with yellow pages ads. We got them all the time at the company I used to have. Those were even worse in that the fact that they were a solicitation instead of a legitimate invoice was not so apparent. We surmised that at a lot of companies, the accounts payable department would just blindly cut a check.

July 16, 16h

This is actually an ancient scam that pre-dates the Web.

At the company where I worked 20 years ago, we’d get “Renewal Notices” for our Yellow Pages listing from two or three shady providers. Of course, by “Renewing” you’d be signing up for an ad in their lesser-known phone directory.

The sad thing is that lots of businesses undoubtedly pay them because they look just like invoices, and the AP department isn’t going to investigate too much for a $20 charge.

July 16, 17h

Can’t say I’ve ever gotten this particular scam but I’m looking forward to it.

The ones I get all the time though are the ones from “paypal”. You know, the ones that ask you to sign in at some site where paypal is the subdomain rather than the domain. Luckily for me I’m not one of the web users who simply skims.

John B says:
July 16, 18h

I get these on a regular basis, and get a bit angry inside every time. It was worse before though when they looked more like official CIRA correspondance.

If they actually say renew there really could be grounds for some legal fun, (I used to work for a telemarketing outfit where “renew” was a forbidden word. “Update,” however, was allowed).

I actually think I heard of them being sued once, though, so they’ve probably got their wording just on the positive side of the legal line.

Kyle Fox says:
July 16, 21h

They are scum.

Next time you receive a postage-paid envelope from them, I suggest affixing it to a box full of rocks and sending it back to them.

Adam H says:
July 16, 21h

Here is my suggestion.
http://officeofstrategicinfluence.com/bulkmailer/

I used to get these a few years ago until I switched my domains to namecheap and started using Whois Guard.

July 16, 22h

HA! Dave, great timing on the post. I JUST finished ripping up a notice from “Domain Registrars” to “renew my domain today!”. I agree that it is an extremely sleazy practice. Keep up the great work.

July 16, 23h

I started getting calls from these people, individuals with rather thick Indian accents telling me they had information about my renewal. I get one a day now and immediately hang up.

July 16, 23h

There is a good resource here for reporting domain name scams and sharing user experience:

http://www.domainscams.co.uk/

(it isn’t limited to UK domains)

T

23
N says:
July 17, 00h

Another one we’ve seen in South Africa, is a phone call from a call center like this: “We have an application for company.com (instead of your own company.co.za) that will go through in two days. To prevent this domain being registered, you will have to register with us before tomorrow. We require a TEN YEAR (emphasis mine) registration with payment up front.”

Check back a week later, and still no registration records for the .com domain…

They can even put you though up and up the levels to talk to superiors, managers, etc if you have time to waste their time and run up their phone bill.

July 17, 01h

I had the same from the Domain Registry of America. It’s really going to catch out some less techie users.

25
dave says:
July 17, 02h

[deleted, no need to reply to trolls folks]

July 17, 05h

To dave above me, it is at least scam-ish and bordering on legality, when they imply that you are already a customer of theirs who simply needs to do a renewal. GEICO, for example, doesn’t make commercials that act like I’m already a customer who just needs to renew my coverage. They make commercials that act as though I’m a Progressive customer who needs to switch because I like talking geckos.

Anyway. On a different note, a few years ago when I got a Domain Registry of America letter (of course it has happened several other times), I called them and asked why I would want to increase my monthly bill by tenfold (I believe it actually was tenfold, at the time) over what I was paying my current registrar. They stammered a bit, and admitted that I wouldn’t be gaining anything. I got a bit of satisfaction out of that, I must say.

Ste says:
July 17, 06h

I’ve received these every year for almost a decade, and they have most definitely gotten scammier and more invoice-like over time. At my last job, the financial assistants asked me several times (once or twice a year) whether they were legitimate bills, and every time I had to dig to find the “This is not a bill” phrasing.

It’s not just a common practice for domain registrations, though. I recently bought a house, and since then have received half a dozen letters that seem to be important documents relating to my mortgage or home insurance. When I look closer, however, I see that they have no affiliation with either my lender or insurance provider and that they are simply trying to scam me into using an additional, unnecessary service.

It’s shameful, obnoxious, and I’m sure more than a fair share of its success hinges on people being too busy or lazy to notice.

David says:
July 17, 07h

>wow u think this is scam?
>i bet when you see a tv commercial its a scam also


@dave:
This is absolutely not the same! This advertising obviously tries to pretend to be an invoice - have you seen a tv spot that tries that?

However, it would be interesting to know how this company gathers the addresses or domain names.

pinky says:
July 17, 07h

any registrar that sends me snail-mail to get me to transfer my domain registration goes straight to the trash, scam or otherwise. i don’t need more (physical or electronic) junk mail!

July 17, 08h

I actually got one the other day (my second one from them), but from “Domain Registry of America” instead – exactly the same deal though, including the layout of the thing.

And they want 2.5 times as much as I’m paying right now per year! Yeah, that sounds like a solid deal…

I can understand how some people get fooled by the “protect your online identity” fearmongering crap to make them give up their CC info.

“This notice is not a bill” it says, but they sure go out of their way to make it look like an invoice.

On a related notice, a few years ago I got some email spam scam where someone wanted to sell me “my” domain – I have a .net domain, and the email said they had registered the same .com name and now wanted me to pay through the nose for it.

I had a look at the whois info, and saw that it was actually unregistered. So I registered it on the spot and sent them a reply thanking them for telling me about the available domain name. Funny, never got a reply…

31
Aaron says:
July 17, 09h

I got one of these one time, but it was even more generic than the one you received, and the wording was more tricky. If it wasn’t for the fact that it was at the wrong time of year, an “invoice” for more money than my original agreement, and… a PAPER invoice, I might have given it more than a second thought.

I agree that small business owners could easily be tricked by this sort of scam. Any of my clients usually forward anything related to their service to me. If they got one of these things, they might really hurt themselves.

July 17, 09h

What really gets me about these guys is that they use the exact same style (color, and other markings) as the Government of Canada uses for it’s mailings (Tax filing, GST filing, etc). My wife who looks after all our finances actually paid one of these for me thinking that it was a Government invoice. The guys are BASTARDS.

Daniel says:
July 17, 10h

I get this sheit all the way to Sweden from Domain Registry of America.

July 17, 20h

I’ve received these before as well, although not from the Registry of Canada (I’m in America). I’m not even sure who they’re from because I know exactly who all of my domains are registered with so these go right in the trash. This a really cruddy tactic though.

I’ve had clients that have been duped into this. All of a sudden their DNS is different and when it comes time for us to do their website, we have to upcharge for the time we blow trying to get the domain name into honest hands.

This is probably 1st place right above the vehicle warranty renewal scam I’ve been getting mail and phone calls about lately. That one really gets on my nerves.

cawlin says:
July 17, 22h

I got what sounds like the exact same letter as you. It seemed pretty legit and generally confused the crap out of me because upon skimming (hah) the rates were worse than I was currently paying.

I shredded without a second thought.

July 18, 08h

I get a few of these from the Domain Registry Of America every year. The first time I was worried that I screwed up somewhere and actually did owe them money, but after careful examination I learned it was a scam.

Now every letter I get from them provides quality time with the paper shredder.

This sort of thing should be outlawed!

37
... says:
July 18, 21h

Most domain registrars have the option to hide your public address/info (which is real easy to find) w/the registration nowadays. Check that out and it will eliminate the problem.

July 19, 07h

I’m a Vancouverite and manage a number of domains for my clients. One of my clients got the same letter for her domain and almost fell for it before calling me to double-check.

39
Leicester says:
July 21, 04h

This happened to one of my clients, got a letter in the mail and then he advertently fell for it and was forced to renew his domain for 10 years..it was a shame they never consulted with me during the transfer request emails etc as happen during domain transfers, is there not a law against this, because it really is fraud!

40
chris bovard says:
July 21, 08h

An old client of mine got one of these notices. They thought this was their renewal notice. Well before they asked they had gone through the process.
After many arguments they ended up getting control of their domain back but ended up losing a year of payment.
Scamers.

Michael says:
July 22, 16h

My wife responded to one of these from a company called Liberty Names of America, she thought she was being helpful by taking care of this for me. When I found out, I explained that the company was actually trying to steal business from my current registrar. She was so angry that she put a stop payment order on the check despite the fee.

I got an email from them about releasing the lock order and I told them to take a hike. I haven’t heard from them since.

42
Fozzy says:
July 23, 14h

Yes, I’ve received these before. For my websites, my brothers websites (which I managed for while and the bills were sent to my parents house, who questioned me about it), and for my company.

The first time I received one, I did have to do a double, triple, and quadruple take. Though, as you pointed out, a quick read through points to the “disclaim” crap they put in to try and avoid legal proceedings.

Personally, I’d like to send them one of my own mails like this and hope I could get their own website transferred to my name so I could subsequently screw with it.

Mike says:
July 24, 07h

I get SO many of these it’s sick. No to mention we field several of these a month for our clients domains as well. Domains are big business and scams like these can end up costing organizations lots for money if they are not careful.

July 25, 16h

I have received *many* of these as well (not from “Canada” though). Since I’m located in the Netherlands, I have to assume that they’re spending quite a bit of money on transatlantic postage, and I had always thought that nobody would fall for this scheme –but judging from the other comments, I’m probably mistaken…

wheat says:
July 27, 10h

I’ve gotten several of these type of scams in the past. And they infuriate me. They’re often designed to look like a bill, hoping you’ll just glance at it and put a check in the mail. But I have all my domains through one registrar, and I deal with them only via the web, so any snail-mail bill for web services is suspect from the start.

They’re scum. There should be some way to combat them.

46
Paul Deschamps says:
July 27, 19h

Yup i’ve seen this 5 years ago. One client of mine freaked out that we hadn’t payed their registration costs and showed me this “mail” they received.

Some one should sue. this is slimy

Karinne says:
July 28, 11h

I get those every year and the funny thing is, my parents get them! I moved out 6 years ago! Ah!

July 28, 11h

Our web hosting customers are often confused by these letters and we receive regular support requests about them. The domain name business has some mighty shady characters and this company is certainly among the most grotesque.

49
Bob says:
July 30, 19h

Don’t get mad - get even!
When I receive disceptive solicitations like these, I shred the contents and return it to them. Better yet, if the solicitation includes a self-addressed, postage paid envelope, use it. It will cost them a few cents and no doubt, some aggravation when they spill the returned contents all over their desk.

These bottom-feeders should be exposed by the media.

50
Michael says:
July 31, 12h

they work on the principle that a $39.97 invoice for domain renewal is just going to get paid without question by the accounts department. seems to me that the ‘internic people’ are selling theses lists … how do I know - well I have started misspelling my name in the Domain registry and that is the only place that that misspelling appears - This is what I do … Take the capital One CC pre-approved application and put that in the Domain reg envelope - yep you get the idea……

51
Kevin SEO says:
August 01, 01h

wow i’ve not heard of anything like this before - that’s unbelievable that some people would earn money by deception. like you mentioned if it made you think twice many other people with a lesser background have no chance. they have obviously improved the look, feel and text over the years - i agree with you, scum - all of them.

regards.

[DS - oh the irony of this comment, left by someone clearly trying to earn money if not by deception, then at least by attempting to steal some unearned PageRank. No link for you.]

Gareth says:
August 01, 06h

I used to work for the payment processing company that handled the “Domain Registry of xxxxx” payments.

The Domain Registry was taken to court a few times for their scam, but they still trade. They do actually get a high volume of replies. I was processing about 100 - 300 cheques of theirs a week.

53
ncjcj says:
August 11, 06h

Every time the domain name on my volunteer site comes up for renewal, we get these. Fortunately our Bookkeeper has always questioned it, and I tell her to ignore it. The first time however, I really had to read the fine print.

54
Kris says:
August 17, 09h

We got one yesterday. It looks very authentic. And I love the part where they offer you a deal if you review for more than one year (discount for 2 years; discount for 3 years - but it still is twice as much as I pay in a year). But luckily I knew that I had my domain registration with my hosting company. It’s in the garbage now but after reading all these comments and the reach of this scam, I’m thinking I’ll pull it out and send it on to the Better Business Bureau. At least it might help to raise awareness.

August 19, 05h

Years and years ago when we first got our family website domain (must have been back around mid 90’s, I received a renewal request via snail mail. Filled it out and next thing I knew, our domain was transferred.

I’ve since learned my lesson and I keep strict track of all my domains and where they are registered and try to keep them all in the same place!

56
bill says:
August 24, 00h

I get these all the time from “Domain Registry of America” They’re 100% scum and these types of “businesses” should be illegal tossing the owners in jail.

Speaking of scams. A friend just setup their online presence using Yahoo Business. A couple weeks after getting their site setup, they got an actual phone call from “their website support”. They wanted to sell them an XML sitemap for $500 and they’d toss in an HTML sitemap for just another $500.

Yahoo automatically generates and submits an XML sitemap to the search engines for the business hosting.

57
Alex says:
August 29, 14h

I have only two things to say about this kind of scam: 1. Rolling on floor laughing my butt off! And 2. I’m glad I happened upon this article. Because I have my own domain through yahoo…And I would be so po’d and down in the dumps if I lost my domain name.

Anand says:
August 30, 11h

I think they work by using the whois of newly registered websites. I own like 50 domains and get these regularly any time I register a domain. Very sad.

I guess this would be a good reason to start doing it anonymously.

August 31, 15h

Unfortunately we have seen this “practice” several times. One of our clients almost fell for it but thankfully emailed us first.

We have started telling our new clients about this scam right away as they seem to target freshly registered domains - even when they are nowhere near expiry.

The letters we receive are all from “The Domain Registry of America” - a quick Google for the same will show interesting results! Post your dead trees back to these guys… and tell your clients about it if you register domains for them.

Ramkumar says:
September 07, 22h

I actually found this post while googling for fake renewal notices. Good.
I’ve been receiving this so called renewal notice/invoice for sometime now, as every time i register a new domain, so clearly i too think anon registrations are the way to go..

thorsten says:
September 12, 07h

One year ago, I bought a domain and about two month ago I received an email from this reseller that my domains expires and need renewal by different “recommended hosting service”. I checked the ip of the email and found out that the emailadress was was faked and not sent by the domain reseller. When you receive mails or letters from unknown companies, often they want your best.

62
Tami says:
September 17, 14h

I own 3 domains and received a similar letter. I was puzzled as to how my domain could have been purchased by another company as I still owned it. I call Y! by whom I originally registered the domain and who was currently hosting the domain and inquired regarding the letter. Y! cleared up the confusion reiterating that I still owned the domain and that re-registration could be completed through Y!. The letter, for all intents and purposes, stated that it now owned my domain and that I had to purchase my domain from them. The company who sent the letter will be referred to the Better Business Bureau as potentially fraudulent and any other Agency that may have some power to force this company to desist from perpetrating ‘business’ practices that should be labelled as scams.

October 02, 06h

I got one from the ‘Domain Registry of America’ many many years ago. I presume they get the registrants name from whois.net by some spider. Since I have my domains by proxy I don’t get them anymore.

64
David says:
October 03, 12h

I get them too. I’d recommend complaining to Industry Canada since when I looked into it, they where a federally registered company. My understanding is that in Canada it is against the law to resemble a government department or have the appearance of doing so, but there would need to be a good body of complaints against these guys for Industry Canada to act.

65
Joe Bottomlee says:
October 08, 21h

I received these all the time. For my clients I include the domain name with their webmaster fees. I also only use my address for the registrant’s information. The domain is still registrar’s in their name and the name of their company. For those clients who prefer to have their own address used, I charge them the extra fee to have it register by proxy. When I explain why I do this they have all let me just use my address. So far I have never had anything sent to me in the mail for my clients except these stupid renewal invoice looking statements.

October 10, 00h

I’m based in Australia and get a few of these each year in my letterbox from the ‘Domain Registry of America’. The first time I got one I had to do a double take… I have to admit, they nearly got me! The only reason they didn’t was because I didn’t think it was anywhere near time for renewal!

Mike says:
November 15, 10h

I think I got this a few months ago. I also thought it was a scam at first, good thing I was right.