Domain name scams continue to take SMEs for a ride

Earlier this week I received an email from a solo operator client of mine querying a domain name registration notice she had received.

A domain name provider had mailed her a document looking awfully like a renewal invoice offering her the ability to register a ‘.net.au’ version of the ‘.com.au’ name she used for her website and email address – essentially a form of upselling or provider-switching.

However, anyone not paying close attention to such things may not notice the price tag of $245 including GST to register the domain name for two years.

Grossly inflated price

A quick search of the same name via a competitive domain name provider offered the same name for the same duration for the sum of $38 including GST – a fraction of the price being charged by the unscrupulous provider.

Whilst it’s not illegal to offer a product at a price “the market will bear”, the methods used by these providers are very questionable from an ethical and moral point of view.

What is patently obvious is that by making this offer document – essentially a promotional flyer – look like a domain renewal, it might slip through the normal net left out for this kind of ‘junk’ mail and automatically find its way to your accounts payable department for payment.

Passing off as renewals

Because an unpaid domain renewal can also lead to having both your website and email services suspended, ‘invoices’ like this are usually treated with considerable priority and importance and so its easy for them to slip through undetected – until its too late and the sum already paid.

And because the vendor has essentially not done anything illegal, your chances of recovering your payment is next to zero.

What’s more, once one of these domains is ‘in your system’, the chances of renewing it – or a subtle variation of it a further time can increase.

Identifying domain ripoffs

So how can you tell the difference between legitimate renewal invoices and these scams?

Like most schemes like this, it all comes down to attention to detail.

In this case there were three key giveaways.

1.         A different provider

The first was that it was from a different provider to the one who normally provides it. 

If you get a document from a company other than the one you normally purchase or renew domains through, alarm bells should start ringing.

2.         Offer, not renewal

The second was that instead of being marked ‘Domain Name Renewal’ or similar, it simply stated ‘Domain name Available’, a subtle but important difference.

3.         Non-standard domain

Third, the domain in question was not a typical domain name – in this case the ‘.net.au’ but they can take the form of all sorts of weird and whacky suffixes.

An unnecessary purchase anyway

While some like to register these similar domains to prevent competitors or others trading off your name, there certainly isn’t a need to pay a premium for the privilege.

In this case, the client did exactly the right thing by querying it with me as her provider. 

But not all business operators get a chance to do this until it’s too late.

Make sure you don’t get taken for what can mount up to a costly ride.

You can find out more about this issue via the government’s Scamwatch website.

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