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Scamming for Dollars: Domain Name Registration Ploys

How do you know what to do when notices about needing to renew your website domain come in? Know the facts. Where is your domain actually registered? If you don’t know, you need to find out.

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BSB Contributing Editor Mark Claypool has more than 30 years of experience in the fields of workforce development, apprenticeships, marketing and Web presence management with SkillsUSA, the I-CAR Education Foundation, Mentors at Work, VeriFacts Automotive and the NABC. He is the CEO of Optima Automotive (www.optimaautomotive.com), which provides website design, SEO services and social media management services.

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Such a deal! Today I received a very official-looking notice, by mail, that my website domain was coming up for renewal. The company that sent this to me was Internet Domain Name Services, or iDNS. The registration for my domain, optimaautomotive.com, was about to expire at the end of June and, according to them, I needed to take action. This notice had big bold lettering at the top that read, “Domain Name Expiration Notice.” In the middle of this notice were the pricing plans. At the bottom, it had a tear-off section to submit the renewal. It was “recommended” that I renew for at least two years, but if I renewed for five years, which was what they described as the “best value,” I could “save” $45! Wow, where do I sign up?

The problem is their one-year renewal cost, $45, is four-and-a-half times more expensive than where my domain name is currently registered. Their five-year plan, or “best value,” costs $180, yet my current service charges me only $60 for the exact same thing. If I had fallen for this ploy, this “best value” would have cost me an extra $120.

Send in Your Registration

I also received an email for another domain I own the rights to.

“This letter is to inform you that it’s time to send in your registration,” the email said. “Failure to complete your domain name search engine registration by the expiration date may result in cancellation of this offer, making it difficult for your customers to locate you on the web.” Oh no! Notice how they slipped in the term “search engine registration”? What a ruse! This was not a domain renewal notice, this was simply to “register” with search engines, which is basically done for free if you know what you’re doing. It’s deceptive and worthless and comes from an offshore source.

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No Action Required

No doubt you’ve received similar notices about domain name expiration and “registration.” You’ve received them by mail or gotten emails and/or phone calls. Many of our clients who have received these notices have contacted us over the years, asking if they needed to do anything. Almost always, they require no action unless they’re registered by the actual service that has contacted them. It pays to educate yourself.

Legally, these companies are operating within the law. But that doesn’t necessarily make what they do right. They’re hoping that people are ignorant of the facts, not paying attention or scared by such an official looking “notice.” Who wants their website domain to go down? That would mean emails would go down, too. Can’t have that happen! “Better take care of this now while I’m thinking of it,” some people say.

To be fair, the mailed notice says, “As a courtesy to domain name holders, we are sending you this notification of the domain name registration that is due to expire in the next few months. When you switch today to Internet Domain Name Services, you can take advantage of our best savings. Your registration expires June 30, 2018. Act today!”

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Later in the notice it says, “You are under no obligation to pay the amounts stated below, unless you accept this offer. This is not a bill, it is rather an easy means of payment should you decide to switch your domain name registration to Internet Domain Name Services.” But this is the fine print, and the rest of the solicitation is skillfully crafted to draw your attention and make you think this is an actual bill. Even the company name seems official. It’s bordering on being deceptive, yet their lawyers have wordsmithed it in such a way to keep them out of legal jeopardy.

What to Do

How do you know what to do when these notices come in? Know the facts. Where is your domain actually registered? If you don’t know, you need to find out. To find out where it’s registered, and to whom (hopefully you), visit whois.icann.org/. Most of the time, your domain will be registered at places like GoDaddy, Network Solutions, ENOM, HostGator or some other large domain registration service.

The owner of the shop needs to own the rights to your domain name, not your developer or anyone else, such as an employee. It needs to be the owner. In addition, if you pay your registration services a little extra, you can have your registration information hidden from public view. This will cut down on getting these annoying and confusing solicitations and protect you from falling prey to their tactics.

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