Back in the early aughts, I got an urgent phone call from a friend of mine, regarding his small business website.
He had received a very formal looking and vaguely threatening letter concerning his website domain registration, and was in a major panic over whether he would lose his site if he did not pay their $125.00 bill.
If you’re not familiar with the term Domain Registration, it’s the licensing fee that you pay yearly (or for multiple years if you choose) for exclusive use of your domain name. This is separate from Domain Hosting, which is the fee you pay to a hosting company to host your site for the world to see on their servers. It’s not a perfect analogy but think of the registration as titling and licensing for your car, and hosting as a monthly garage parking fee.
Hosting fees vary widely, but the registration fee is generally between $5.00 and $20.00 per year.
Luckily, my friend gave me a call before paying the bill; he almost fell victim to a scourge that has been around for decades, the Domain Registry Pirate.
The original scam would work like this: A pirate company (still totally legal) would scour public registry information and target the owners of domains whose registry expiration was coming due in about four months. These marks would get the warning letters, conveniently timed a few weeks before they would receive notices from the legitimate registrar company. The letter stated their registration was due soon, and calling the 800 number in the letter and providing credit card information would guarantee they would retain their domain name for another year.
It’s important to note, everything stated in the letter is absolutely true. The devil is in the lack of details. By agreeing to the payment the hapless website owner has just switched registrars, from their current (and hopefully honest) registrar to an equally legal (but evil) registrar.
This scam has only grown over the years. I still get perhaps one or two physical letters a year about my domains from pirate registrars, but I get email versions of the scam daily. All with a convenient link to a payment website.
In the past few years there has been a variant to the scam in the email world. The email looks very much the same, except usually much wordier. If you take the time to slowly read it you discover it’s not a request to renew your registration but rather, to purchase a year of Domain Registration SEO – a meaningless term that can mean whatever the pirate company decides it means.
When you get an email or snail mail regarding your website domain name, STOP. Do not follow any links on the email or call any toll-free numbers. Contact your IT person if you have one, or if you handle registration yourself, review past correspondence and invoices before taking any action.
A few minutes of investigation now will save you months (or longer) of headaches and exorbitant, unnecessary fees.