Domain Name Services Letter – Is it a Scam?

Domain Name Services Scam

“I just received a letter from Domain Name Services about my domain name. Is it a scam?”

Did you receive a letter (that looks like an invoice or bill)  in the postal mail from a company located in Jersey City, NJ and wonder if it’s legit or a scam?

If says your domain name is due to expire in the next few months.

It definitely looks like a bill, but if you read closely there are multiple red flags that give you a clue something is suspicious.

There are multiple companies out there using the same scammy tactics to prey on domain owners that don’t understand the processes around domain name, or take advantage of companies that have a billing department, and just “pay the bill” because it looks like one.

How does domain name registration work?

Domain names are like your address on the Internet.  Every location on the Internet is identified by an IP address. IP addresses are not easy to remember so domain names have been created to make them easy to communicate and memorable.  You could compare this to the  geocoordinates of your home.   Having to tell people you live at 38.897957, -77.036560 would be much more complicated than 123 Main St.

If you want to buy a domain name, you have to buy it from a company called a domain registrar.  Domain names have a yearly renewal fee associated with them.

When you register a domain name, you do have the option to renew for multiple years at a time.  If you register it for multiple years, it makes it easier for you, in terms of one less bill to think about. But it an also create some problems. I’ve worked with hundreds of small businesses to build new websites and work on existing websites.  I also provide domain consulting services to help people pick the best domain name for their company, managing domain registration and renewals, updating DNS when websites are migrated to new hosts, and hunting down where their domain name is registered.

Yes, people lose track of where their domain name is registered.  Once their website is built, domain names are often forgotten about, especially if they are not renewed at the same time as their web hosting service.  As time goes on, the original person that registered the domain name may have left the company, their web designer may have registered it on their behalf, or the email used to register the domain name may have been abandoned so you do not get notices about it.  When the domain name expires, and the website goes offline, then there is a scramble to find the problem and fix it.

That’s where the scammers have found a weak point to step in to take advantage of people.

When a domain name is registered, it is connected to a person and mailing address. If your domain name is publicly registered, it is available for anyone to look up and see.  Compare this to the white pages in a phone book.  Acquiring a list of mailing address is then easy, and sending a form letter to thousands of website owners is a small investment if a fraction of them take the bait.

So where is the scam?

These letters are formatted to look like an invoice or bill.  They are worded carefully to imply your domain name is registered through their company and it’s time to renew your domain name.  The invoice has legitimate information on it like your domain name and the actual expire date of your domain.

The thing is, they are not the company that you registered your domain name. If you pay this, you are not just renewing your domain name, but are transferring it to this domain registrar – and at a hefty price.  Renewing for 5 years will cost $265, that comes down to $53 a year!

How did they get my personal information?

When you register a domain name, you have to provide your name, address, phone and email address.  This information is publicly available, similar to the white pages phone book.   Companies like Domain Name Services can easily acquire lists of domain names to then mail these invoices in bulk to domain owners, hoping they don’t understand how domain registration works and you just pay it.

How much does it typically cost to renew a domain name?

Legitimate companies that are domain registrars offer domain registration services starting for around $15 year. Prices vary based on the registrar and services they offer, the extension of your domain name, like .com, .net, .org and additional products you can buy associated with your domain name; like private registration. (Privately registering your domain name is like getting your phone number unlisted in a phone book. It can’t be easily searched publicly. Private registration means you will get less email spam related to your domain name and less junk mail like this scammy solicitation. )

Do I need to renew my domain name for 5 years?

No. You can register or renew a domain name for a single year or multiple years at a time. Why does this “invoice” have the only option of registering for 5 years?  Simply to get more money from you.   Once you renew your domain name, there are no refunds. So if you figure out after the fact that this was a scam, you are still out $265.  You can move your domain to another registrar at any time, but the renewal has been paid for.

What happens if I don’t renew my domain name?

Just like any other service, if you don’t pay your bill, your service gets shut off.   With a utility, like the electric company, they don’t shut off your electricity the day your payment is past due. There is a grace period. With domain names though, THEY DO shut it off on the expire date.  If your bill is not paid on time, your domain name gets shut off and your website no longer loads. There is a grace period after this to try to get your domain name back. The longer past the expire date, the more complicated it is to get your domain name back. If it gets to the point it is up for public sale again, you could lose it for ever.

Keeping track of who your domain registrar is and when your domain name is up for renewal is therefore very important.   Unfortunately, I have a lot of small business owners that lose track of managing their domain and it creates huge expensive headaches.

How to identify a domain name services scam?

  • Sense of Urgency:  Language like “You must renew your domain to retain exclusive rights”,  “failure to renew may result in loss of your online identity” …  They are trying to get you to react without realizing what they are doing.
  • Vague Details About the Company:   Mismatched domain name to the implied company name.  When you click the domain name, it redirects to somewhere else.  ie. if you type in util.com (which shows on my bill) it redirects to  domainservices.us
  • Lacking Details:  There is no phone number on the bill.
  • Terms/fees:  Fees seem high and are committing you to a 5 year renewal term.

Still not sure? Look them up on the Better Business Bureau website to see what other people say about the company.

Bbb Complaints

They claim throughout the complaints on bbb.org that it is not a bill or invoice, but a solicitation that clearly states that’s all that it is.  Wouldn’t you think if numerous people are suggesting they are a scam with how the letter is worded, they would make efforts to clarify the language that is is not a legitimate bill?

What to do if you received a domain name letter in the mail?

Once you realize the letter is not an invoice and the company is no legit, shred it.

Then protect your self from domain scams by being proactive with these steps.

  • Know who your domain registrar is.
  • Know when your domain name is up for renewal.
  • Make sure you can log in to your domain registrar website,  and you have a active email address associated with the account.
  • Make sure your domain name is locked and privately registered.

No one wants to get ripped off, or have their website go offline because their domain name is expired or not pointing to the right IP address . If you are still overwhelmed and don’t know where to look, hire me for domain consulting services to figure it out.

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