Sooner or later, just about any "hot" industry will find itself the target of unscrupulous business practices, and the business of domain name registrations is no exception.

One of the most recent "domain name" scams was perpetrated by con artists who looked at the September 11th tragedy as a profit opportunity. Relying primarily on SPAM tactics, they offered to sell domains that ended in ".USA" and suggested that buying such a domain was a patriotic act.

While their endeavors were successful in terms of sales, generating more than one million dollars in revenue, the problem is that the ".USA" domain doesn't exist. They sold nothing more than thin air.

In terms of scams, this one was all "net" - pun intended.

While such outright scams can be expected from the fringe elements on the Internet, an even more disturbing trend has emerged in the field of domain renewals, and from presumably legitimate and well-recognized companies.

I've recently received "Domain Renewal Notices" from two companies that most people involved in the Internet would presume to be legitimate.

Both Interland and VeriSign have sent such renewal notices regarding a domain I have previously registered. Both companies have good name-recognition and thus would be presumed to be ethical and honest in their dealings.

Both notices correctly state that the domain in question is registered to myself, and that it will expire unless renewed.

The problem is that I have not used either Interland or VeriSign to register any of my domains. Their mailings are disguised as "Renewal Notices" when they are in fact "Transfer Your Domain To Our Company For More Money" solicitations.

These misleading mailings are actually quite brilliant, at least when viewed from the perspective of a scam-artist. How many company managers will remember exactly where their domain is registered? When presented with what appears to be a legitimate renewal notice, from a recognized company, the average manager or accountant in America may very well fax the official looking form or return the same in the "enclosed' envelope.

Both "Renewal Notices" likely comply with the letter of the law, but that doesn't mean these tactics are appropriate.

Interland's notice does state that it is actually a "solicitation" and does so on the front side of the letter, though it would be easy to miss given that no one really reads all the print on such an invoice. Considering the negative comments I've been hearing about the company recently, I wasn't overly surprised by their use of such questionable tactics.

On the other hand, VeriSign's "Domain Name Expiration Notice" truly floored me. I've have not previously heard comments questioning their credibility or business practices, so I was shocked to see VeriSign not only playing such a sleazy game, but taking it even beyond Interland's level of deception.

I say this because no where on the face of the letter does it even bother to state that the "Expiration Notice" is actually a "Domain Transfer" solicitation.

However, to keep the mailing arguably legal, the very bottom of the front page states "Review the terms and conditions on the back of this form" - of course in extremely small print. There is also a caption that states "Renewal & Transfer Authorization" that again refers to the back of the form.

Only by reviewing the short paragraph in equally small print on the bottom of the reverse side of the letter does one discover the fact that you actually "authorize the transfer of your domain name from your current registrar to VeriSign."

While I don't know much about VeriSign, I will be looking at shorting their stock in the near future. I figure that when a big business gets this sleazy, the bottom line must be in trouble!

In the past, when there was just one registrar of domain names, guarding against such tactics was not much of concern and everyone knew who their registrar was. However, monopolies create a unique set of problems and the resulting competition in the domain registration business has resulted in many benefits to the public.

Unfortunately, competition now extends beyond what would be might considered honest business practices by many. Domain name owners need to carefully review and verify any offers to register or renew domain names to insure their legality and their terms.

Be forewarned, these scams and questionable practices are likely just the beginning.


Copyrighted with all rights reserved by Stephen M. Canale