Domain names have a limited registration period (2 years for .uk names and 1 year for .com and .net) and have to be renewed after their initial registration and then again annually or bi-annually as appropriate.

You can often work out from the publically available WHOIS database when a domain name renewal is due.

Sadly so can the scammers – and they do just this to determine if your website domain name is due for renewal and target you specifically knowing that you may be expecting a renewal invoice or letter.

In these sorts of scheme the scammers involved send out paper letters which often resemble invoices. These documents are in fact one of two things:

  1. an offer to register a similar-but-different domain name, or
  2. an offer to renew the existing domain name but transfer it to a new registrar

Similar Domain Names

In the first case (similar-but-different domain name) the document might be headed “domain-name.co.uk – Act now to secure your domain” – but later on offer registration of ‘domain-name.tw’

What they are trying to do here is to scare you into buying other related domain names that offer you no benefit what so ever. You already own the .co.uk version of your company name and they try to suggest that someone else is attempting to buy other related domain names, similar to your domain name and are trying to do you a favour by allowing you to buy the names first, you know as a preferred customer…

This sounds really honorable and they do this to build your trust in them.

The truth is that there are no other companies trying to buy related domain names and they just want you to buy the taiwanese variant of your name to part with some cash. It won’t do you any good at all owning this other domain name unless of course you want to trade in Taiwan.

Transfer to a New Registrar

In the second case (same name), there is usually an offer to renew the domain name for a number of years to gains a ‘bulk buy’ discount, but you simultaneously have to transfer your domain name to a new registrar, possibly with some lock-in to that new registrar for a number of years.

This is particularly common in the .com system, where the new registrar can ‘pull’ a registration from the existing registrar. In the .uk system, your current registrar has to ‘push’ the registration to a new registar, so this technique is less effective.

Again this is just a scam and they are just trying to get you to move to a new domain name provider. They’ll send you a nice letter that looks very official and is part letter, part invoice. The offer sounds all too real and sadly people fall for this scam thinking thet their domain name will be nice and safe for the next 10 years and that they’ve saved themselves a few pounds by bulk renewing.

Sadly this is not the case and you’ve probably just lost a few hundred pounds.

So what can you do?

These schemes rely on use of the public WHOIS records for your domain name.

You can opt to go “X Directory” should you choose. Your current domain name administrator will be able to arrange this for you. There may be a small nominal charge for this service; usually less than £10.

Nominet UK have split their WHOIS database into WHOIS, WHOIS2 and DAC, have developed (and continue to develop) new ways of spotting abuse, and have worked with other registries to obtain changes to the specification of future technology.

If in doubt ASK ?

If you are in doubt about anything to do with your domain names, just ask your current domain name registrar or your friendly website designer.

They’ll be more than happy to talk you through the options and to advise if it sounds like you are being scammed or not.

It’s always better to be on the safe side, so do make sure you ask rather than just reacting to a letter or invoice from someone you’ve never heard of before.

Remember: If it sounds to good to be real – it is !