A recurring internet scam involving domain names has resurfaced targeted at small businesses.  The scams involve notices being sent to small businesses indicating an urgent need to renew or register domain names associated with that business.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) last month reissued a warning to small businesses, advising them to beware of domain name scams.

These scams take several forms, including:

  1. A notice sent to the target business, creating a sense of urgency and asserting that a domain name is due for renewal.  While the domain name that is the subject of the notice is similar to the registered domain name of the business, the notice is actually in respect of a domain name with slight differences to the name or to the extension which can go undetected by the reader.  For example “.com.” rather than “.com.au”.
  2. A notice sent to the target business requesting renewal of the domain name of the business and asserting that the sender of the notice is the company responsible for that domain name registration.  In these notices, the domain name that is the subject of the notice may be correct.  However, the notice implies that the sender is the managing registrar for the domain name, when in fact the domain name is registered with another company.
  3. Similar to the above, a notice sent to the target business requesting renewal but in this case acknowledging that the sender of the notice is not the current registrar of the domain name.  However, the notice suggests that the business renew its domain name with the sender.  This renewal fee sought is considerably higher than market fees.
  4. An invitation to register a foreign domain name, and providing the business with the ‘opportunity’ to secure this name, for a fee.  The notice is worded in a way that makes the foreign domain name registration appear necessary when in fact, there is usually no such requirement.

The false representations made within these notices can amount to misleading and deceptive conduct under the Australian Consumer Law.  However, in many instances the scam originates offshore, which can make pursuing claims difficult.

Key practical steps small businesses can take to safeguard themselves from these scams include:

  1. Maintain a register of:
  1. all domain names registered to the business;
  2. renewal dates for each domain name; and
  3. the registrar with which each domain name is registered. Details of the registrar of your domain names can be easily identified through domain name search sites.
  1. Check any notice received against your domain name records. If anything looks unusual or doesn’t correspond with your register, contact your domain name registrar.
  2. Read any notice received carefully, with particular focus on any subtle difference between the domain name cited in the notice and the domain name actually registered to the business.
  3. If you are considering changing registrars, investigate the market options and make sufficient inquiries prior to registration, being aware of any hidden or recurring fees.
  4. If you are seeking to register an additional extension of a domain name, or to register a foreign domain name, do so through a trusted domain name registrar.

These domain name scams are another example of the importance of record-keeping for small businesses.  Scams can take many forms, and any unsolicited notice received by small businesses such as those prompting domain name renewal or registration should be thoroughly investigated before responding or making any form of payment.