Email scams have circulated almost as long as email has been publicly available. A common one faced by brand owners involve a company, typically located in China, trying to convince them that one of their brand names or trademarks is in danger of being used in a domain name by an unrelated third party. The email content may take a number of forms, but is generally tailored to create the sense that time is of the essence and if action is not taken, valuable rights may be lost. An example looks like this:

Dear [Brand Owner],

This is an important matter about your company name registration. Please forward it to your [Company Leader] because this is urgent.

We are a [Network Service Company/Authorized Registrar of CNNIC (China National Network Information Center)/other official body] that deals with domain name registrations in China and we have received an application from [X Company] seeking to register [Brand Name] as their internet keyword and China domain name. After checking, we find this name conflicts with your company name or trademark. Will you please confirm whether this company is your [distributor/business partner] in China?

Explicit warnings that brand owners only have a limited time to act are also not uncommon. Other variations include alerts that the brand owner’s Chinese name will expire soon and asking for renewal fees.

Such emails attempt to get brand owners to engage for purposes that have nothing to do with the brand owner’s best interests. Some may be nothing more than a company fishing for business, but in other cases, something more nefarious may be afoot. The scammer may, for instance, warn about the negative consequences of the company’s brand name or trademark being registered by unrelated parties in China and then recommend applying through them for a Chinese domain name (for a fee). The email may also request documentation regarding the brand owner’s name and trademark, which could be used by the company for its own unknown or fraudulent ends.

The underlying fear this scam preys upon is that the brand owner is not being aggressive enough in building its domain name portfolio. The following are the best practices for brand owners receiving such emails:

  1. Do not respond and never click on a link or attachment included in the email. Any information about the brand owner or employee who receives such an email may be used by hackers in a scheme to target the brand owner.
  2. If the scammer’s email references specific domain names, evaluate the value of those domains to your company. If they are of interest, brand owners may be able to acquire them easily on their own and for a better price than the scammer would offer. Brand owners may conclude, however, that they neither want, nor need the referenced name.
  3. If a brand owner is unfamiliar with the Chinese trademark system and has plans on entering that market, consult with legal counsel regarding protecting your trademark rights.

If, in fact, someone has taken a domain name that copies or is confusingly similar to your brand name, your options are to either let the domain go and monitor its use (if no immediate threat exists), attempt to purchase the domain name, or initiate legal action (e.g., demand letters, UDRP proceedings, or district court complaints). Any such actions should be taken only after carefully considering legal implications and creating an appropriate strategy.