With the growth of the internet, domain name “scams” have proliferated. Are you at risk? Mark Heritage and Rachael Sharples of ACID Accredited Law Firm Hammonds LLP, explain. 

ACID member Duresta, the exclusive furniture and upholstery designer and manufacturer, recently received an e-mail from a company called “Asia DNR” (Domain Name Registration). They claimed to be “the” domain name registration organisation “in Asia”, and warned that another company had “applied” to them to register various domain names similar to Duresta’s main domain name, duresta.com (e.g. duresta.asia, duresta.tw etc).

Inevitably, the next request was for Duresta to pay substantial amounts of money to register the domain names via Asia DNR. Following discussion with Hammonds, and as Duresta already suspected, it became clear that several of the domains had already been taken, and some did not even exist. Duresta sensibly refused to pay anything.This is only one of many domain name scams. They are typically operated from abroad over the internet or ‘phone, and try to sell non-existent domains, or existing domains at a hugely inflated price. The key giveaways are:- An initial, unprompted note, usually from somebody trying to sound “official”, that someone else has “applied” to register domains close to your own. There is no requirement to “apply” for a domain.  A domain can be bought in seconds through a mainstream, established domain name “registrar” service, such as Network Solutions or Fasthosts. Registrars do not conduct searches for domain names that have been applied for. - A follow-up demand for large sums of money (sometimes running into the hundreds or even thousands of pounds / Euros / dollars per domain) if you reply, expressing your concern about the domains names that have been flagged up. By this point, the scammer has “latched on” to you as a viable target.Some of the more common scammers and techniques (and there are many) are well known – see www.domainscams.co.uk and http://www.nominet.org.uk/disputes/legalinfo/scams for useful summaries, and further information.So what are the top tips for protecting yourself? 1. Never reply to an unsolicited e-mail notifying you of “applications” for domains similar to your company’s existing domain(s), or your company or trading name. Delete it. If you are called, hang up. Responding to any communication simply lets the scammer know you are a soft target.

2. Help your fellow industry members by circulating news of the scam to trade bodies. ACID has been contacted by several members who have experienced this problem and are able to reach a large audience with advice on scams, such as the ongoing Fairguide issue or the recently publicised fake Design Registration issue.

3. Consider establishing your “territory” before the scammers or other squatters get there, by applying to register key domains (e.g. .com, .co.uk, .eu, .info, .org, .biz) directly through a mainstream registrar. The fees are typically in the low tens of pounds / Euros / dollars per domain, plus a similar periodic (bi-annual or longer) renewal fee – i.e. much, much lower than fees charged by the scammers. Put those domains to good use by advertising your company on them and redirecting traffic back to your core website. 


Mark Heritage

(Mark Heritage and Rachael Sharples are IP specialists at Hammonds LLP, Manchester)  

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