Fake Domain Name Renewal Notices Are Nothing New

Fake domain name renewal notices are nothing new in our industry. Unfortunately it is all too simple to register a domain name, build an authentic looking website and then use publicly available data to target registrants.  Last week we saw a new spin on the scam, using ICANNs branding.  Emails popped into domain registrants inboxes across the world inviting them to renew their domain names direct with them at discounted rates.  Anyone clicking on the "renew now" link would go to a URL, domaiinregistration.com.  The site was designed to look like an ICANN website with the logo in the right place, an ICANN copyright notice in the bottom corner and working links taking visitors to real ICANN stories.  Anyone trying to renew their domain name would receive a message saying the renewal payment had been made.

However, ICANN do not renew domain names - they never have and I doubt they ever will.  Whereas with other domain renewal solicitations, such as the practice pursued by The Domain Registry of America, the payment was actually authentic, merely transferring the name in most instances unbeknown to their control, this website was simply set up to harvest personal financial information. As soon as the site was discovered and shut down, a copycat site using another similar URL appeared.

In addition, the website offered such huge discounts on renewal prices that it was clear it was a scam.  Domain name prices are very transparent - the cost prices of most TLDs can be found by a simple Google search. So for an organisation to be offering the renewal of the domain name at less than cost price should have set alarm bells ringing.

Most savvy organisations will have seen straight through the scam, realising that something wasn't right the moment they got the email.  However, all it takes is one or two less observant people to follow the process to make it worthwhile for the scammers.

So what can organisations do to prevent these scams damaging their brand? The fact that these emails are so targeted, due to the scammers being able to access correct registrant data from the public WHOIS data means organisations have to be vigilant.  NetNames three tips to prevent being caught in these scams are:-

  1. Use a registrar such as NetNames that offers automatic domain name renewal.  This gives all registrants piece of mind that their critical digital assets are always secure, without having to keep lists of domain name renewal dates and potentially letting a domain name accidentally lapse.

  2. Make sure if you do receive a renewal request, it is from your existing domain name registrar. There should be no reason why another registrar will be requesting you to renew the domain name with them.

  3. If you do end up on an unfamiliar website, even if it looks legitimate, do a simple WHOIS check on the domain name of the website.  Ensure the social data is consistent, and that the domain hasn't recently been registered.  In the case of last week's ICANN scam, the domain name had only been registered for a few days and by an organisation in China.

With so much emphasis placed on online business, the importance of domain names has never been so high.  Organisations should treat them like the Crown Jewels of their digital strategy and protect them accordingly.

Written by Stuart Fuller, Director of Commercial Operations and Communications, NetNames.