Always know who your web hosting and domain name provider is.

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Recently we had a client contact us concerned that her domain name might be expiring, but also confused as she had just renewed her web hosting (and her domain name was with the same hosting company). Along with the message she sent us was a very intimidating “notice” that she had received in her email. She wanted to just, “check with us” to make sure. I reassured her that she did the right thing in NOT just automatically thinking this was a legitimate email (and bill) from a company she’s already doing business with.

It’s not marketing, it’s a scam.

The first time I ever encountered this type of ploy was actually by snail mail. I received a very official looking “invoice” notifying me my domain name was about to expire and that I had to take immediate action and send a check right away to make sure I didn’t lose my URL. This had to be at least 10 years ago, so this type of thing has been around for quite some time. I noticed in very tiny fine print at the bottom of the document it read, “this is not a bill ….” and went on with other type of language that probably was only on there because what they were doing was otherwise illegal (sending someone something that looked so much like a bill that a large percentage of people fell for it).

Sadly we have had a number of clients over the years fall for this scam. Many of these places are actual companies and they will take your submitting a “payment” as proof that you are transferring your domain name to them. What happens next is you get charged about 3 – 10 times the price of what a domain name should cost (yearly) and any website you have up will mysteriously go down (it’s a bit technical, but basically your domain “points” to your web host – if you transfer your domain to some other company that pointer is lost and the URL will stop being associated with your web hosting).

So how do you know it’s a scam?

The first tip off is that there often isn’t a company name clearly printed on the snail mail or email (however, one pretty popular “company” was Domain Registry of America – you can read more about that one here). The second is that it looks like a bill. There’s also some form of “urgency” implied, such as your domain name (or if it’s a hosting scam, it will be your hosting) will expire if you don’t pay up immediately. On closer inspection, you’ll probably also note some fine print that it’s not an actual bill. On the email that our client received there was no such fine print, however, so it seems the email version of this is even more shady (and quite possibly even a “phishing” scam – basically where criminals try to obtain your credit card information). Below is the email version she received (and we noted where YOUR particular info would show up if you were to receive one of these). Note that at the bottom there’s a link to process a payment.

Click to enlarge.

The bottom line …

Even if your web development or marketing company sets up your hosting for you (or assists you with it) you should always know who that company is. All logins, receipts, etc. should be saved and you should be aware of when your yearly renewal dates occur. If something like this comes out of left field and you know your domain and hosting is not due for another 6 months you can almost always consider it one of these types of scams.

Many of our clients do contact us to make sure when they receive a notice like this and that is perfectly okay as well. If we’ve worked with them in the past 3 years we usually have their hosting or domain name info still in our files.

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