The summer domain sales lull is coming to an end and domain scammers are out in droves.
Have you received an offer on your domain that seems too good to be true? A WHOIS security email that seems slightly out of the norm? A message from your registrar asking to confirm a password?
Don’t fall for it! Follow this series to find out how to spot scam attempts, how to report them, and where to go for information on known scams.
In this first installment I’m going to cover one of the most well known schemes in the industry: the domain appraisal scam. Morgan has covered these since 2007 to remind new domainers to stay on the alert.
Here’s the basic domain swindle play-by-play
- A broker sends you what seems to be a normal offer for one of your domains. They may offer a large amount right off the bat. Otherwise they’ll probe a bit, asking if it’s for sale, if you have more domains, and if you’re an “experienced domainer.” Here’s one I’ve personally received:
“Hello! I represent a businessman who needs to buy [removed].com for a new project.
I located your contact information in a domain name whois lookup and understand that you own the domain name. Are you still interested in selling?I work for a hosting company based in UK. I help our clients to buy and sell intellectual properties.
Do you have more names? Can you send a list? Are you an experienced seller?
- After they’ve made some exorbitant offer to you between 5 and 6 figures, they’ll ask you for a “certificate” to prove its worth. The certificate is generated by a fake appraisal service for a nominal fee between to $49-$99 that the broker recommends, and will usually point to a fake blog post or thread that they’ve created.
- Once you pay for the appraisal and send the certificate to the “broker”, they will:
- Claim their buyer is no longer interested
- Say that you took too long
- Want to wait 30-60 days for them to secure the funds to pay you
- Simply disappear and never respond
Here’s how to easily spot them without even responding
- More often than not, anyone asking for an appraisal on your domain before buying it is a thief. If you really need an appraisal for some reason, get a free one from Estibot or appraise.epik.com
- The starting offer for your domain is exorbitantly high. Now I know some domainers think all their domains are premium, but most of us know the general ballpark someone will likely begin negotiations with. Not to mention that if your domain doesn’t usually field any offers, you should be a bit skeptical.
- The email’s domain is usually hosting related, riddled with dashes and several words, and registered recently. It will also usually forward to a legitimate company with a very similar domain when visited. Here’s a list of the offending domains compiled from Morgan’s past user comments and NamePros scam threads over the years to give you an idea (all the domains have expired, but they may be re-registered by the same scammer(s)):
- Here are scammer domains that are still active
- lowcost-hosting.com (created two days ago)
- 123-reg-domain-support.info (created in January and I personally received an email from it)
- website-domain-hosting.com (created in May)
- front-office-email-server.info (created in May)
- network-host.org (created over a year ago)
- internet-domain-investing.com (created in 2012)
- cheap-web-hosting-search.com (created in 2012)
- They’ll always eventually link to threads in forums like “archive.answers-google.org…” or “answers.archive-google.com…” Within those threads they’ll link to “legitimate” appraisal services. However, if you check the links, the domain’s anchor text is always different than the actual link.
- The person’s name in their signature does not match the name in the email header.
(I know some of you may want me to post the fake names and phone numbers used by these scammers, but this will only hurt those who legitimately have these names and numbers).
- The email usually contains spelling mistakes and poor grammar. You really can’t just chalk up someone’s typos to the combined effects of touchscreen smartphones and big thumbs!
Here are links to past reported domain appraisal scams uncovered by MorganLinton.com commenters and NamePros members
- Fake appraisal scam, fake “google-answers.net” (lol) phishing site
- Scam Alert – New Domain Appraisal Scam: website-domain-hosting.com and Dirk Engelmann
- The appraisal scam….again. -Name Investment Boutique LLC-Brand Domain Name Services
- Scam Alert – New Domain Appraisal Scammer: domain-hosting-shop.com
- Is this email an scam? (Purchase request)
- Beware Of Domain Appraisal Scams – What To Look For
- Buyer asking for certification
- Beware Domain Appraisal Scams
- New Domain Appraisal Scammer
- The DomainSecondHand.com Scam
- Avoid Domain Appraisal Scams In 2013
- Another Appraisal Scam! SO ANGRY!!!!!!!!!
- Domain Appraisal Scams Are Still Going Strong In 2014
What you can do about it
- Comment on this article with the email address and message of any scam attempts you’ve received.
- Post a warning on NamePros with the same information alerting the domain community of fake domain appraisals.
- Send a message to the domain’s registrar abuse contact email found on its WHOIS info.
- Mark the message as spam in your email client.
It’s imperative that we shine a light on these scams and take action to help prevent future victims. It’s nearly impossible to catch these thieves, so our strategy should be to make their job as difficult as possible.
Stay vigilant and stay tuned for part II of this series covering phishing emails.