National Scams Awareness Week 2019: Avoiding Domain Name Related Scams

It’s currently National Scams Awareness week and in support we’re highlighting a couple of ways people are tricked when it comes to domain names and how you can avoid getting caught.

Unsolicited Offers Of Domain Names

The most common issue we see is the direct, unsolicited offers of domain names.

While this kind of activity can certainly be legitimate, we see many instances which may cross the line from legitimate marketing tactic into scam activity.

There’s a couple of flavours of this scam:

Fake renewal invoices

The registrant receives a letter from a company designed to look like an invoice demanding payment for the renewal of their domain name or a domain very similar to one they may already hold the licence for. Without close inspection the name could easily be mistaken for the domain they already hold.

‘First right of refusal’

The Registrant will receive an email from a company stating that they’ve had a request to register a domain name very similar to one held by the registrant, and that the company is legally obliged to check with the registrant first to see if they want to register it as a brand protection measure (there is no legal obligation for this to happen).

In examples we’ve seen the domain in question is either already registered, or is a sub-domain of a .com domain name – e.g. registrantname.othername.com. The company behind this scam operates in a number of ccTLDs with the same offer, backed by the same website built to look like that of a legitimate company.

How to avoid getting ripped off

Know who your domain name is registered with. If you’re unsure about any offer of a domain name from a company you unfamiliar with, talk to your registrar before you take any action and certainly don’t pay anything until you’re sure.

If you’re unsure who your registrar check, a WHOIS search can help you find out.

Scam sites with misspelled domain names

If you’ve spent any time using the internet, you’ll know that instances of people trying to pass themselves off as other businesses as part of phishing scams are rife.  One of the tactics phishing scammers use is a misspelled domain name which looks very much like that of a brand/organistion they know.

Scamwatch has a great resource you can use to spot the signs of an online scam.

In addition to those signs, we’d advise some extra steps when it comes to checking if an offer that seems too good to be true is just that.

Double check the domain name spelling

We often see instances where scammers use domain names that imitate those of well known brands but with slight misspellings or additions like hyphens. Check any domain names carefully and verify whether it is actually legitimate by verifying the company’s address with via a web search.

Check the WHOIS information

If it’s a .au domain you’re unsure about, a WHOIS search can give you clues to help you decide whether a site or email is legitimate.

If a scammer is imitating a legitimate company they often fraudulently use that company’s corporate details as the registrant information.

One giveaway in the WHOIS information is that the Registrant and Registrant Contact fields don’t align  - the listed email address might be a Gmail address where you would usually expect it to be a corporate one.

This isn’t always a sure sign of a scam, but it’s another point that should be considered when you’re weighing up whether something is legitimate.

Also, in the case of a com.au or net.au domain, you can cross check the ABN or ACN with the Australian Business Register or ASIC registry to make sure the details match those on the domain registration.

Stay informed

Knowing what to look for when it comes to scams is important as online scams are constantly evolving and getting more sophisticated.

Check out the information on Scams Awareness Week 2019 and the Australian Cyber Security Centre’s Stay Smart Online resource to learn more about how to avoid being caught by online scams.

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