Yet Another ScamWhen a car you own approaches the 3-year or 5-year marker, suddenly companies you never heard of start sending you unsolicited reminders that if you don't start buying aftermarket warranties from them RIGHT NOW, your car will be unprotected. If you wade through the alarmist rhetoric, you may find the disclaimer that this company has no affiliation with the manufacturer and no previous business relationship with you. What they never tell you is that most of those "aftermarket" warranties aren't worth the paper they're written on.
The same thing applies to people who've registered domain names. Whenever one of my registered internet domain names is close to expiration, I start getting mailings from companies offering to renew my registration for several times what I usually pay. The language is usually alarmist, and the first time it happened, they startled me into contacting my domain name registrar to make certain my domain name wasn't headed for the edge of a cliff or something.
But today I encountered a NEW TWIST from a fraudmeister who doesn't even offer THAT service, but carefully phrases his ad to make it sound like he does. Here is some of the verbiage:
Domain Notification: . . . This is your Final Notice . . .
DOMAIN SERVICE NOTICE . . .
Failure to complete your domain name search engine registration by the expiration date may result in cancellation of this offer making it difficult for your customers to locate you on the web. . . .
This Notice . . . will expire on September 6, 2012 Act today!
PLEASE COMPLETE AND RETURN BY FAX: 1-212-257-7059
The included a rate chart going from one year ($75) to "Lifetime" ($499). Who could blame me for assuming, after a quick glance, that they are trying to gouge me for renewing my domain name registration?
But the "lifetime" fee made me wonder what it could possibly mean. My lifetime? My web page's lifetime? The World Wide Web's lifetime? So, inadvertently, I took a second look at the thing.
What they're really selling - When I took a closer look, I realized that they were not actually selling domain name registration at all. They were selling the "service" of submitting my domain name to the major search engines once a year for however long I contract for (or until the domain name expires, whichever comes first.)
If you're new to the web, you might not know that in the early days of Google, when you started a web page, you could get listed sooner if you let Google (and Yahoo, and a couple others) know about it. They had a web page just for you to enter your information. Once you were in their system, their software would navigate through your site looking for search terms to index.
Once your site was online a few days, you could verify that Google had done their magic this way: Try snagging a specific quote from one of your pages. Enter the quote into the Google search box with quotes around it. Click the Search button. Look through the results page for your site and click on it to be sure.
From that point on, all of the content on your site was indexed on the Google search engines, and you would never need to register with any search engine ever again.
An Obsolete Service - That's how we did it in 1995. Today, everybody knows that being indexed means nothing unless at least one site with decent content links to your site. But once ONE decent site has linked to yours, Google's software follows the link to your page, then follows the links on your page to your other pages, etc. It may take a while for you to get onto the first page of any search engine (or you may never do so). But if you have good content and other good sites start linking to you, you'll eventually work your way from page 2000 to page 20 or less without any other effort to speak of. (Getting beyond that is beyond the scope of this article, except for me to say that 99% of the people who offer to do the hard work of getting you to page 1 in Google rankings are also scammers of one sort or another.)
Either way, once you've been indexed ONCE by any major search engine, you never have to worry about registering your domain name with the search engines ever again. Maybe that's what they mean by "lifetime service," because once you're in the system, it's almost impossible to get out, even if your web page closes down.
What about Yahoo, Bing, Dogpile, and all the other search engines? Do you really think that any site Google ranks at all will be neglected by any legitimate search engine for long? The only "search engines" that won't find and index your site eventually are the redirection viruses that hijack your browser and make certain that all searches go to their paying customers first. (Come to think of it, I get an ad from a redirect virus guy at least every 90 days offering to make certain my pages pop first on his "customers'" [victims'] searches if I send him money. Don't laugh, these guys exist. He calls his victims an "exclusive client list" and tells me he's doing them a favor by helping them do better targeted searches.)
Back to this week's scam. The short version is that the scammer who sent me the page in the graphic above wants to charge me between $75 and $499 per domain name to annually perform a "service" that hasn't been necessary, or even useful, for most web page administrators since, say, 1998. The real beauty of it is that, since it's never been necessary to do this more than once, he can charge for a "lifetime" of annual services without ever having to do anything for me again.
To use a non-computer analogy, suppose you get an offer to subscribe to a monthly "performance" protection plan on your car for some period of time. But when you read the fine print, all he covers is kids shoving a potato up your tail pipe - something that usually keeps your car from starting at all (unless you manage to make the car backfire and shoot the thing out like a canonball - not a good plan for your car OR for whatever's behind it). Did your car start today? You don't have a potato up your tail pipe. But maybe you'll get one tomorrow. Shouldn't you get the service just to be on the safe side? You've bought a meaningless service that, besides bilking you out of money, has - worse - given you a false sense of protection that might cause you to overlook a problem you might otherwise pay attention to.
Just as an amateur webmaster might think that, since he sent these guys $499 for "lifetime service," he will never need to register his domain name again. The really bad outcome isn't that the hapless webmeister gets scammed; it's that he thinks he has bought something he hasn't; this false confidence could cause him to ignore legitimate renewal notices and actually lose the domain name he just spent half a thousand dollars to protect.
Back to the web. Copy some random sentence out of your home page, put quotes around it, and Google it. If the page shows up on the Google results page, that means you don't have a potato up your tailpipe, er, that Google already knows your site exists and that the "service" this guy offers is and always will be useless to you.
Where Are These Guys, Really? - Their announcement shows a "real address." However that address points to a building whose address is apparently shared by dozens of "fly-by-night" businesses, including other obvious scammers. As it turns out, the address belongs to a "shipping company" that offers a private mailbox rental service to "small businesses" that wish to appear legit. Do you get the feeling that the real "business location" is somebody's basement?
Reading the Fine Print - True, if you don't let the alarmist rhetoric alarm you, and you read all the way to the bottom, you see what he is actually selling you. And, more important, what he NOT selling you - domain name registration renewal. Scamming people who don't know any better out of $75 to $499 is nowhere near as bad as tricking someone into thinking they had protected their domain name registration for life, when really they have done no such thing.
The Final Insult - Just when you start to be touched by the scammer's belated honesty, the instructions for a getting off his e-mailing list take you to a site that looks official but is actually run by spammers to get more e-mails for their spam mills. Since I started this article, I've seen another version of the same announcement which listed another obvious e-mail "harvesting" site.
Why Don't They Ask for My Credit Card #? - Finally, the form says not to send credit card information when you return the form. "Once we receive your fax we will send you instructions on now to make a payment."
My guess is that they will have you use Western Union or one of the other ways that do not protect the purchaser from fraud the way VISA and PayPal do. To receive payment from VISA, at least, they need to have a bank account somewhere, and as long as they stay in business, VISA has the option of forcing a "refund." (I know this by experience, too, by the way - as the victim, not the scammer, in case you wondered.)
But I've spent all the time trying to expose this fraud I need to. I'm certainly not going to offer real money to get them to expose themselves further. If you want to waste your money by sending it to people who aren't really going to do anything for you, I know some places you can send it. :-)
ConclusionSorry if this is meaningless to you - it just shows that scammers really do lie awake nights thinking this stuff up.
I have a few rules about this sort of thing that have done me a world of good. For example:
Okay, that's enough venting and "preaching to the choir." I just feel bad for the clueless folks who really fall for these scams, and I hope you keep your eyes peeled.
See you online,
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