Domain Renewal Scams: How to Avoid Being Victimized

Posted May 26, 2021 | Laura Christianson

How to avoid being victimized by domain renewal scamsIf your website’s domain (aka, web address, dotCOM, or URL), is coming up for renewal, you’ll begin receiving email reminders from your domain registrar about three months in advance of your domain’s expiration.

Pay attention to these notices, because if you fail to renew your domain, it will go back on the market and somebody else can rent it and begin using it. This happened to a business owner who neglected to renew his website’s domain. It expired and someone else purchased it and started their own website using what had been his business’s URL.

Because the business owner didn’t renew the domain, his business is now “homeless” on the web. He’ll have to either:

  1. re-name his business
  2. attempt to buy back the URL from the new owner
  3. buy a new domain for his website

Be on the lookout for phony renewal notices

Here’s where things get confusing. In addition to the “time to renew” notices you’ll receive from your registrar, you’ll also receive renewal notices and promos to buy random web-related services from a variety of other domain registrars.

These scammy registrars word their messages sneakily; if you aren’t paying close attention, you’ll assume that the notice is coming from YOUR registrar.

How scammers find and target you

When you purchase a domain, your personal information (name, email, mailing address and phone number) is stored in the Whois database, a public directory of domains and their owners.

In order to shield your personal information, you must purchase privacy protection from your registrar. (This add-on should cost less than $10 per year).

Most of us don’t bother to buy privacy protection, which means we set ourselves up for scammers, telemarketers, and other unsavory types to bombard us with sales pitches.

Several of our website clients have fallen prey to the “domain renewal sales pitch.”

How the scam plays out

The Subject line of the email will say something panic-inducing like:

Domain Alert for [your domain]: This is Your Final Reminder of Domain Listing

The official-looking email will include your domain’s full listing from the Whois directory and scary warning text.

Below is a direct copy/paste from an email one of our clients received:

As a courtesy to domain name holders, we are sending you this notification for your business Domain name search engine registration.

This letter is to inform you that it’s time to send in your registration and save.

Failure to complete your Domain name search engine registration by the expiration date may result in cancellation of this proposal making it difficult for your customers to locate you on the web.

Can you spot multiple red flags in this message?

When I re-read the message carefully, I noticed that the promo doesn’t even ask the recipient to renew their domain. It asks them to renew their “Domain name search engine registration.”

What, exactly, is “domain name search engine registration”?

Is this company selling a method of submitting a domain to a search engine such as Google or Bing? That’s NOT domain renewal. That’s a completely different service!

The language in the promo intentionally confuses the reader about what they’re buying.

In the third paragraph, they use scare tactic words such as “failure,” “expiration,” and “cancellation.” But note that they also use the phrase “this proposal” (which indicates this is a promotional message). They use “may result” (not will result) and “making it difficult” (not “your domain will expire”).

If you pay close attention to the wording of these messages, you’ll begin to discern when a message is a promotion from a random company, and not a domain renewal notice from your registrar.

In the “fine print” near the end of the message, they inserted inflated fees for renewing the domain:

  • 1 year for $75
  • 2 years for $119
  • 5 years for $199

Of course, they asked for a credit card number and urged our client to renew RIGHT NOW, BEFORE TIME RUNS OUT!!!

Chances are, these domain renewal fees are MUCH higher than what you’re currently paying. Renewing a domain typically costs $15-20 per year, per domain. Not $75.

How to avoid getting scammed

When our client received the deceptive email, she forwarded it to me, saying, “I don’t know what to do with this. Can you help?”

Because we built and host her website, I know who her domain registrar is, and it certainly is NOT the company that sent her the renewal notice. I confirmed her domain renewal dates and fees with her current registrar and advised our client to delete notices from other registrars.

Unfortunately, another client fell prey to this scam. The minute they got the notice, they panicked and paid the exorbitant renewal fee to the wrong registrar.

When they realized their mistake, our client called me to discuss options. Thankfully, they were able to get a refund and they renewed their domain with their real registrar.

If someone helps you manage your website, they’re your first line of defense.

Your webmaster hopefully maintains records about who your registrar is and who you host your website with. They’ll help you discern whether a renewal message is coming from a legitimate source.

Regardless of whether you work with a webmaster, you need to store a hard copy of the following information:

  • Name and web address of current registrar
  • Username and password to log in to your registrar account
  • List of all domains you own and when each domain expires
  • Whether you have activated the “auto-renew” feature in your registrar account (Auto renew means you put a credit card on file and when your domain renewal date approaches, your registrar automatically charges your card and renews your domain for another year).
  • Any add-ons you have purchased for each domain (such as Whois privacy).

If you can’t remember who your domain registrar is, go to the Whois database and search for your domain. The listing (if public), will display the name of your registrar. You can then contact your registrar to gain access to your account.

The best lies contain an element of truth

Like most scams, these offers mix a little bit of the truth with a lot of lies.

They’re truthful in informing you that your domain renewal date is approaching.

But they’re untruthful by intimating that they are your current registrar, and by trying to trick you into migrating to their service.

Bottom line: READ THE FINE PRINT. (Which is usually in the bottom line of the email. Literally.)

Never click links in emails that you even remotely suspect may be a scam.

Keep accurate records of who your registrar is, so you can send spammy renewal messages directly to your “junk” folder.

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One response to “Domain Renewal Scams: How to Avoid Being Victimized”

  1. Paul Gabriel says:

    Thanks for the useful information that every domain owner need to know before renewing the expired domain name.

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