StartUp advice: Don’t fall for the Fake Domain Name Protection scam

The first reason I wanted to write about this is that while it is clearly a scam if you read it probably, you could always fall for it. You might be tempted to think that only idiots fall for scams and don’t deserve better but a friend of mine has a first class university degree (i.e. straight A’s) and still fell for a cryptoscam earlier this year (he claims to have been overworked and overly excited – you can read about it here.). So, maybe it helps keeping someone falling for this scam.

The second reason is that you shouldn’t take the protection of your IP lightly. A few years ago I advised a start-up founder on a case regarding IP infringement, specifically a dispute about the name of one of his domains that conflicted with another domain. To cut a long story short, the entrepreneur first left it for too long to respond and when it was almost too late he even decided to act against better advice because he apparently was “right and they are wrong” – needless to say that it all ended in tears and it was everyone’s fault but the start-up founder himself. Anyway, the moral of the story is that you need to make sure that you protect your IP even if you receive lots of emails that seem a waste of your very limited time.

But let’s get back to the Fake Domain Name Protection scam: It all started at the end of October when we received a very urgent email on one of our company accounts:

Now, you could be tempted to think that there is indeed someone out there that wants to use our name and for that reasons applied to register these domain names. You could also think right away that someone must be rather stupid to fall for this, but, once again, do not be mistaken, even the smartest of us can be duped. A good way to find out more, is – as always – to do a quick internet search about the people and companies mentioned in this email. Hua An Ltd seems to be a fund management company, so it’s already a bit weird that they would want to register domains with this name. How one exactly registers “planetcompliance” or any other word as their internet keyword, I would very much like to know. So, if you can I have a list of keywords I would like to own exclusively and would be grateful for any advice how to monopolise them. Searches for CN YG Domain and Mike Zhang, however, eliminated any reasonable doubt that may have been left: A long list of results warns against the Domain Name Protection scam, the Chinese Domain Scam and others. You’ll even find a section in a dedicated Wikipedia entry (Domain Name Scams) entitled Fake trademark protection. At this point I would like to thank Matt Lowe of SquelchDesign.com who came up first in my little search and has written a highly entertaining account of his communications with John, the General Manager of a Chinese domain registration center.

So, to find out more about this, I thought I play along and respond – firm but polite:

Before Mike could get back to me, I received an email from Chen ZhiFeng though:

Strangely, the email was sent from an address belonging to vip163.com, but obviously I had to tell them how wrong they were in their endeavours, so I emailed back:

I never heard back but Mike quickly came to the rescue and found a solution how we could solve the potential conflict by offering me to register the domains and the keyword:

Always the curious, I wrote back to Mike as fast as I could to find out what the damage would be (Having thought about it, maybe this was the opportunity to find out more about how to register internet keywords… A great opportunity missed, I suppose):

To which Mike or whatever his or her real name is swiftly responded:

As you can see the email also included a PDF with an application form and price list, but this is where it ended for me. I have not opened the attachment as I was warned about it since PDFs can contain viruses and maybe this is the real purpose of these emails. Anyhow, from the hundreds of examples that can be found online, the cost ranges from 300 to 1,500 bucks (and possibly higher), so there was no real need to find out how much exactly they wanted to defraud me of.

The original post at Squelchdesign currently has 55 pages (!) of comments of other people describing their experience – always along the same lines – and looking it up on the world wide web, you’ll find plenty more. Therefore, you might have possibly already come across this scam and I’m really sorry if I’ve wasted your time with another account. What strikes me though is that given that this scam has been going on apparently for 10 years or more, it must pay off in some way. Why else would the people behind it go to these lengths trying to dupe someone if they didn’t make any money from it? Thus, while you may be clever enough not to fall for this, other people clearly are not (or fall for it for whatever other reason there may be – see above), so sharing the story with others might still be a good idea.