Domain Name Disputes

If you own a domain or are listed as one of the contacts for a registered domain, it’s likely that you’ve been notified at least once about a “domain name dispute”.

Domain name dispute fraud is an interesting breed of email fraud. These scams tend to originate in Asia and claim to be from an Asian domain registrar that is proactively notifying you that someone is trying to register your domain name on one or more Asian top level domains (TLDs).

They capitalize on the fact that a lot of domain owners know very little about what domain ownership entails or even how their domain got registered in the first place. Consequently the targets of this type of fraud are liable to believe that not registering with the Asian TLDs will dilute their brand.

A typical domain dispute fraud email looks like the following (we replaced the name of the company that this was sent to with “fictionalco”):

Subject: Domain Name Disputes

From: “Robinson Zhou”<robinson@china-shengke.com>

To: “info”<info@fictionalco.com>

(If you are not in charge of this please transfer this urgent email to your CEO, thanks.)

Dear Manager,

We are a company of Domain registration service in China,have something need to confirm with you.We formally received an application on Mar.2nd,2010.One company which called “DM Investment Co. LTD” are applying to register ” fictionalco” as NET brand and Domains.

fictionalco.asia
fictionalco.com.hk
fictionalco.com.tw
fictionalco.hk
fictionalco.net.cn
fictionalco.org.cn
fictionalco.tw

But we find that “DM Investment Co. LTD” is not the original owner of the brand and trademark in the checking period,which belong to your company.so I need confirm with you .whether your company authorized that company to register these domain names.If you have done that,We will finish the registration for them and link to their website.
If not ,please let me know ASAP.
In addition, we hereby affirm that our time limit for dissent application is 7 workdays.If your company files have no dissent within those days,we will unconditionally approve the application.

Best Regards,

Robinson

Robinson Zhou
senior consultant
Tel: 0086-21-67150255
Fax: 0086-21-67150255
Mail:  info@china-shengke.com
Website:www.china-shengke.com
Address: Room 201, No.45,Building 14, Pujiang Garden,Lane 303 Huhang Highway,Fengxian District,Shanghai. 201401

2010-03-02

Unlike so many fraud emails, this message actually has a reasonable “Subject:”,  i.e. it’s not all capitalized; doesn’t have tons of exclamation points and isn’t from Dr. David (or some other first name). The “From” is fairly average but the “To:” is for ““info”<info@fictionalco.com>”. This contains two clues:

  1. Info@fictionalco.com is not one of the listed contacts for the domain (in fact the real domain that this was sent to is using whois privacy so nobody can find out who the contacts are).
  2. The “info” address is a very likely to have been scraped from the company web site by an automated email address harvesting program. Note: you can prevent this from happening to your email addresses by using the OnlyMyEmail Encoder, which is a free tool we provide at: http://www.onlymyemail.com/dns_tools/encoder.html

The next clue is the first line of the message which makes the following request:

(If you are not in charge of this please transfer this urgent email to your CEO, thanks.)

Like the CEO is going to handle domain registration. Yeah right.

The main body of the message suffers from the same language issues that are seen in many other types of fraud emails: incorrect punctuation, spacing, capitalization and word usage. Apparently only legitimate businesses find it worthwhile to hire educated translators.

The most interesting thing about this type of fraud is that it originates from real Asian domain registrars. All of the contact information traces back to Shengke Network Co.,Ltd (bad punctuation from their web site) and no attempt is made to direct the recipient of the message to a specific contact.

Presumably whoever answers the phone is aware of this “business practice” and will gladly help you register the domain names in question, probably at an exorbitant rate and for a long time (the Shengke website only allows registration periods of 5, 10 and 15 years).

Technically this isn’t fraud because you really get to register domain names with Asian TLDs (albeit expensively). On the other hand, few businesses with registered domains actually need, or even have a use for domains on Asian TLDs. This is really just a way for unscrupulous domain registrars to unload “unused inventory”.

Here’s what you need to know to make informed decisions about the above:

  1. The cost of domain registration from reputable registrars is currently around $5 to $15 per year for one domain. This is for domain registration alone and does not include hosting, web design or other related services. $20/year is very expensive for domain registration. (We’re looking at you Network Solutions.)
  2. Additional services like whois privacy or renewal synchronization may raise the price slightly; commitment to longer registration periods may lower it.
  3. Many registrars require a two year commitment for the initial registration but will allow singly year registrations after that. Registrars that require longer initial registrations (like the one above) should be avoided.
  4. Whois tools can be found all over the web and used to look up the owner/availability of domains. Alternatively, typing the domain into a browser will often reveal whether or not the domain is registered. None of the domains in the above list are registered as of this writing and any of them could be registered with a more reputable registrar.
  5. If you want to protect your brand, acquiring .com, .org, .net and .biz versions is probably sufficient unless you have a large presence in an area serviced by a different TLD like .com.tw (Taiwan) or .co.uk (UK).
  6. All TLDs are reachable by the entire Internet so no matter what TLD your domain has it’s visible to the whole world with the exception of possible censoring by more repressive governments. (The country of Tuvalu has made a business of selling their country TLD (.tv) world-wide and domains like del.ico.us make words by using alternate TLDs.)
  7. Domain naming is controlled by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and not by individual registrars.

Real domain name disputes are quite common but they always arise after someone has registered the domain. The legal issues surrounding the question of whether first come first served registration takes precedence over recognizable brand names are still being worked out. Recognizable brand names have the advantage though, because they tend to have more money for lawyers.

For more information on domain name disputes see the following:

ICANN Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy

BitLaw – Domain Name Dispute Section

Wikipedia – Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy

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