Domain Slamming

Ever received one of those domain renewal notices from companies such as “Domain Registry of America” or “Domain Renewal Group” claiming that your domain is about to expire and you need to renew with them?

We’ve had them too, a lot of people have and this has been going on for a very long time.

Why has nobody done anything about this?

Well, they have tried…

On 21 March 2002, accreditted ICANN Registrar TuCows owned OpenSRS sent out the following email to all of their resellers:

Subject: OpenSRS Live Reseller Update 03/21/02

Greetings -

Please find following an update on OpenSRS.

1. Unsolicited renewal offers from third parties

1. Unsolicited renewal offers from third parties
-------------------
We would like to advise you of a business practice that is
becoming common in the domain marketplace and may result
in you losing customers. With increasing frequency,
companies are making unsolicited offers directed towards
existing registrants of other firms.

A company will send a letter (sometimes email, sometimes
postal) to a domain registrant thanking them for either
registering, or renewing their domain name.  The letter
will also invite them, in language that suggests a prior
business relationship exists with the soliciting company,
to make some change to the domain, or to renew it, which
would result in the name being transferred to the new
organization.

We recommend taking the following steps to ensure that
your registrants understand these issues:

a) regular general updates to your clients so they are
familiar with your company name and the services you
provide to them

b) specific updates (as warranted, see example below) with
respect to these activities, who is perpetuating them and
what to look out for, as well as the consequences
(service interruptions, etc...)

c) warning registrants explicitly about this issue in your
renewal notices; registrants often receive offers when
their domain is approaching renewal.

Specifically alerting registrants to unsolicited offers
before the expiry date should increase registrant
knowledge and decrease unintentional transfers.

d) warning registrants explicitly in the customizable
message that is sent to the administrative contact to
approve a transfer away from you. If your clients do
inadvertently respond to these offers, the 'Transfer
Away' email is your last chance to inform them of the
facts of the situation.

Once recent example is an aggressive solicitation
campaign by the Domain Registry of Canada/America. Their
language encourages renewal with them, instead of the
registrant's current registration service provider. We
have found that a large number of registrants who receive
these notices believe that the letter is from their
existing registration service provider, and do not
understand that they are in fact requesting a transfer to
a new company, who may not provide similar services.

Below is a sample message you can customize and use:

"A company calling itself "Domain Registry of Canada" or
"Domain Registry of America" is targeting <RSP> customers
to renew their domains.  They obtained our customers'
contact information through the publicly accessible
WHOIS database, and are sending renewal notices through
regular mail in an envelope and on stationary
intentionally designed to appear to be an official
government notice.

It has been brought to our attention that these letters
have been causing a great deal of confusion among our
customers.  We hope to clear up any confusion with this
email.

You absolutely SHOULD NOT send any money to "Domain
Registry of Canada"/"Domain Registry of America" in order
to renew your domain, as <RSP> is your domain name
provider.

If you have already sent money, we suggest contacting your
bank or credit card company regarding your options of
having payment stopped or reversed.

We regret that this notice is necessary, but feel it is
important to notify our clients of this issue.  If you
have any questions regarding this or any other issue,
please do not hesitate to contact us at <supportaddress>."

+------------

Building strong relationships with your clients including
regular contact will ensure they are clear that you are
their supplier. The stronger these relationships are, the
fewer registrants will act on these misleading messages,
and the more customers you will retain.

These are some of the things you can do to protect your
business. We also are continuing to pursue and assess
legal and policy initiatives that are at our disposal
where the behavior of the company is in conflict with
accreditation requirements or is possible illegal.

As always - thanks for your continued support of OpenSRS!

Thanks -

Ken Joy
Product Manager, OpenSRS

So, What’s changed since then?

Even though this sparked a court case (which never came to light), the message still applies to this day.

The “Domain Registry of America” (also known as the “Domain Registry Group”) are still sending out notices as part of a “domain slamming” campaign, while OpenSRS are reminding people not to trust them.

In 2009, OpenSRS went on to remind people by reposting the information, saying:

We get calls daily from domain holders who have fallen victim to domain slamming

So, who can do something about this?

In 2001, the federal Competition Bureau (of Canada) issued a warning about documents that appeared to be invoices sent out by a business called the “Internet Registry of Canada.”

Action was taken again in 2003, this time by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), but this hasn’t stopped them.

In 2008, ICANN, the task force behind .com and .net domains said:

“we are aware of accredited registrars in North America with officers that have been convicted of mail fraud, that continue to be associated with the deceptive marketing practices employed by the Domain Registry of America. We do not consider this an acceptable situation. Accreditation processes must be reviewed, and that review must be released for public scrutiny”

While also in 2009, the Advertising Standards Authority (UK) went on to issue an adjudication on the “Domain Registry of America”.

What can I do to stop this?

The advice is to apply the following:

  • WHOIS Privacy
    • This service is generally provided for free and means that your postal details cannot be viewed.
  • Domain locking
    • If your domain is locked it cannot be transferred away from your registrar without being unlocked first.
  • Communication
    • Let us know, let your host/ISP know, let advertising watchdogs know, let everyone know. The more people that are aware of this problem the better.

KEEP any notices or letters you have received and take a digital copy (scan or photo) as they can be used as evidence.

Although you can also send a complaint to ICANN (the non-profit organization that oversees the use of Internet domains) their advice is to file a formal complaint with consumer protection entities and advertising watchdogs such as:

If in doubt, contact your domain registrar.

Update @ 25/07/11

We submitted a complaint to ASA, who replied saying that “recipients are unlikely to respond to the advertisement in error”.

Although we agree with ASA (having read their full response), it is still strongly advise that you continue to use domain locking and WHOIS privacy as form of protection against domain slamming attempts.

About James Wade

Systems administrator, web developer and domain guru for Phurix Web Hosting. Avid open source script writer in TCL, PHP, Perl and for shells.
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