Domain name ‘renewal’ letters surface again

Company sending letters denies they are misleading

Domain name registrar Domain Registry of America, which has garnered a somewhat dubious reputation on the web, seems to be back, focusing on New Zealand companies again after a few quiet years.

Retired IT manager Kurt Marquart, based in Auckland, contacted Computerworld after he received a letter from Domain Registry of America (DROA) notifying him that his domain name was about to expire and urging him to renew his domain with the company.

“But I have never had anything to do with DROA,” he says. Marquart has his domain registered with NameSecure, he says. He assumes DROA got the information about his domain and his address from the WHOIS register.

A quick search on the internet shows that DROA is infamous for its letters, which look official and appear to be an invoice asking recipients to pay for domain renewal.

US-based Domain Registry of America is a legitimate company, but its letters could be seen as misleading. The letter politely notifies recipients that their domain name is due to expire in a few months and encourages them to pay DROA to retain the name. What many companies might not realise is that if they pay DROA their domain will automatically be transferred from its current registrar to DROA.

Eric Voisard, DROA’s customer relations manager, says his company finds being associated with fraud “quite disturbing”.

“The letter is a solicitation asking a potential customer to consider our firm for the renewal of their domain name,” he says. “Any domain owner has the choice of renewing their domain name with any registrar they choose. Our solicitation informs the client of the impending expiration of their domain and clearly states that it is an offer to transfer their domain name to our firm.”

The notice states in bold on the front of the letter that “this is not a bill”, says Voisard. “I don’t see how it can be any more explicit than that.”

Voisard says many of DROA’s competitors are losing business to his company. “They have resorted to a smear campaign on the net, trying to scare away potential clients from switching to us for a better deal,” he says. “As you may well know you cannot believe everything you read on the internet,” he adds.

In 2004, a Canadian federal district court, on the request of the Federal Trade Commission, ordered DROA — then based in Ontario, Canada — to stop making misrepresentations in the marketing of its domain name registration services.

The company was required to pay redress to up to 50,000 consumers. DROA was prohibited from engaging in similar conduct in the future, and was subject to monitoring.

Earlier that year, the UK Advertising Watchdog Authority (ASA) slammed Domain Registry of Europe over similar claims, but the DROE maintained that the notices were not a bill, rather an easy way of switching registrar.

Also in Canada, in 2004, Daniel Klemann, previously the president of DROA, was sentenced to a CA$40,000 (NZ$52,150) fine and a five-year prohibition order, following a Competition Bureau investigation. Klemann targeted over 73,000 business and non-profit organisations across Canada with a deceptive mailout for the renewal of their internet domain names, according to the Competition Bureau.

Voisard says that Daniel Klemann has not been president of DROA since 2002.

The Canadian Competition Bureau recommended that businesses take the following steps to protect themselves from deceptive mail scams: read mail carefully; verify that any invoices are from regular suppliers; make sure the product was ordered before paying any invoice; and report any mail that appears to be false or misleading to the Competition Bureau.

“People need to be aware of these companies,” says Marquart.

According to DROA’s website, the company is now based in Buffalo, New York, with additional addresses in London and Melbourne. New Zealand letter recipients are encouraged to reply to the latter. However, Voisard admits that the address in Melbourne is just a post office box, “for the convenience of our customers from Australia and New Zealand so they do not have to incur international postal charges,” he says.

Among the warnings from letter recipients on the web, several are local, some from this year, but most seem to be from 2004. For example, on April 30, 2004, Russell Brown wrote on his blog, Hard News:

“it appears that the well-known domain name scammer the Domain Registry of America, has some sort of base across the Tasman now. I got a letter from them this week informing me that the registration for publicaddress.net is about to expire. As these things always are, it’s framed in such a way that someone who didn’t read it properly would simply pay the money — and in fact have their domain transferred to the Domain Registry of America, at two or three times the price they’re currently paying. Watch out for them.”

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