Beware of Chinese domain name email scams

If you get an email urging you to take fast action because your business domain name is about to be registered by someone in China, throw it away. It’s a scam.

There has been a resurgence of these in the last few months. I’ve gotten a few and several clients have mentioned them recently.

I’ll tell you some of the details about why this is a scam. Really, though, you don’t need to know whether it’s a scam to delete the message. There is NO reason to have a domain name outside of your U.S. domain name (.com, .net, .org), unless you intend to do business in Asia or China. This scam flourishes because many restrictions on registering Chinese domains were lifted in 2013, so .CN domains can be registered as easily as any other domain, from anywhere in the world. It created the opportunity for scammers to pressure you to register a Chinese domain to “protect your brand.”

The scam certainly looks scary. It starts with an email similar to this example:

From: John []
Sent: Wednesday, December 08, 2010 7:50 AM
To: info@[domainname]
Subject: Internet domain name & keyword

Dear Manager:

This email is from China domain name registration center, which mainly deal with the domain name registration and dispute internationally in China and Asia.
On December.8th,2010, We received HAITONG  company’s application that they are registering the name ”
[domainname] ” as their Internet Keyword and ” [domainname] .cn “[domainname] ” [domainname] .asia “domain names etc..,It is China and ASIA domain names.But after auditing we found the brand name been used by your company. As the domain name registrar in China, it is our duty to notice you, so I am sending you this Email to check.According to the principle in China,your company is the owner of the trademark,In our auditing time we can keep the domain names safe for you firstly, but our audit period is limited, if you object the third party application these domain names and need to protect the brand in china and Asia by yourself, please let the responsible officer contact us as soon as possible. Thank you!

Best regards,

Oversea marketing manager
Tel:+86(0)21 6191 8696
Fax:+86(0)21 6191 8697

If you respond, you’ll exchange notes with a “domain registrar” (who might or might not be a legitimate domain registrar) offering to register several variations of your domain name – .asia, .cn, .hk – along with a substantial extra charge for “network brand protection.” The price for the domain registration will be at least three times the going rate for registering domain names in China. The scammers will demand that you pay to register the names for five years or more. Oh, and there is no such thing as “network brand protection.”

Some but not all of the emails come from actual companies licensed to register domain names in China. It’s as true in China as it is in the US: standards are low for domain registrars and some of them are run by shady, unethical people. If you pay the money, a domain name might be registered, but there are many anecdotes about paying for five years and getting a registration for one year (along with a promise to renew that may or may not be kept), along with a possibility that it won’t be your name on the registration.

But what about the story they tell? Did another company apply to steal your name and begin using it in China?

Of course not. See the big word “Scam” at the top? Like all scam artists, these guys just make stuff up.

If you respond to the first email, though, you’ll likely get an email purporting to be from the nasty company trying to steal your name, huffing and puffing about their intent to proceed no matter what you think. Typical example:

Dear Sirs,

Our company has submitted the “[domainname]” as CN/Asia domain name and Internet Keyword, we are waiting for Mr. John’s approval. We think this name is very important for our products in Chinese and Asian market. Even though Mr. John advises us to change another name, we will persist in this name.

Best regards

Lin JianFa

You can exchange notes with the interloper, if you like. Chances are it’s the same person who wrote the “domain registrar” note.

If you’re curious about how scams like this play out if you engage in the back and forth, here’s a detailed look at the process. In that case, the scammers demanded close to five thousand dollars. Out of curiosity, the author of that article continued to exchange notes until the “deadline” had passed and the scammers informed him that he had lost his domain names to the Chinese interloper. He waited a week, then found a legitimate registrar and registered the Chinese and Asian variations of his domain name for about sixty dollars. See, they were lying. You’re following the part where this is a scam, right?

It’s dispiriting to look at the bottom of this article, which has a list of some of the names used in this scam – dozens of purported domain registrars and literally hundreds and hundreds of names and phone numbers and email addresses of individuals sending the messages.

Tough world. Be careful out there!

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