During the past week I've received two letters from entirely unrelated companies who both want the same thing. My johntopley.com Internet domain name. A few years ago I invested in the .com, .co.uk and .net versions of my name. I bought them through Freeparking because they were cheap and the computer magazine that I read recommended them. I know there are slightly cheaper deals to be had nowadays but I stay with Freeparking because it just makes life simpler for me and because I know that I can rely on them to e-mail me when the domains need to be renewed.
The first letter I received was from the Domain Registry of America, which I binned straight away because I've heard from them before and they're a known scam. The second letter was from EU Registry Services and it said:
“Domain Name: JOHNTOPLEY.COM
Status: DUE TO EXPIRE
Renewal Fee: £60.00 (2 Years)
The domain name shown above is due for renewal. Please renew this domain immediately to ensure service continues uninterrupted. If payment is not made to the registry before the expiry date the domain is subject to immediate suspension and deletion without further notice.
Important Information: It is vital that domain renewal fees are paid promptly to avoid registrants losing domain ownership. If it becomes past due then the domain name is deleted from the Internet and open for purchase by other parties. We request you provide us with up-to-date contact information to be able to contact you when payment is due. We will send no further warning of your domain expiry before it is deleted.”
—The tone of this letter actually caused me to stop and think about what was happening with my domain name. A quick check on Freeparking told me the real story, which is that I've a little breathing space yet. I read the letter again and noticed that not only was it not addressed to my current address, but it was also very carefully worded to avoid any mention of the fact that I don't have an existing business relationship with this company. No doubt the text had been thoroughly checked by a lawyer. The letter had a tear-off slip at the bottom to be sent back to them along with a cheque with the domain name written in block capitals on the reverse.
If I had been absent minded and forgotten who I'd originally used to register my domain names, then I may well have fallen for this piece of opportunism and ended up paying through the nose, possibly in exchange for nothing. I wonder how much money these companies make, simply by harvesting addresses and expiration dates from WHOIS and then sending out official looking letters asking for cheques by return? Are they accountable to anyone? The Internet is perfect for building a business out of using publically available information to scare the innocent into sending money. The whole process of buying domain names seems to be bereft of consumer protection, with cowboys and domain vultures ready to take advantage at every turn.