Everytime I get one
of their direct mail letters about domain renewal my blood boils. I'm talking about Domain
Registry of America and their deceptive practice for trying to get
customers to renew and transfer their web domains.
If you own a domain
and you live in the U.S., you have undoubtedly received what looks to
be an official letter with a bold headline stating: Domain Name Expiration
Notice. The letter also has a picture of the American Flag and it
resembles a government form letter.
A domain owner will
usually get these domain renewal request letters approximately 6 months
out from the actual domain expiration!
The letter is presented
and worded in such a way as to trick domain owners into signing and returning
the forms to Domain Registry of America, thus inadvertently transferring
their domain names to them and paying $25 per domain -- which is a large
cost increase from the $8.95 - $14.95 price that that most domain owners
pay to setup their domains.
domain renewal letters are most likely legal because they do include a
paragraph that protects the registrar from being accused of deceiptful
practices. Paragraph 3 states that the domain owner is under no obligation
to transfer the domain and that the consumer can compare prices and decide
Of course this protective
paragraph is surrounded by other paragraphs containing what I call "scare
tactic" text which directs you to take action within 30 days (5 months
before the domain actually expires!).
It's a very coercive
direct mail letter. The average person who skim reads the letter may very
well follow through and inadvertently renew/transfer their domains.
Let's face it, not
many people actually read direct mail pieces they receive. They usually
open skim read them. The direct marketing copy in the letter used by Domain
Registry of America banks on the fact that most people are overwhelmed
with direct mail and only glance or skim read this type of material before
throwing it away or taking some kind of action.
This domain renewal
scam may be technically legal, but the spirit of the direct mail letter
is deceptive in my opinion. It's main objective is urgency: to coerce
you into quick action of transferring your domain and adding on another
year, two or three.
You may recall that
in 2002 Verisign, Inc. (Nasdaq: VRSN), the largest Internet registrar,
was sued by several organizations (as well as shareholders) for deceptive
business practices similar to what I'm describing here.
Go Daddy Software,
Inc. sued VeriSign alleging false and deceptive advertising, interference
with customer relationships, misappropriation of trade secrets, and consumer
fraud. Go Daddy received a temporary restraining order and preliminary
injunction to prevent VeriSign from engaging in further deceptive advertising.
According to Godaddy
was triggered by a recent VeriSign marketing campaign, designed to cause
customers to unwittingly transfer their business to VeriSign. Go Daddy's
customer ranks were flooded with "Domain Name Expiration Notices"
boldly marked with "Reply By" dates that had no correlation
with actual domain name expiration dates. The VeriSign marketing campaign,
which gained some notoriety among Internet media writers, has been likened
to the long distance "slamming" schemes used by telephone companies."
the fourth largest domain registrar also sued Verisign for deceptive business
Following these lawsuits,
companies like Verisign and Domain Registry of America have modified
their direct mail letters to include a protective notifications and legal
language in their registration agreements which are always included on
the back side of the form (in tiny print). So, they now include a statement
that clearly indicates that the letter is requesting a domain transfer
and that the domain owner is under no obligation to transfer.