Recently, we received an alarming message. We were going to lose our domain name in 24 hours unless we paid our bill. Yikes! Just one problem — the entire thing was a online business scam.
How did we know? A couple of reasons.
In this post we’ll show you this specific scam that targets website owners and how to spot it. Then we’ll give you some general tips on catching other web-based business scams.
How the Scammers Could Have Caught Us
Scammers going after businesses online are getting more and more sophisticated. Often, it can be hard to tell when something is real and when it’s fake.
Take a look at the message we received:
Seems relatively believable, right? And certainly scary enough that you might start clicking on things to fix the issue right away. After all, you don’t want your site to go down! And you only have 24 hours!
But business scammers are usually trying to do one of two things.
Scam 1: Phishing
Now, you’ve probably heard about phishing. It’s one of the most common kinds of web-based scams out there. But you might not completely understand it.
Phishing attacks can work in a couple of different ways.
- They can convince you to actually give them money, typically by using scare tactics.
- They can get you to reveal private information (logins, bank account info, credit card numbers) that enable them to utilize your accounts.
- They can trick you into downloading a malicious piece of software that does either of the above things for them — or worse.
- They can goad you into clicking a link that may do any of the above.
Of those four things, the last one is by far the scariest. Why? Because it’s so easy to do if you’re not really paying attention or are caught off-guard… and clicking seems so benign.
After all, we click on links all the time. The entire web basically trains us to click on links. It’s how we get anywhere. It’s how we learn information and accomplish tasks.
But if you get a suspect email, that’s the last thing you want to do.
Why If I Did Click on the Link?
Don’t panic. Remember there are many ways they could be trying to get you. So that link could truly have been harmless if that’s all you did.
But do take action.
- Disconnect your computer from the internet in any way you know how.
- Run a full scan using your anti-virus / anti-malware software.
- Change your passwords. (You likely have a zillion passwords, so start by focusing on the ones that are most sensitive — e.g., your email, your bank, your business website login. And put off the ones that don’t really matter — what info are they really likely to get from your AllRecipes account?)
- Make a backup of local files.
Scam 2: Domain Slamming
In this case, the company actually does register domain names. And they get new customers by tricking people into moving their accounts over to them.
So after you pay that bill, your domain is now with this unethical company, which usually charges way more than a normal domain registrar.
Here’s the thing: domain names do expire. And yours may even be expiring soon. But the vast majority of domain names are set to auto-renew. No action needed on your part.
And if your domain name isn’t set to auto-renew, you can rest assured that your domain registrar will give you far more than 24 hours notice!
Even if you miss a renewal, you will know. You’ll stop getting emails, and your website will be down. But with any legitimate domain registrar, there is a grace period where you can scoop it back up again at the same price.
Of course, you don’t want your website and email to be disrupted. But it’s good to keep this in mind if you’re worried about the 24-hour warning: even if it is truly expiring in 24 hours, which is very unlikely, you have more than 24 hours to deal with it.
So how can you spot a legitimate email from a scam? There are many signs.
Why We Didn’t Fall for The Message Above
There are several reasons we didn’t fall for that message.
First, we’ve seen about a million of them. We’ve received them ourselves about our domain names before. And we’ve reviewed emails from worried clients who want to know if they need to renew their domain.
Second, our domain name is set to auto-renew — as most domain names are. So how can it be expiring?
But this email made us dubious for a number of other reasons that you can spot. Let’s break them down:
- What’s domainregistrationcorp.com? Is that where we got our domain?
- Is our bill even due?
- What is godomains.ga? And why is it totally different from the site name attached to the email?
- Why are there so many CAPS in this email?
- Why are there so many grammar errors? (We often say, “If these scammers just hired a proofreader, they’d fool so many more people.” But maybe the errors are just obvious to us because that’s a big part of our jobs!)
- How can they terminate our domain in 24 hours if this is the first email we’re getting?
Still, the idea of your website going down may make you uncertain even after running through these types of questions. We get that.
So you can protect yourself further by:
- Knowing the name of your domain registrar. If you’re our client, you can check with us if you don’t know.
- Confirming that your domain name is set to auto-renew. Most of the time, it is.
- Remembering that your real and legitimate domain name registrar will give you way more notice than 24 hours and won’t use scare tactics to get you to take action.
So if you run into an upsetting email, don’t panic! Because the way the scammers win is by getting your emotions elevated. By making you react before you can think it through.
Take your time to really read the email — and reach out to us for guidance if you are at all uncertain!