Monday, July 29, 2013

Chinese Domain Name Scam – Beware of Renewal and Trademark Fraud

Last week, I received a suspicious email from a sender that I’ve never interacted before. He claimed to be a manager from an organization that handles trademarks and intellectual property protection based in China. In the letter, he informed me that a company was planning to obtain rights for certain domain names that are similar to that of my website and that I should perform some necessary actions to avoid any conflicts of interest.

At first I thought the letter was legit, since its arrival in my inbox happened to coincide with Google’s constant email reminders about my domain name, conanhughes.com, getting an automatic renewal with the web hosting company eNom sometime in August. What made me suspect of fraud or foul play shortly afterwards were some red flags contained within the email’s content:

  • Spelling and grammar errors (in other words, broken English)
  • The company claimed to be buying the domains does business mainly on imports/exports of hard goods, which is quite irrelevant to my domain name and my website’s niche
  • The sender failed to properly introduce his trademark and IP protection organization
  • Bogus physical address

The last three indicators of fraud that I listed above can be easily confirmed by doing a simple Google search. I dared not to call the included phone number, visit the listed websites, or even reply back. After all, doing so will let them know that the email address they sent their fishy letter to is real (that there’s a real person using it) and will probably send more emails to convince me that they’re the real deal.

Here’s the fishy email in its entirety:

Dear Manager,

(If you are not the person who is in charge of this, please forward this to your CEO,Thanks)

We are the organization of trademark intellectual property protection in China. Here we have something to confirm with you. We received a formal application on 23/07/2013. A company named "TianHui Import & Export Co. Ltd" was applying to register "conanhughes" as its Trademark and the following domain names:

  • conanhughes.asia
  • conanhughes.cn
  • conanhughes.com.cn
  • conanhughes.com.tw
  • conanhughes.hk
  • conanhughes.net.cn
  • conanhughes.org.cn
  • conanhughes.tw

After our initial checking, we found the names were similar to your company's, so we need to check with you whether "TianHui Import & Export Co. Ltd" has any relationship with you and whether the registration of the listed domains by "TianHui Import & Export Co. Ltd" would bring any impact on you. If no impact on you, we will go on with the registration at once. If you have no relationship with that company and the registration would bring some impact on you, please inform us within 10 workdays.Out of the time prescribed we will unconditionally finish the registration for "TianHui Import & Export Co. Ltd"

Please contact us in time in order that we can handle this issue better.

Best Regards,

James Tan
Auditing Department.
Registration Department Manager

4/F,No.9 XingHui West Street,
JinNiu ChenDu, China
Office: +86 2887662861
Fax: +86 2887783286
Web: cn-network.com

Please consider the environment before you print this e-mail.

After a few research, I found out that these scams work by compelling you to register domain names closely related to your existing ones. They also sell these available domains for hefty prices. Charging such unreasonable amounts of money is not exactly ridiculous to them, since some people can be fooled and scared into thinking that, by ignoring the domain registration offer, they will lose potential customers from their website, get caught in more trademark disputes in the future, and undergo other kinds of negative experiences.

If ever you receive an email similar to the one above, just delete it right away. You are not supposed to be getting messages from a third party. Only your domain registrar and web host have the credibility to send messages regarding domain names, registrations, and renewals.