The Chinese Domain Scam That Won’t Go Away
There have been several reports this summer of a so-called "Chinese domain scam." As part of the scam, legitimate domain owners receive a questionable email, urging them to register their trademarked domains with Chinese extensions (like .cn) for a hefty premium – or risk losing the domain to another interested party.
There is actually nothing new about this scam. Reports of its existence go all the way back to 2007, but it appears that this pesky deception is now back on the rise.
While most experienced domainers are likely to spot the scam, it's just cunning enough to trick some less experienced and unsuspecting targets within an organization.
According to reports, the emails seem to target mid-level employees of various organizations, directing them to forward this "urgent" message to the CEO or to the IT teams who handle their domain management.
To further complicate the confusion, some companies say they initially believed the emails because they'd recently sent some of their employees to China for a business trip. It's unknown whether this is purely coincidence, or whether the scammers involved are somehow specifically targeting organizations that are travelling to China or just starting to do business there.
Either way, the scam is troubling, so it's worth taking a closer look.
What the Chinese domain scam looks like
Targets of the scam receive an email that generally looks like this:
"We are China’s internet domain services company and last week, we received an application from a Chinese company that has requested we register “[NAME OF U.S. COMPANY”] as their internet name and China (CN) domain name. But after checking into it, we learned that this name conflict with your company name or trademark. In order to deal with this matter better, it’s necessary to send email to you and confirm whether this company is your distributor or business partner in China? Please respond soonest."
Some emails also include an urgent, yet polite message, instructing the recipient to "Please forward this to your CEO, because this is urgent. Thanks."
Often, this is followed by a second email, from someone purporting to be a representative of the actual company, warning that they are prepared to follow through with their domain purchase.
Further emails arrive, presenting a "last chance" offer to protect the business / trademarked domains by registering them immediately for a premium price. The Yucatan Times reported that some companies who fell for this scam paid out more than $2,000 for the registration and so-called "brand protection" service being offered. Ouch.
If you receive any emails that resemble the above message, the single best action you can take is disregard and delete it. Please also share this warning with partners to make sure they're on the lookout as well.
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