Businesses beware! Don't fall for this domain name scam
"Hello, I'm calling from the Trademark Office. The reason for my call is that we've had an application to register the .com variant of your domain name. We wanted to check whether the application came from you or someone else. It wasn't you? Well, fortunately, you have first claim on the name. So, if you don't want anyone else to have it, we can register it for you."
First claim on a domain name?!
In recent years, lots of businesses have had conversations that began like that. The caller gives the impression that someone else is trying to register the .com, .info or other variant of your .nl domain name. They go on to say that, as the registrant of the .nl domain name, you can stop that happening: you have first claim on the name, so Trademark Office can register it for you. It'll 'only' cost about 30 euros a year. But you do need to pay up front for a ten or fifteen-year registration.
By playing on the understandable fear that someone else will pinch 'your' name, Trademark Office tries to pressurise you into agreeing a contract. Unfortunately, it's a tactic that often works. That's not surprising, really, because the callers can be very persuasive. We were therefore pleased to cooperate with last Saturday's edition of Kassa, so as to increase awareness of this type of scam.
Debunking the sales spiel
Let's take a look at the reality of the situation. Trademark Office tells targeted businesses that they have 'first claim' on a domain name. The fact is, there's no such thing! Anyone can register any currently available domain name, any time they like. So Trademark Office can't reserve a domain name for you, as they often suggest. And registering a .nl domain name typically costs between 5 and 15 euros a year, depending on which registrar you use. Although there are sometimes legitimate reasons for charging more, 30 euros a year is well above the going rate for most domain names. What's more, Trademark Office has been billing clients for a further 60 euros a year to renew their domain names. And there's no justification for that either!
How to avoid getting scammed
So, instead of paying 15 euros or less per year, Trademark Office's clients are paying 90. Money that could be usefully spent on other things. So here's my advice for not getting scammed:
When you start a business, think carefully about what domain names you need. If you're planning to trade internationally, it's probably a good idea to register both the .nl version of your domain name and the .com equivalent.
If you get a 'cold call', don't be rushed into agreeing a sale. Never agree anything without reading the terms and conditions.
If you do like the idea of having another version of your domain name, contact your usual registrar (that's probably your hosting firm or website designer). Through them, you'll be able to register the domain name for a fair price in a matter of moments.
Finally, remember the golden rule: if in doubt, do nothing!