Watch out for unscrupulous firms trying to sell you domain names at inflated prices

Yesterday's edition of AD included a piece by freelance journalist André Oerlemans. One Friday afternoon, he took a call from Trademark Office, asking whether he minded someone else registering a domain name just like his, but with the .com extension. Numerous businesses and self-employed people get similar unsettling calls every day. And end up paying unscrupulous firms extortionate prices for 'rival' domain names.

What happened?

Oerlemans thought it was odd that Trademark Office should contact him with such a question. Then it occurred to him that scammers were probably trying to make money out of his domain name. Anxious to stop crooks misleading his clients and damaging his reputation, Oerlemans agreed with the caller's suggestion that he should immediately register the .com version of his domain name for ten years. For the small matter of €360. Next day, he discovered through his normal hosting firm that he'd been tricked, but not in the way he had initially feared.

Getting money back is hard

So far, Oerlemans has been unable to get out of the unwanted deal. Unscrupulous firms often record sales conversations as evidence of a verbal contract, which they then refuse to cancel. Trademark Office isn't the only firm to use the tactics described. A few moments googling will highlight dozens more. And, in practice, it's difficult to demonstrate that they have broken any rules. In most cases, they don't actually say that someone else is trying to register 'your' domain name. They merely create a false sense of urgency, leading you to make ill-considered decisions. Sales are secured using methods that are underhand, but don't obviously break the law.

How to avoid getting scammed

Our advice is don't be rushed into agreeing a sale. Remember that in most cases you can quickly and easily register a domain name for a reasonable price by visiting the website of a reputable registrar. So you probably don't need an unknown firm that makes an unsolicited sales call. "We advise anyone who is setting up a business on line to think carefully about their domain name portfolio right at the start," says Michiel Henneke, SIDN's Marketing Manager. "It's usually a good idea to register both the .nl version of the name you want, and the .com version. That prevents problems later."

Have you been misled? Report it to Fraudehelpdesk

Anyone who is approached by a firm using unscrupulous sales techniques is advised to contact Fraudehelpdesk.nl. If you believe you've been misled, Fraudehelpdesk recommends making a formal complaint by registered post or registered e-mail. Your complaint should clearly state that you object to the way the transaction was handled. It's particularly important to explain your reasons for objecting. Fraudehelpdesk provides a step-by-step guide to making a formal complaint.

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