Search Engine Registration Scam
We are all being overwhelmed by spam and attempts to defraud us. Many of the spam and fraud attempts are quite easy to spot but some are well designed and can deceive you.
We, as well as at least one of our clients, recently received such convincing attempts. The message attempts to make you think that your registration with search engines is about to expire and needs to be renewed – naturally at a fee. If you do not read the message carefully, you could think that it is your domain registration that is about to expire and requires renewal.
Remember the following:
- One does not “register” with good search engines such as Google and Bing. You can inform them of the address of your new website so that they know about it sooner but (1) this does not have to be renewed and (2) it is free.
- If we handle your domain registration, it will automatically be renewed every year, unless you let us know that you want to terminate the registration. You should therefore not receive notices from us (or the domain registrars we use) about the need to renew your domain registration.
- For non-.co.za domains – such as .com domains – you might receive a notice from the domain registrar to confirm registration details. They need to confirm ownership and contact details on a regular basis (usually annually) and you usually do not have to do anything if the details are still correct.
We have taken a few examples of these attempts at fraudulently getting money from us or our clients, annotated them (after hiding identifying content) and looked at common components of these messages. The common components of these messages have been marked A to F, where the mark refers to the underlined portion closest to it.
The common elements we have identified are:
|A||Underlined in red||Lies and Deception|
|B||Yellow Circle||Legal Defence?|
|C||Underlined in red||Instil Fear|
|D||Underlined in green||Possible Truth/ Legal Defence?|
|E||Underlined in orange||Urgency|
|F||Underlined in orange||Offer Expires/Legal Defence?|
Example of A: Lies and Deception
These are attempts to give the impression that you are about to lose your registration with search engines. As already mentioned above, one does not pay for search engine registration, the “registration” really is just about announcing your website to the search engine and it does not expire.
Example of B: Legal Defence?
For some reason, some of the attempts include some aspect in their description so that it does not actually say that it is the search engine registration that is expiring but “SEO” or “optimization” service that will expire. We are not experts on law but suspect that this is a technicality to protect themselves against charges of fraud. They could say that they did not sell “search engine registration renewals”. However, they are still selling something that they are not actually delivering. You have not bought SEO or “optimization” services from them and to really deliver these types of services requires much more than paying some unknown entity an amount of money every year.
Example of C: Instil Fear
They try to instil fear in the reader. They want you to think that nobody will be able to find your website. This also adds to the sense of urgency – see Example of E: Urgency.
Example of D: Possible Truth/Legal Defence?
Some of the attempts tell you that they do not register domain names. This is probably true, but irrelevant to what they are actually trying to imply. It is possibly an attempt to appear trustworthy.
They then state that they sell traffic generating software and/or search engine optimization (SEO) services.
Selling SEO and/or “traffic generating software” may be legitimate endeavours but require communication between the seller/service provider and the client about many aspects of the service. You would/should know if you have entered in such a legitimate agreement since it would have required effort from you as well.
Again, we suspect that this is included as some sort of defence against accusations of fraud. They could respond: “How could you think that we are fraudulently selling you search engine registration renewal services. We clearly stated that we sell SEO/optimization services.”
Example of E: Urgency
They try to create a sense of urgency. You have to do this now.
Example of F: Offer Expiring/Legal Defence?
Another possible attempt to build in a defence against fraud accusations by stating that the “offer” expires, not your “registration”.
Example of A to F
This example contains all the elements in a relatively simple e-mail.
Example without B and D
In this example elements B and D are missing. They just refer to search engine registration and no “cover” by including SEO or something similar while they also do not use the “we are actually selling software” “truth” or possible legal defence.
Example without E and F
In this example, elements E and F are missing. Although there is reference to expiration date, the urgency is not emphasised. The “offer” defence is also less obvious.
The examples we found all are for non-co.za domain. All of them are for .com or .net domains. This might indicate that these fraudsters are targeting these domains, possibly because of the size of this target population (the number of .com domains). It does not mean that .co.za domains are not targeted or will not be targeted in future.
- They try to create fear, confusion, and uncertainty and add urgency so that you feel that you have to pay them now or suffer the consequences.
- If you receive an e-mail with an offer you do not understand or you are unsure of what it really means, be very careful. It does not mean that you are stupid. It probably means that somebody is trying to confuse you. Be safe rather than sorry. Ask somebody to review it for you.