What if someone approaches you offering a domain?

Intro
As a domain owner you will sooner or later get an unsolicited email like the following one I received March 28th:

Hello,
 
We are promoting the sale of the domain name johnstechtalk.com that is being returned back to the open market very soon.
You own a very similar domain and we wanted to give you a first chance to secure johnstechtalk.com. If this offer is of any 
interest to you, the link below will lead you to our website where you can leave an early offer:
 
http://baselane.net/acquire/c00bsn1ub/J8jIGPiguH
 
Alternatively you can simply reply to this e-mail with your offer and we will manually process your order.
 
Here are a few quick notes about the offer:
-You are leaving an offer for full ownership and control over the domain. 
-You do not have to use our hosting or any other service, you are bidding only for the domain.
-This is a single transaction, no hidden surprises. 
-We will not give away your personal information to anybody.
-You will not need a new website or hosting you can easily redirect your existing website to point to this one.
-Our technical team stands at your disposal for any transfer/redirect issue you may have.
 
Thank you for considering our domain name service!
Please feel free to call us any time we would be really happy to hear from you!
 
Kind regards,
Domain Team

The thing is, this is not complete spam. After all, it is kind of interesting to pick up a shorter domain.

But is this a legitimate business proposition? What can we do to check it? Read on…

The details
The first reaction is “forget it.” Then you think about it and think, hmm, it might be nice to have that domain, too. It’s shorter than my current one and yet very similar, thus potentially enhancing my “brand.”

To check it out without tipping your hat use Whois. I use Network Solutions Whois.

Doesn’t the offer above make it sound like they have control over the domain and are offering you a piece of it? Quite often that’s not at all the case. For them to control the domain to the point where they are selling it would require an upfront investment. So instead what they do in many cases I have encountered is to try to prey on your ignorance.

When I received their offer the Whois lookup showed the domain to be in status

RedemptionPeriod

Form what I have read the redemption period should last 75 days. Its a time when the original owner can reclaim the domain without any penalties. No one else can register it.

If they actually owned the domain and were trying to auction it off, it would have had the standard Lock Status of

clientTransferProhibited

or

clientDeleteProhibited

Furthermore, domains being auctioned usually have special nameservers like these:

Nameservers:
  ns2.sedoparking.com
  ns1.sedoparking.com

Sedo is a legitimate auction site for domains.

johnstechtalk.com, having entered the redemption period, will become up for grabs unless the owner reclaims it.

If I had expressed interest in it I’m sure they would have obtained it, just like I could for myself, at the end of the redemption period and then sold it to me at a highly inflated price.

Not wanting to encourage such unsavory behaviour I made no reply to the offer and checked the status almost every day.

New status – it’s looking good

Last week sometime it entered a new status:

pendingDelete

I think this status persists for three days or so (I forget). Then, when that period is over it shows up as available. I bought it using my GoDaddy account for $9.99 last night – actually $11.00 because there’s an ICANN fee of $0.18 and I rounded up for charity.

And this is not the only domain I have bought this way. I bought vmanswer.com because I was annoyed by the number of unsolicited offers to “buy” it! That purpose was achieved…

But I am watching another domain that was offered to me and really did go to the auction house Sedo, where it is currently sitting (which means no one else is all that interested). I am curious to see what happens when it expires later this year.

Save the labor
How could I have avoided the trouble of those daily whois lookups? Well, on my Linux server there is the ever-handy whois, as in

$ whois johnstechtalk.com

But sometimes it gives fairly complete information and for other domains not so much. It depends on the registrar. For GoDaddy domains you get next to no information:

[Querying whois.verisign-grs.com]
[Redirected to whois.godaddy.com]
[Querying whois.godaddy.com]
[whois.godaddy.com]

I suspect it is a measure GoDaddy takes to avoid programmatic use of WhoIs. Because if it answered with complete information it would be easy for a modest scripter like me to write a program that runs all kinds of queries, which of course would mostly be used by the scammers I suppose. In particular since I wasn’t seeing the domain Lock Status from command-line whois I didn’t bother to write an program to automate my daily query. Otherwise I probably would have.

What about cybersquatters?
In the case mentioned above there is no trademark at stake. Often there is. what should you do if you receive an offer to sell you a domain name which is based on one of your own trademarks? I get lots of those as well. My approach is, of course, to not be extorted. So at first I was ignoring such solicitations. If I want to really go after the domain, I will sic my legal team on them and invoke UDRP (ICANN’s Uniform Domain Dispute Resolution Policy). UDRP comes down heavily in favor of the trademark holder.

But lately I wanted to do something more. Since this is illicit activity at the end of the day, I look at where the email comes from. Often a Gmail account is used. I gather the headers of the message and file a formal complaint with Google’s Gmail abuse form, which I hope leads to their account being shut down. I want to at least inconvenience them without wasting too much of my own resources. Well, I don’t actually know that it works, but it makes me feel better in any case ๐Ÿ™‚ .

This is the Gmail abuse page. Yahoo and MSN also have similar forms.

Conclusion
Unsolicited, sound-similar domains is one of the many scams rampant on the Internet. But with the background I’ve provided hopefully you’ll be better at separating the scams from the genuine domain owners seeking to do business through auctions or private sales.

Interested in reading about other scams? Try Spam and Scams โ€“ What to Expect When You Start a Blog

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