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Uniregistry changes emails after “renewal scam” complaints

Kevin Murphy, February 2, 2018, Domain Registrars

Uniregistry has modified its marketing emails after customers complained they looked like fake renewal “scams”.

One customer contacted DI last week to say they were “horrified” to receive pitches for cheap SSL certificates that “read like some of the worst domain expiration scams of the past”.

The company recently started reselling Comodo’s SSL certs as part of its plan to broaden its customer base beyond its roots in the domain investor community.

But the way these certs were marketed left more than one customer with concerns. One email, which I’ve lightly redacted, read as follows:

Dear [CUSTOMER],

FINAL NOTICE – Your SSL certificate for your domain has expired. Take action and renew your certificate today through Uniregistry.

If your SSL certificate expires your website will display a warning informing customers the site is not secure.

We’ve teamed up with Comodo CA to offer our valued customers discounts up to 78% off when they renew their SSL certificate through us.

Visit https://www.comodo.com/uniregistry/ to take advantage of this offer and renew your certificate before it expires.

Domains at Risk :
[LIST OF DOMAINS]

Average validation time is less than an hour could take longer. Don’t let your certificate expire and put your business at risk. We are here to help, contact one of our SSL Specialist for more information or if you need additional support.

Thank you for choosing Uniregistry and Comodo CA

The reader said that while they have some domains with Uniregistry, their SSL certs had been bought elsewhere.

They added that the certs had not “expired” as the email claimed and said that they were not due to expire for months.

In addition, the email is quite clearly asking the customer to “renew” their cert via Uniregistry and Comodo, which should not be possible if the current cert was bought from a different Certificate Authority. It’s actually a solicitation to buy a new cert.

The scare-tactics wording is reminiscent of the old “slamming” scams carried out by Brandon Gray Internet Services, going under the moniker Domain Registry Of America and similar, until ICANN terminated its contract in 2014.

These “fake renewal” scams were delivered in the form of final-demand invoices, but were in fact solicitations to transfer domains, at a huge premium, from their current registrar to the scammer’s registrar.

A major difference between the DROA scam and Uniregistry’s marketing is that Uniregistry only contacted its existing customers. It was not spamming SSL owners at random.

Uniregistry told DI that the emails in question were part of an “A/B test” — when a company tests two emails to different sets of customers to see which one gets the best response rate — that were sent to “small number” of its customers.

Chief operating officer Kanchan Mhatre said in an email:

The initial content sent came from a previous campaign and it’s fair to say that it needed modifying to more accurately reflect what we were trying to convey. Based on the feedback received from you and other customers, we have modified the messaging and we are currently reviewing cert expiry date validation to ensure that we communicate with our customers in a timely manner.

Aussie registrar guilty of $6 million slamming campaign

Kevin Murphy, January 4, 2018, Domain Registrars

Domain seller Domain Register Pty Ltd has reportedly been found guilty of scamming thousands of Australians out of a total of $6 million with bogus domain renewal notices.

The Herald Sun reports today that a Federal court ruled that the company’s sales tactics were “misleading or deceptive, or likely to mislead or deceive in breach of state and federal laws”.

The company, at one time a TPP Wholesale reseller but apparently never ICANN-accredited itself, was notorious for being a leading Aussie practitioner of the old “domain slamming” scam popularized by the Brandon Gray gang through fronts such as Domain Registry of America.

It sent paper invoices that appeared to the casual reader to be renewal notices for .com.au names, but were in fact solicitations to buy matching .com names for an outrageous $249 ($195) per year.

So convincing were the notices that the hit rate was one out of every 14 organizations targeted, the Herald Sun reported. Over 21,000 suckers in total.

According to the newspaper, the court was told that Domain Register made AUD 7.7 million ($6 million) from 31,000 registrations and renewals from January 1, 2011, to May 30, 2014.

The lawsuit was filed by Australian state government watchdog Consumer Affairs Victoria a year ago, but the domain industry was warning punters about the scam as far back as 2011.

Domain Register’s punishment has yet to be determined, but the agency had been seeking refunds for victims along with punitive penalties.

Domain “slammer” making millions in Oz

Kevin Murphy, January 13, 2017, Domain Registrars

A company accused of the domain slamming scam made over $5 million over three years tricking companies into buying domains they didn’t need, it has been alleged.

Consumer Affairs Victoria, an Australian state government watchdog, has reportedly taken Domain Register Pty Ltd to court, claiming tens of thousands of people had been conned by fake invoices.

The company sent letters that appeared to be renewal notices for .com.au names, but were actually solicitations to buy the matching .com for AUD 249 ($186) a year, an Adelaide court reportedly heard.

Domain Register, which appears to be (or was) a reseller of TPP Wholesale, made AUD 7.7 million ($5.5 million) from 31,000 suckers between 2011 and 2014, according to local reports.

auDA, the .au domain registry, warned about the company as far back as 2011.

An example of a bogus invoice attributed to Domain Register can be found here.

It’s not clear whether the defendant in the case is linked to the Brandon Gray slamming outfit, which has also gone by names including Domain Registry of America, Domain Registry of Europe, Domain Registry of Canada and Domain Renewal Group.

Brandon Gray lost its ICANN accreditation in 2014.

Domain “slammer” finally gets suspended by ICANN

The beneficiary of the long-running Domain Registry of America scam is finally at risk of losing its ICANN accreditation.

ICANN has suspended Brandon Gray Internet Services, which does business as NameJuice.com, due to the “deceptive” marketing practices carried out by its “resellers”.

The company won’t be able to register any gTLD names or receive transfers for 90 days.

If NameJuice hasn’t sorted out its act by October 17, it faces the risk of losing its accreditation permanently.

The company, you will recall, is the primary beneficiary of the “slamming” scam, which tricks customers of other registrars into transferring their names with confusing, invoice-style junk mail.

Slammers have been operating under various names including Domain Registry of America, Domain Registry of Europe and Domain Registry of Canada for close to 15 years.

I received one in 2011 from the “Domain Renewal Group”, which I blogged about here.

It was sued by Register.com in 2002 over the practice, was forced into a settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission in 2003, and has been involved in tangles with regulators all over the world for the last decade.

But it seems ICANN’s hands were tied until Brandon Gray signed the new 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement, which gives ICANN’s compliance department more power over resellers.

ICANN said:

Since at least 2009, ICANN has received numerous complaints from Registered Name Holders, registrars, and various ICANN Supporting Organizations and Advisory Committees regarding the business solicitation practices of Brandon Gray’s resellers. Such practices were not specifically prohibited under the 2001 and 2009 RAAs. Section 3.12 of the 2013 RAA, however, requires registrars to ensure its reseller’s actions comply with the RAA, as well as the Registrants’ Benefits and Responsibilities Specification, which protects Registered Name Holders from false or deceptive practices.

ICANN fingered “reseller” Registration Services Inc as the party behind DROA and the other slamming scams.

In order to cure the latest breach, NameJuice has until August 8 to provide a tonne of information about Registration Services, including its certificate of incorporation, samples of its mailshots, and details of how a sample of specific domains came to be transferred.

In order to avoid losing its accreditation by October 10, the company will also have to promise to force its reseller to stop its deceptive marketing and provide ICANN with samples of future mailings.

NameJuice has 13 tasks in total to comply with to avoid termination proceedings; it’s looking promising that ICANN will finally shut down this blight on the industry just a few months from now.

The irony is, of course, if NameJuice loses its accreditation, all of the names that were obtained under false pretenses will not revert naturally to their original registrar. Instead, if ICANN follows its standard practice, they’ll be transferred in bulk to a third registrar.

You can read the breach notice here and the suspension notice here.

Domain Registry of America still slamming, still scamming

Kevin Murphy, October 6, 2011, Domain Registrars

Domain name slamming is alive and well in the ICANN-accredited registrar community.

I’ve just received a letter in the mail offering me the chance to transfer and renew domainincite.com for the knock-down price of £25 ($38) a year.

It’s Domain Registry of America again, still slamming almost a decade after it was first sued for the completely unethical practice of conning people into transferring their domain names.

Domain Renewal GroupThe letter looks like a renewal notice. Besides ostensibly coming from “Domain Renewal Group”, it also contains the prominent text “Domain Name Renewal Service”.

Domain Renewal Group and Domain Registry of America are one and the same – fronts for the ICANN-accredited registrar Brandon Gray Internet Services Inc, dba NameJuice.com.

The letter, as you can see from the scan, is a little less bogus than the ones DROA started sending out back in 2001. The text states now much more clearly that “this is not a bill”.

But domain slamming has always relied upon people not reading the letter properly and/or not understanding the intricacies of domain transfers, and this is no different.

DROA’s business depends upon its letters finding their way into the hands of gullible individual registrants or accounting departments that will blindly pay official-looking notices.

At the prices the company charges – pretty much the most expensive in the industry – very few people will have transferred their domains because they thought they were getting a good deal.

There have been numerous complaints and lawsuits against DROA over the last decade.

In November 2009, the UK Advertising Standards Agency found DROA in breach of truthfulness and honesty guidelines for a substantially similar mailshot and ruled:

The mailing must not appear again in its current form.

And last year, the .ca registry CIRA terminated Domain Registry of Canada, another Brandon Gray front, for slamming .ca registrants using the same methods.

So isn’t it about time ICANN shut these muppets down too?

Unfortunately, ICANN can only use contracts to enforce compliance, and I’m not sure there are any sticks in the 2001 Registrar Accreditation Agreement that it can use to beat them.

DROA has plainly breached Go Daddy’s Whois access policy by slamming me (the letter was sent to my Whois billing address, not my actual residence), but I don’t think there’s much Go Daddy can do about that short of suing.

As far as I can tell, Brandon Gray, which has about 130,000 domains under management, got its ICANN accreditation in about 2003. It was previously an eNom reseller.

So its accreditation is probably going to be up for renewal within the next couple of years.

Fortunately, ICANN has just this week introduced stricter new accreditation application rules that are specifically designed to weed out the scumbags.

Any company or individual with a track record of dishonesty is no longer welcome at ICANN.

So if there’s nothing that can be done before then, at the very least when Brandon Gray’s accreditation expires ICANN should not renew it.

What’s more, other registrars should lean on ICANN to make sure Brandon Gray is shown the door. It’s been bringing their industry into disrepute for the best part of a decade and it’s time for it to stop.

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