Sunday, March 22, 2009

Victoria Strauss -- Possible Scam Alert: Asian Cybersquatting

In February, I was contacted by a writer who got the following email, which I reproduce exactly as it was received, redacting only names and email addresses:

From: treey [email address redacted]
Sent: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 2:22 AM
To: [email address redacted]
Subject: Notice of Intellectual Property Protection

Dear Sir or Madam:

We are a domain name registration service company in China. Yesterday we received a formal application submited by Mr. Steven who wanted to use the keyword "[name redacted]" to register the Internet Brand and with suffix such as .cn /.com.cn /.net.cn/.hk/ .asia/ domain names.

After our initial examination, we found that these domain names to be applied for registration are same as your domain name and trademark. We don’t know whether you have any relation with Mr.Steven. Because these domain names would produce possible dispute, now we have hold down the registration of Mr.Steven, but if we do not get your company’s any reply in the next 5 working days, we will approve this application soon. In order to handle this issue better, Please contact us by fax or email as soon as possible.

treey
Attorney at law of Legal Department
Tel: 86 0513 8011 8536
Fax: 86 0513 8011 8539
Web: www.ntwifinetwork.com


The writer, who had long ago registered her own .com domain name, wanted to know if this was legit. I wasn't sure what to make of it, but it definitely seemed suspicious, not least because of the bad English and the many errors. I told her I suspected it was a scam, and suggested that she not respond.

Now, from the very informative Shelf Awareness newsletter, comes an item that seems to confirm my hunch. Rainy Day Books, a bookstore located in Kansas, recently received a similar email from an outfit calling itself Shanghai Chooke Network Information Technology Co., Ltd. When the bookstore co-owner, Geoffrey Jennings, responded that his company would litigate any infringement of its trademark, Shanghai Chooke "threatened that if the owners of Rainy Day Books ever wanted to do business in Asia, they should consider acting to protect their company and would be given 'priority to register these domain names.'"

Jennings believes that this is an attempt by cybersquatters to extract money from existing website owners. He says,

"It would appear that this company wants to generate revenue by registering and 'protecting' domains for U.S. businesses. This may or may not be legitimate, but their tactics suggest extreme caution in communicating with them. In all likelihood, any payment to them would be the tip of a nightmare. If anyone wants to register foreign variations on their web address, there are far more legitimate companies to do business with. My suggestion is to ignore any such inquiry entirely."

As the inquiry I received in February shows, businesses are not the only target of this scheme. Writers, beware.

4 comments:

nightsmusic said...

I see on GoDaddy, which is my domain name host, that in order to register any domain in Asia, you must have at least one office in the country you want to register in, or you must have one representative who lives in the company you want to register in.

If that's the case, then of course these are scams. And I found that in GoDaddy's FAQ's section.

Mad Scientist Matt said...

Got one of those at work too. We figured it was probably a scam, but decided to register a .cn version of our domain name - through our usual registrar, not the one who'd emailed us.

nanday said...

It's definitely a scam. Several web sites that I write for have been receiving similar letters periodically for over a year.

Victoria Strauss said...

Got this comment via email from a legal person:

A number of our clients have received emails like the one you quote. Most of them are alarmist in tone: some offer to secure domain names in Asia, and some of them quote substantial amounts of money for this service.

There are a number of legitimate registrars that will help people secure Asian (or other) domain registrations, and at comparatively minimum cost -- although there's some question about whether these registrations are even worth it, given that people are unlikely to do a web search for, e.g., FeloniousHack.hk. We usually advise people to round-file any such notices.