Domain name appraisal scamSaturday, April 14, 2007
I was entertained this week by a domain name appraisal scammer. The weekend before I opened up a sedo.co.uk account to manage my domain name parking pages. Since Sedo manage the adverts on the parking page, its an easy way for setting up a passive income stream on domains that are currently without websites. Over the course of eight years I've built up a healthy collection of domain names, most of them are ideas I've yet to develop. I think only one of them I bought purely for speculation.
Within days of setting up the sedo account and mapping all my currently undeveloped domains to their DNS, I get my first offer.
The first email
Date: Wed, 11 Apr 2007 10:59:01 From: DMS Software <email@example.com> Subject: notetabs.com (sent 04/11/07)
What is the price in US dollars or euros you can accept for your domain name?
Our company develops software in Visual C++ and Delphi. We work as contractors.
If you offer more domains for sale with good reselling potential please email us your list.
Looking forward to do business with you.
Anthony Norton, Ph. D.
I was a little surprised that he asked for the price in US dollars or euros. I'd stuck a price on the domain in pounds sterling. Nevertheless, I went back with a price of $5000 - just an arbitrary figure, since I wasn't intending on selling the domain, but if there was a serious offer, then I'd consider it.
The second email
The next day, I get a response
Date: Thu, 12 Apr 2007 00:15:08 +0400 From: Norton <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Re: notetabs.com (sent 04/11/07)
5,000 USD. Ok.
Do you sell the name only without web site? I'm interested in the name so web site is not so important.
Do you have an appraisal certificate for your domain name?
Domain name is an investment for me. In other words I'm going to sell your name later and make a profit. If I overpay I won't be able to make a profit in the future. It's very important for you and me to know the current market value of your domain.
Of course, we must be sure that you are engaging a reputable appraisal company. I heard many appraisal companies often made inaccurate appraisals. I will only accept appraisals from independent sources I trust. To avoid mistakes I asked domain experts about reputable appraisal companies in a forum http://domaintalk.ourplace.com/Archive/296814.htm
Just check this posting.
If the appraisal comes higher you can adjust your asking price accordingly. I also hope you can give me 10% - 15% discount of the appraised value.
After I get an appraisal from you we'll continue our negotiations.
How do you prefer to get paid: www.escrow.com, www.PayPal.com check or wire?
Hope we can come to an agreement fast.
Looking forward to your reply.
The first paragraph is quite obscure - is he accepting the offer, or is it a surprised disbelieving elongated okay?
The second paragraph, enquiring whether I'm selling the name without the website is very enlightening. There's only a Sedo branded parking page there - and that's the only way he would have been able to get into contact with me. Nevertheless, he's asking me whether there's a website attached, when there clearly isn't.
Then comes the patter of domain name appraisals - something I'd briefly looked at a few days earlier (out of curiosity). Organisations charge about $20 for a domain name appraisals, which supposedly comes back with a report which outlines the value of the domain name based on factors like keywords, competition, misspellings, hyphens, cross-market factors.
That sounds all fine, but I really don't care about the perceived value of my domain name. That's not what matters anyway. What matters is the value the buyer and seller agree to exchange the domain name. If the seller wants a market price, the onus is on him to determine what is the expected market price. Not my problem.
He compounds the error by going into a lengthy description of his business, about making money by buying cheap domains and reselling them for a profit. Making it particularly clear that he has to get my domain name at what the market considers to be a discount price so that he can resell and make his 10% - 15% profit. I found this extremely odd, and yet another silent alarm bell went off, since its certainly not my problem to ensure his business is viable.
And then the link to the discussion forum he'd recently posted. I ignored this link before replying, but this is an important part of exposing the scam.
I pushed back saying that since he knew what the domain name was, he was in a position to get an appraisal by himself, and didn't require me to get one:
If you feel a domain name appraisal is warranted, then that's an avenue you can progress yourself. You know the domain name is notetabs.com - as far as I understand, that's the only piece of information needed for a domain name appraisal.
Not surprisingly, I've not received a reply back from Anthony Norton, Ph. D., CEO, DMS Software .
So curiosity got the better of me, and I had a look at the discussion forum link, and noticed a number of odd points:
- The responders were people negotiating domain name sales to the very same person
- One even confirms receipt of $4100 for the purchase of domain names
- There's no date stamp on any of the posts - that's strange for a discussion forum
- There's no links to other pages within the same forum - that's exceptionally strange
- There's no links to member profile pages - what kind of discussion forum is this?
- There's no register, signup or reply offered.
- Hacking the URL shows that this is largely an orphaned page.
- The front page of the domain shows a "forum closed" message, again with no dates.
- Trying to retrieve the index page of the Archive directory responds with a redirect to insider.com - a parked domain page.
Very, very strange.
Uncovering the scam
The Google search for Domain appraisals scam returns a known scam using the identical approach as described above. For instance DomainNameWire, back in June 2005, describe the Anatomy of a domain name appraisal scam, as can be seen, the emails described are identical to the ones I've received. What's the clincher for me is the supposed discussion forum link (or how about this one, or yet another one, or this one again?), where "Don Williams", "Platzer" and "NameSeller" offer the exact same platitudes and compliments to each other, while pimping a different domain name appraisal service.
This is nothing more than a twist on the Nigerian 419 scam, or the advanced fee fraud. By trying to convince you they are ready and prepared to pay thousands of dollars for your domain name, what's the harm in you investing forty dollars or so on a domain name appraisal first? It plays on the greed of the recipient, in that I'm willing to splash out an appraisal fee in the "guarantee" that I'll receive the actual purchase price on my domain.
- Internet Storm Center: Domain appraisal scam targets domain name owners
- Domain Name Wire: Anatomy of a domain name appraisal scam
- Domain Appraisal Scam
- Squidoo: Domain name appraisal - scam!
- Freelance database: Domain Appraisal Scam Email - an exact replica, except Andrew Norton is now Robert Norton.