Domain scams, digital participation, and plain English

The other day I was chatting to Nick Moreton about a domain name scam someone tried to pull on his Mum. I mentioned the Domain Registry of America to him as a point of comparison. I hadn’t heard from them for a long time, but funnily enough Domain Registry of America tried to scam me the very next day (see below for a copy of the email). The scam is pretty simple: they asked me to “unlock” my domain so that they could move it to their control. The email reads like a legitimate request, but is unsolicited and unwanted. And it could be pricey if you fell for it. 

The scam relies upon looking official and getting through to someone who doesn’t really get what the email means. I can imagine this getting a click through by a well meaning admin support, a non tech savvy business owner, or just someone who is baffled by the jargon. It relies therefore on two key problems in the way we deal with domain names:

  1. The wrong people often look after domains. Often domains are registered, in a well meaning way, to the name of whoever has the credit card or does the donkey work for someone else. People need to think more carefully about who goes on their registration documents. This all gets even more problematic when a third party (or sometimes a supply chain with even more steps in it) is involved. If you don’t know who “owns” and who “controls” your domains, look into it.
  2. Domain companies need to speak plain English. Ever got an email form a domain or hosting company? Could you understand it? No? So what do you do? Scan to the call to action; perform the action; move on unawares of what you have done and why. Every time a CRM system spits out an email to a customer, it’s an opportunity to explain what’s happening clearly, yet most of the time, that opportunity is lost.

I think a small investment in writing emails for people, not machines, could help side step a lot of trouble for everyone and help develop confidence amongst domain name owners. By sending jargon heavy emails that lack any sense of context, companies contribute to a flood of undecipherable techno-babble; they add to an accumulation of bad experiences and confusion that further befuddles the lay person, and positions them to feel negative, confused, or scared about technology. There’s a lot of talk in the UK about digital participation and digital mentoring. The onus always seems to be put upon community groups to outreach to communities or the development of new projects that speak specifically to the “digital divide”. Those projects and community groups need some backing from the businesses behind the digital world to deliver on their goal of making the it accessible and safe. A few small steps – like re-writing generic, automated emails – could help to undo some of the problems they’ve created.

Here’s what the email looked like:

Hello BIRMINGHAM CITY UNIVERSITY,

The transfer and renewal of your domain name, XXXXXXXXX is not yet complete at this time.

Reason:
——-
1) The Domain name is currently in a “REGISTRAR-LOCK” status with your current registrar XXXXXXXX.
2) We require that you provide us with an EPP Key/Authorization Code from your current registrar 

In order to complete the transfer and renewal, the “REGISTRAR-LOCK” status needs to be removed and an EPP Key/Authorization code needs to be obtained. Please see below for instructions on achieving this.

Solution:
———
– Log into your account with your current registrar, and change the status of your domain,XXXXXXXXXXX, from “locked” to “active”.

– Then look for the EPP Key or Authorization Code.

Alternate Solution:
———
– Call your current registrar, XXXXXXXXX. (see phone number below) and ask them to remove the lock status of your domain name, give you your EPP Key, and allow the transfer to Domain Registry of America.

– Once done please notify us that you have done so, by clicking on the link below, or calling our toll-free number below.
https://namejuice.com/agree.asp?e=xxxxxxxxxx

We will then re-attempt the transfer and renewal of your domain name.


As a convenience, we have supplied your current registrars phone number below.

Domain: XXXXXXXXXX
Current Registrar: XXXXXXXXXXXXX
Registrar Phone Number: Please visit their site to contact them

Transfer Department
Domain Registry of America
Toll free 1-866-434-0212 or for International Callers, dial +1(905)479-2533

4/29/2010 4:03:36 AM

PS I am aware that I’ve used some jargon in this post myself. I assume, dear reader, that you are OK with words like “domain name” and “transfer” and “unlock”, simply because most people who know me are OK with this. I hope I’m not contributing to the problem myself…

Published by

Jon Hickman

Hi, I'm Jon. I teach and research digital culture, social media and new media practice at Birmingham City University. Find out more about me with this lovely CV: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/jonhickman Find out about my work at the Birmingham Centre for Media & Cultural Research: http://interactivecultures.org

  • Stuart Parker

    Domain brokering services perhaps? until the domain Co’s do something like you suggest. The options that WordPress & Google provide, where you simply buy a domain for a year seem the closest thing right now. I’m not so sure that domains for all is the way things are headed.We also need a good explanation of URL shortening. They may work but how do we explain them to the people we’re trying to include / participate with? why are their so many different services? Why is one service better than another? It’s a subject we cover in our ‘Understanding Social Media’ course and another example of how difficult it is becoming to ‘formally’ learn / teach the ‘Net.