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The Asian domain-name extortion scam

I got this email last week:

Subject: About Internet Intellectual Property Issue

Dear CEO,

We are a leading internet solutions organization in Asia, and we have something urgent to confirm with you. Yesterday we received a formal application from a company called ” Varmer Investment Co., Ltd “. They were trying to apply for ” instapaper ” as Brand Name and following Domain Names through our organization:

After our initial examination, we found that the Brand Name and Domain Names above are similar to yours. These days we have been dealing with it. Now we hope to get your affirmation. If your company did not authorize the aforesaid company to register these, please contact us as soon as possible.

In addition, we hereby declare that time limit for this issue is 7 workdays. If your company don’t respond within the time limit, we will unconditionally approve the application submitted by Varmer Investment Co., Ltd.

Best Regards,

Beck Chan
Senior Examinant

I replied, saying that I did not authorize this, and thanking Beck Chan for alerting me to this. (I believed it.) I thought that would be the end of it.

It wasn’t.

Thanks for your reply. Since your company did not authorize ” Varmer Investment Co., Ltd ” to do this, we would suspect this company intend to preempt the domain names in advance and use the domains in China/Asian market. Or perhaps they want to preempt these domains and resell them to you at rather high price in future.

As is known to us, the domain names registration is open to the public in the world, with the principle is “first come, first served”. Anyone has the right to apply for any available domain name. For the reasons above, we do not have the right to reject their legitimate application. Now the only thing we can do is to give you the preferential rights to register these domains yourselves, because your company has a similar domain name ” “.

If your company considers those Domain names important to your company and necessary to be protected, please inform us in time. Then we will send you a formal application form to fill in for registry. We’re looking forward to your reply.

Ah, there’s the catch. I was starting to get suspicious — this sounds a lot less like the courtesy that I thought it was, and a lot more like extortion.

I asked, “Roughly how much money are we talking about?”

You should know the open registration policy of domain names, anyone has the right to register any available domain, so you register and purchase the names yourselves is best way and only way to protect your intellectual property.

Following is the procedure for registration, you can do follow these.

1. Fill in the application form and return it to us.
2. On receiving the form from you, we will secure all domains for your company and send the Invoice to you.
3. Transfer the payment to us by T/T and send us the payment proof.
4. We register all domain names for your company and link them to your website within two workdays after getting the payment.
5. You will be awarded the certificates by one branch of Chinese Government in 10 workdays.

Here goes the price list:

Price List
Domain nameCost (USD/ Per Year)
Brand Name: 

Please fill in the application form attached and return to us soon so that we could put these domain names under protection.

Further questions, please E-mail or call me directly.

Wow. $795 per year for all of this crap? Do I really need and .cn? There’s really a “.asia” TLD? And what, exactly, does a “Brand Name” get me?

I asked about that one.

Brand name is an internet brand and works as the protection to Trade Mark on internet.

People can visit your webiste through, or visit your website through interent brand ” instapaper ” directly if the internet brand had been registered, but trademark is not.

Uh… OK. I know the internet is a bit different in China, but this is a bit of a stretch.

So I did some searching to see if any other U.S. companies had gone through this process and written about it, to see how they handled it.

And I found this blog post with a nearly identical email from two years ago, plus a ton of comments from other people submitting their nearly identical copies.

It’s a scam.

I almost fell for it and bought a few of the domains, but I’m glad I didn’t. Hopefully other people will search Google and find one of these posts before they go through with it.