We web professionals, dear readers, are not immune from being targeted by the same web business scams that plague our clients. Just this morning I received a letter from the most notorious domain renewal scam in regard to a client’s domains.
Conventional wisdom holds that people tend to fall for these scams because they don’t understand how domains work. Inevitably, when you dig deeper, you find that this misunderstanding is a voluntary choice. The domain owner – who is, after all, a busines owner who should know better - has chosen to dismiss all things web as that techy stuff they don’t want to bother with. So when the first official-looking letter comes through the post, they fall for the scam.
Last year, though, I got an interesting call from a woman looking for help in getting her small business web site back online. Through the discussion it transpired that she had received one of these letters, fallen for the scam, and sent in the form. This was, of course, not renewing her domain but paying another company to hijack it. She had done this years ago, had not given her web presence a second thought since, and had only just noticed that her web site had been offline for several months.
(This woman won’t be going on Dragon’s Den anytime soon.)
I asked her what aspect of the letter had made her fall for the scam. It turns out it wasn’t the technical language, fear of the web, or wanting someone else to take care of it for her.
It was the fact that it was sent from America, was on American-sized paper, and had an American flag on the envelope.
She honestly thought that this meant that the letter was an official and legitimate communication.
Apparently quite a number of people think so both within and outside the US. On the back of the form, on the very first line, in bolded, all-cap, and six-point letters (yes – six point) it says: “(Group) IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH OR ENDORSED BY THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES.” But not only is that fine print – it also destroys the fantasy. As an American in the UK I am painfully aware that some people have a near-delusional worship of all things American. They really don’t want to deal with any painful facts that might puncture their dream. Is that an excuse for jeopardising a business’s continuity because the logo on the scam letter looked like an American flag? You know the answer to that as well as I do.
And if those are the problems they are expecting you to fix, what other new dramas will they throw at your feet once they’re on your books?
The most astute business owner can fall for a well-presented scam. As a web professional, there is every chance you can work with them to get past it. But if your prospective client fell for the scam because they simply chose not to see it, your professional energies are best directed elsewhere.