Nominet warns of .co.uk 'invoicing scam'

If you have received what appears to be an invoice for a .co.uk domain name from an organisation called Domain Registry Services, watch out. It could be a scam, warns Nominet

Nominet, the organisation that runs the .co.uk top-level domain, has issued a warning about a company called Domain Registry Services. Nominet says the company has been sending out documents resembling invoices to owners of .co.uk domain names.

According to Nominet, Domain Registry Services claims in its missive that the .co.uk is about to expire and implies that paying Domain Registry Services will secure its renewal, even though Domain Registry Services is not associated with the domain name in any way. "Registrants have been receiving a 'Notice of Expiration' invoice from Domain Registry Services, which infers [sic] that it is the Registry for those domain names," said Nominet in a tersely worded statement. "The notice states that the registrant stands to lose their domain name unless the invoice is settled. The sums being demanded are many times what Nominet would charge a registration agent (seller of domain names) for registering a .co.uk domain name."

Nominet went on to note that "these false invoices have been issued to owners of .com and .org domain names in the past, but Nominet UK has recently received information that this scam has spread to .co.uk names as well."

One problem that Nominet has is the use of the term Registry, which is commonly used to refer to the organisation that runs the domain -- in this case .co.uk, which is run by Nominet. "The registry is a single entity that is supposedly trusted," said Edward Phillips, assistant solicitor at Nominet. "What has concerned us is that they are trading on that authoritative status."

One odd feature of the correspondence being sent out by Domain Registry Services, said Phillips, is the offer to sell .co.uk domain names for five or 10 years. "We only register them for two years," he said. Although Phillips conceded that it is possible for a company managing domains to do so for five or 10 years, for instance by ensuring that the domain does not expire during that time, he noted that in the correspondence from Domain Registry Services he has seen, the company is not the existing tag holder -- or registrar. "If they were it would be fine, but they're not. They may offer to change your tag holder, but you can't do a forced tag-holder change in the UK system. Only the domain name owner or the existing tag holder can do that."

Nominet is also concerned about where Internet Registry got its data, said Phillips. "The database is our copyright and database right. To use Whois (the service that provides access to the database of domain-name owners) you have to agree to our terms of use. We are not happy when someone uses use it for things you are not allowed to use it for."

Nominet said it is investigating whether Domain Registry Services has a listing of .co.uk domain names "and, if so, where they obtained this list from".

Domain Registry Services could not immediately be reached for comment.

Last year Nominet forced the similar-sounding Domain Registrar Services out of business when it pursued the company through the courts for cold-calling customers and pretending to be associated with Nominet.

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