Email scams and internet scams are a real pain at any time of the year, but seem to really come out of the woodwork during the holidays.

Promotional strategies seem to be a little more inventive this year than in previous years. An internet server company located in Vancouver, WA (United States, not Canada) has been using some slick email and snail mail advertising. The advertising is in the form of an official looking invoice for managed DNS backup service.

Since I’m a copywriter and not at all geeky, I have limited knowledge of servers. All I know is servers are computers storing large amounts of information. People having the proper authorization can access the information. DNS (domain name service) servers are where all your website files are stored and can be accessed on the internet. Most good webhosting companies have built in redundancies (safeguards) to ensure your website stays up and can be accessed, even if something happens to the primary server(s).

I didn’t know about this questionable form of advertising until Directory One told me about it today. So I just had to check it out. For all intents and purposes, the said advertising invoice is walking a fine line between legal and illegal, at least in the US. And way outside best practices in copywriting.

Typing ‘[company name] email scam’ into Google’s search returned over 6 million results. IT services, hosting services, review sites, and even computer repair shops were talking about this newest snail mail/email scam. Judging from the blogs and complaints, most of the email and snail mail targeted the owners of small business websites. Many folks had sent money to pay the “bill”. Savvy folks had called their hosting company or the domain registrar to find out what it was all about.

I looked at the advertising copy to sniff out the cause of the hullabaloo. I was downright flabbergasted. If you did not read the entire thing carefully, you would think that the “email scam invoice” was legit. (Thank you, Homestead Title). The company most likely had gone onto WHOIS. All the relevant info for payment was there including domain and DNS servers, invoice number, and small $65 amount.

There was a bulleted, bolded section slightly below the middle of the invoice. The last bullet was the disclaimer

  • “MANAGING AND MAKING CHANGES TO YOUR DNS RECORDS CAN NOW BE DONE AUTOMATICALLY…
  • ALL DNS SERVICES INCLUDING SECONDARY EMAIL SERIVCES ARE INCLUDED…
  • THIS IS A SOLICITATION FOR THE ORDER OF GOODS OR SERVICES, OR BOTH…YOU ARE UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO MAKE ANY PAYMENTS…”

I was in finance in my past life. You usually scan the invoice for abnormalities. You typically don’t read the bolded print in the middle to the page. The first two bullets looked like some form of instruction. The disclaimer was the last bullet.

When I went to the website and clicked on pricing, I found that the company only accepted money orders or checks for payment. No credit cards. In other words, they want cold, hard cash. Further investigation found that the website has only been up since 6/28/12.

What I do know is a little bit of the law regarding fraudulent email and snail mail, and those whiz kids responsible for promotional copywriting have come close to violating federal law. It’s amazing to me that company executives allowed this. The Can-Spam Act requires, among other things, a place to opt out and to clearly identify the message as an ad. The United States Code regarding mail is more specific. It requires the advertising disclaimer be

“…in conspicuous and legible type in contrast by topography, layout, or color with other printing on the face…”

In my opinion, in no way did this promotional email or snail mail meet either the United States Code or the Can-Spam Act.

I wonder how much money the offending company has received, and how many people unknowingly signed up for their services.

You can protect yourself if you received this latest email scam.

Email Scam Protection

  • Make sure you know your hosting company.
  • Make sure you know your domain registrar.
  • Make sure that your email spam protection is on.
  • Use a private registration when registering your domain.

Futhermore, don’t let “geniuses” engaging in misleading advertising or scams get away with it – REPORT IT. Expert advertisers and legitimate companies know about federal and state regulations.

Email Scam Reporting

If you have been targeted by this email scam and have hosting or SEO services with Directory One, notify us immediately.