Website domain registration scam by Domain Name Group

Last week, we reported the domain registration scam by DomainRegister.  Now, a week later, another one has popped up, this time by Domain Name Group.

It’s very similar to the DomainRegister scam – you are sent an official looking document which resembles an invoice that needs to be paid.  The document comes from:

Domain Name Group Ptd Ltd
Level 1, 530 Little Collins Street
GPO Box 4111
Melbourne, VIC, 3000
Phone: 1300 255 144
Website: www.domainnamegroup.com.au
ACN: 135 472 305
Bank deposit details: Bank of Cyprus (Delphi Bank)

An example of their letter with payment options is included below.  It looks extremely similar to the one from DomainRegister.

Domain Name Group

Domain Name Group with their unsolicited invitation to register a domain name at a high price, which very closely resembles a bill for a service that you should pay.

They attempt to get you to register an additional domain which is quite similar to one of your existing domain names. For example, it may be a .com or .net.au version of a .com.au domain you already own. The offer to register is aimed at either convincing you that you are simply renewing your existing domain, or that you should register the similar name to protect your internet identity. They push the legal boundaries of billing you for something you didn’t order by the use of wording that says “this is an invitation to register – if you are not the proprietor or do not wish to register, disregard this letter”. The registration fee is very excessive, typically several hundreds of dollars, which is up to 10 times the amount of an equivalent service provided by a reputable provider. The offer of free web or email forwarding does not offset the large total of the bill.

Before deciding to renew your existing domain, or registering a similar domain to one you already own, you should definitely look around for the best deal.  But most importantly, ensure that your selected domain registrar has been accredited by auDA – the Australian domain name administrator. See the official list of accredited domain registrars and then visit each registrar’s website to compare their domain name pricing.

auDA posted out a warning two years ago about the ongoing unsolicited letters to businesses from Domain Name Group and Domain Register.

Website domain registration scam by DomainRegister

If you have registered an internet domain for your website, you may be the target of scams by other domain registrars who may employ a number of procedures to trick you into registering additional similar domains at inflated prices.

These organisations are able to find out your contact details, as the registered domain owner, by consulting the Whois Database. They then post you out an official looking letter in the mail which may closely resemble an invoice to be paid.

A recent perpetrator of such a scheme is “DomainRegister”. Their contact details are:

Domain Register Pty Ltd
Level 3, 480 Collins Street
PO Box 37 Collins Street West
Melbourne, VIC, 3000
Phone: 1300 855 811
Website: www.domainregister.com.au
ACN: 127 506 807
Bank details: ANZ, Cloverdale, Western Australia

An example of a letter they may post out to you is included below:

DomainRegister

Domain Register Pty Ltd with their unsolicited invitation to register a domain at a very inflated price, which closely resembles a bill for a service that you should pay.

They are trying to get you to register an additional domain which is very similar to one of your existing domain names. For example, it may be a .com or .net.au version of a .com.au domain. The offer to register is aimed at either convincing you that you are in fact renewing your existing domain, or that you should register the similar name to protect your internet identity. They push the legal boundaries of billing you for something you didn’t order by the use of headers and wording that includes “domain name available” and “this is an invitation to register”. The registration prices are very excessive, typically several hundreds of dollars or up to 10 times the amount of an equivalent service provided by a reputable provider. Any offers for free gifts or bundled in services do not offset the large total of the bill.

Before deciding to renew your existing domain, or registering a similar domain to one you already own, you should shop around for the best deal and ensure that your selected domain registrar has been accredited by auDA – the Australian domain name administrator. See the official list of accredited domain registrars and visit each registrar’s website to compare domain name pricing.

Two years ago, auDA posted out a warning about the ongoing unsolicited letters being sent out by Domain Name Group and Domain Register.

Holiday Great Ocean Road & www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com false billing scam

Accommodation businesses operating within the Great Ocean Road region in Victoria have been on the receiving end of a false billing scam. It has been operating since 2012, resulting in bills being sent out for unauthorised advertising on a tourism website.

Invoices are being sent out by Holiday Great Ocean Road for advertising on the www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com website.  A sample of a typical invoice they post out in the mail is shown below.

Invoice - Holiday Great Ocean Road - www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com

An example of an invoice sent out by Holiday Great Ocean Road – www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com (recipient’s details blanked out)

Note the key characteristics of this invoice:

  1. It originates from a company titled Special Days Pty Ltd which is based in Sydney
  2. The company’s ABN is 37 086 159 211
  3. Their postal address is PO Box 4050 Parramatta NSW 2124
  4. Their billing enquiry phone number is 1300 656 789
  5. The invoice amount is $108.90 (i.e. $99 plus GST)
  6. The advertising commencement date, conclusion date or duration is not stated
  7. In order to convince the recipient of its authenticity, the “reference” box states the name of who has apparently authorised the listing, usually without a surname

Most people who receive an invoice like this never actually signed up for a listing with Holiday Great Ocean Road.  The first they find out about it is when a bill arrives in the mail. If they ignore the bill, they may receive more of the same invoices in the future.

Despite the fact an advertisement on Holiday Great Ocean Road has usually never been ordered by the recipient of the invoice, a cover letter is included which includes the following claims:

  1. “I emailed you several times and phoned your business but I was unable to get a  response.”  This statement is generally false as most accommodation providers have never been contacted by phone or email prior to the invoice arriving in the post.
  2. “Once the listing is deleted you can lose your ranking on holidaygreatoceanroad.com for key words as well as your Google ranking as the site is optimized for your establishment.”  This is a very misleading claim. Firstly, the www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com website receives so few visitors (not even Alexa.com has any data for it at the moment) so it is unlikely that a listing, or lack of one, will make any difference to a business. Secondly, because www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com is so poorly ranked in Google, there is only minuscule Google ranking value provided in the form of a link to an accommodation provider’s own website.

Accommodation listings on the Holiday Great Ocean Road website are typically created by copying information, including wording and photos, found on other websites that an accommodation provider is listed on.  This process may be automated which means vast numbers of listings can be created with very little time and effort. If this data collection process occurred a long time ago, it may mean information they are displaying can be quite out of date. This may negatively impact upon your business or mislead people who do happen to view your listing on the Holiday Great Ocean Road website.

Despite the fact that the www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com website has been created mainly by cutting and pasting content verbatim from other websites, including some information which is years out of date, they make this further claim on the invoice about the value of their product:

“Tired of stale and outdated websites? So are we! That’s why we are constantly updating and adding new content on a regular basis. Like the Great Ocean Road, this site is always growing!”

Unfortunately, some accommodation providers have paid the invoice for advertising they never ordered due to confusion over business names. The Holiday Great Ocean Road / www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com name and website address may be confused with a well-established business with exactly the same name but different website address – Holiday Great Ocean Road / www.holidaygor.com.au. It must be stated that the latter (www.holidaygor.com.au) is an award-winning and reputable accommodation booking service which has operated with the utmost of integrity since its commencement in 2002.

It is extremely important that accommodation providers keep current list of all organisations they are advertising their accommodation with to ensure that any false bills, particularly those with similar names to reputable businesses, are quickly identified. Should there is any doubt about the authenticity of a bill, contact the sender and ask for proof of authorisation.

For more information refer to the false billing scams information page on the ScamWatch website which has been set-up by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC).

If you’ve unintentionally paid money to Holiday Great Ocean Road, or even if you just receive one of their unauthorised bills in the mail, you can lodge a report with the ACCC by visiting their report a scam page.  Specify “false billing” as the scam type in your report.

VIC Tourism & www.victourism.com.au false billing scam

A new false billing scam is actively targeting those who manage accommodation properties in Victoria. Bills are being posted out for unauthorised advertising on a website which bears a name very similar to Tourism Victoria – Victoria’s official tourism body.

Unauthorised bills are being sent out by VIC Tourism for advertising on the www.victourism.com.au website.  Below is a sample of an invoice they post out in the mail to many accommodation businesses.

Invoice - VIC Tourism – www.victourism.au

An example of an invoice sent out by VIC Tourism – www.victourism.com.au (recipient’s details blanked out)

Note the key characteristics of this invoice:

  1. It originates from a company titled Accommodation Find which trades as QLDTourism.com and is located in Queensland
  2. The company’s ABN is 18 086 159 195
  3. Their postal address is PO Box 1601 Oxenford QLD 4210
  4. Their billing enquiry phone number is 1800 199 863
  5. The invoice amount is $95.00
  6. The advertising period is not specified, just the vague mention of a “12 month subscription”
  7. In order to convince the recipient of its authenticity, there is a box titled “authorisation name” that specifies the name of who has supposedly authorised the listing, usually without a surname

To ensure that in the eyes of the law this tax invoice is regarded an optional invitation to advertise, there is wording on the invoice which states “this invoice is only payable if you wish to subscribe or renew your existing subscription for the product”.

Most people who receive an invoice like this never actually signed up for a listing with VIC Tourism.  The first they find out about it is when a bill arrives in the mail. If they ignore the bill, they may receive subsequent invoices at regular intervals in the future.

Accommodation listings on the VIC Tourism website are typically created by copying information, including wording and photos, found on other websites that an accommodation provider is listed on.  This process may be automated which means vast numbers of listings can be created with very little time and effort. If this data collection process occurred a long time ago, it may mean information they are displaying can be quite out of date. This may negatively impact upon your business or mislead people who do happen to view your listing on the VIC Tourism website.

Leigh Harry, CEO of Tourism Victoria

Leigh Harry, CEO of Tourism Victoria, urges all Victorian businesses not to fall for the ‘VIC Tourism’ false billing scam.

This false billing scam has tricked some accommodation providers into thinking that VIC Tourism is the Victorian government’s official tourism organisation Tourism Victoria. This has resulted in people paying the bill because they believe they are registering their accommodation for world-wide exposure and endorsement through the state’s official tourism body.

The chief executive officer of Tourism Victoria, Leigh Harry, has issued a strong warning through several media outlets to all businesses in Victoria to be on the look out for “a dodgy letter and invoice” which seeks payment for an unsolicited 12-month listing on the unofficial and low-traffic Vic Tourism website.  Mr Harry has warned that the letters and invoices being sent out by Vic Tourism are “a scam”, and they are not related in any way whatsoever to Victoria’s official tourism organisation.

It is critically important that all accommodation providers keep an accurate list of all organisations they advertise their accommodation with. This ensures that any false bills, particularly those with names very similar to official organisations, are quickly identified. If there is any doubt about the authenticity of a bill, contact the issuer immediately and ask for proof of authorisation.

For further information, refer to the false billing scams information page on the ScamWatch website which has been set-up by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC).

If you have inadvertently paid money to VIC Tourism, or even if you just receive one of their unauthorised bills in the mail, you can lodge a report with the ACCC by visiting their report a scam page.  Specify “false billing” as the scam type in your report.

Accommodation VIC & www.accommodationvic.com.au false billing scam

A false billing scam which began in 2010 is still targeting accommodation providers in Victoria. It involves sending out bills for unauthorised advertising on a travel website.

The unauthorised bills are sent out by Accommodation VIC for advertising on the www.accommodationvic.com.au website.  Refer below to a sample of the invoices they post out in the mail to accommodation businesses.

Invoice - Accommodation VIC - www.accommodationvic.com.au

An example of an invoice sent out by Accommodation VIC – www.accommodationvic.com.au (recipient’s details blanked out)

Note the key characteristics of this invoice:

  1. It originates from a company titled Special Days Pty Ltd which is based in Sydney
  2. The company’s ABN is 37 086 159 211
  3. Their postal address is PO Box 4050 Parramatta NSW 2124
  4. Their billing enquiry phone number is 1300 656 789
  5. The invoice amount is $99.00
  6. The advertising period is not stated, just a mention of an “annual website listing”
  7. In order to convince the recipient of its authenticity, the “reference” box lists the name of the person who has apparently authorised the listing, usually without a surname

In order to legally disguise this tax invoice as an optional invitation to advertise, there is wording on the invoice which states “this invoice is only payable if you wish to subscribe or renew your existing subscription for the product”.

Most people who receive an invoice of this type have never signed up for a listing with Accommodation VIC.  The first they find out about it is when a bill arrives in the mail. If they ignore the bill, they will typically receive another one several months later, despite the fact wording on the letter attached to the bill states that the listing “automatically expires if unpaid”.

It has been reported that some people who actually do end up paying the $99 annual listing fee then receive another bill in the mail only 6 months later for another $99. As there are no starting and ending dates for the listing period specified on the invoice, just vague wording of an “annual website listing”, it is unclear exactly what period the listing fee covers.

Accommodation listings on the Accommodation VIC website are typically created by copying information, including wording and photos, found on other websites that an accommodation provider is listed on.  This process may be automated which means vast numbers of listings can be created with very little time and effort. If this data collection process occurred a long time ago, it may mean information they are displaying can be quite out of date. This may negatively impact upon your business or mislead people who do happen to come across your listing on the Accommodation VIC website.

Some people simply pay the bill they receive because:

  1. They have recently taken over the business. When the bill arrives, they assume the advertising must have been ordered in the past by the previous owners and therefore the listing is effective and good value.
  2. The website name is similar to one that they currently list with.  In the confusion, they simply pay it, wrongly assuming it’s their authorised advertiser.
  3. They are too busy to spend much time investigating it.  Given that the bill is for a relatively small sum, they decide it is more cost-effective just to pay it and get it out of the way rather than conduct an extensive assessment of it.
  4. Competition with other accommodation listed. If other accommodation in their local area is displayed on the www.accommodationvic.com.au website, they may feel pressured to keep the listing.  However it is important to realise that not only are the majority of listings on Accommodation VIC unauthorised, but that website receives only a small number of visitors compared to other similar websites.

It is important that accommodation providers keep an up to date list of all organisations they have advertised their accommodation with to ensure that any unauthorised bills are quickly detected. If there is any doubt about the authenticity of a bill, simply contact the issuer and ask for proof of authorisation.

For more information refer to the false billing scams information page on the ScamWatch website which has been set-up by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC).

If you’ve unintentionally paid money to Accommodation VIC, or even if you just receive one of their unauthorised bills in the mail, you can lodge a report with the ACCC by visiting their report a scam page.  Specify “false billing” as the scam type in your report.

Will booking your accommodation directly with the property give you the best deal?

booking

Should you book your accommodation directly or via a third party?

When booking accommodation, you can either book directly with the property, or choose to go through a third-party booking service, such as Wotif, Expedia or Agoda.  So which gives you the best deal?  Let’s put this to the test with a real-life example.

Let’s consider the Bairnsdale Motel which is located at Bairnsdale, in eastern Victoria.  We are after a 3 night stay, checking in on Sunday 24th March and out on Wednesday 27th March, in their cheapest room.

  1. Direct booking. If you go to this motel’s website, you’ll discover their direct online booking system.  Nightly stays in their “superior queen” room are listed at $155, but they offer a 3 night rate of just $132 per night. Thus booking directly with the hotel will cost $396.00.
  2. Booking through Wotif.  This motel distributes their accommodation through Wotif, however you will not find any of their special 3 night deals, so we are forced to pay $155 per night for 3 nights. To make matters worse, Wotif charges a non-refundable $5.50 fee for each booking, thus booking through Wotif will cost $470.50.
  3. Booking through Agoda. The nightly rates are identical to Wotif, however because Agoda doesn’t charge a booking fee, the total cost will be $465.00.

So book directly with the motel for $396, go through Agoda and pay $69 extra for exactly the same room, or choose Wotif and pay even more – $74.50 or 18% extra.

But you can’t just look at the room rate only. What if, due to unforeseen circumstances, you need to change or cancel your booking?  How does each booking method deal with that?

  1. Direct booking. You deal with the motel directly and you can simply email or phone them to change or cancel your booking, subject to their change/cancellation policy.
  2. Booking through Wotif. A $25 administration charge applies to any booking change or cancellation. This is because you have to contact Wotif, who then have to deal with the motel to cancel or change your booking. Don’t forget the non-refundable $5.50 fee still applies even if you cancel your booking.  You will also still be bound by the motel’s own change/cancellation policy.
  3. Agoda.com don’t charge fees for changing or cancelling bookings, but if you do cancel, it can take up to 10 days for them to refund your money. Like with Wotif, you will also be bound by the motel’s own change/cancellation policy.

Booking directly with the accommodation provider means you avoid third-party booking fees and you get full access to all their room types and offers. If you need to change or cancel your booking, and you didn’t book directly, your request needs to go through multiple organisations, some of which charge hefty fees in addition to the restrictions imposed by the accommodation property itself.

A good technique for locating accommodation is to use websites like Wotif, Expedia or Agoda to see what’s available, and then when you are ready to book, simply book directly with your chosen accommodation provider, either their own online booking system or by phone. As well as getting the best rates, things are much simpler if you need to modify or cancel your booking.

Trademark publication scam now hitting Australian travel & tourism businesses

scam

Scams – targeting individuals, businesses and companies.

Australian travel and tourism businesses are regularly the target of scams that are designed to defraud them.

Recently, there’s been a wave of scams directed at those businesses who have registered a trademark. What you get is an unsolicited letter in the post that features an image of your trademark, your personal contact details and a few words about your trademark in an international database. Included with this letter is a remittance slip, effectively convincing you this a bill that you must pay to support your trademark registration.

If you read the small print, the only thing you’ll actually get out of all this, after you pay the exorbitant publication fee which is usually around the $1,000 mark, is having your trademark published on some overseas low profile website.

What these scammers hope you’re so busy that you’ll simply pay the invoice without giving too much thought to it. Or that the invoice goes to the accounts department of your organisation, who will be under instruction to ensure the trademark remains registered. After all, if they have your personal name, address and trademark details, it must be a legitimate bill, right? Wrong…all those details can be viewed by any member of the public on the web via the federal government’s official Australian Trade Marks Online Search System (ATMOSS).

The latest flood of trademark invoice scams is coming from IDRTM – International Database of Registered Trade Marks which has a website at www.trademarkpublisher.info.  You are then asked to send your payment to this address in Sydney:

TM Publisher
Suite 65 Seabridge House
377 Kent Street
SYDNEY NSW 2000

Technically, they are probably not breaking any laws by using terms like “we recommend” and “if you want” and not stamping a “due by” date on the invoice.  However, they are hoping that out of the thousands of these they send out, a few people will simply pay without a second thought.

Below is a letter/invoice from IDRTM or TM Publisher, so you can be aware of what’s going on if you receive one of these.

trademark scam

Scammers at work, requesting money for your trademark to be listed in an unknown international database.

Spend more time growing your business than debt collecting

Getting paid without having to take on the role of a debt collector

It’s the bane of any business’s existence – trying to extract payment from those who owe you money. Ideally, you’d prefer to devote your time to actually running and developing your business, yet nowadays in these economic challenged times, many businesses seem to spend more and more time on the unpleasant task of debt recovery. There has to be a better way.

An important piece of advice is not to alienate your customer. Yes, they haven’t paid their bill, so you could go all out and threaten to bring in a debt collector or pursue legal action as a matter of principle. However, this approach may not only destroy the business relationship you have with this person, but they may go out of their way to tell everyone about your heavy-handed approach to payments.

Some options to consider for encouraging people to pay their bills are:

  1. Offer a discount for payments made on time. Some organisations have started doing this, including Australia Post and a few electricity retailers. There’s nothing like a bit of financial incentive to pay bills on time and you’d be surprised how many will make the extra effort just to save a couple of dollars. While you may oppose, in principle, to the concept of paying people to actually do the right thing and pay your invoice on time, think of it another way. What appears to the client as a discount for on-time payment could actually be your standard price, and for those who pay late, they are actually getting charged a penalty for not paying on time which they believe is just the standard price.
  2. Suspend services when a bill is overdue. If someone is purchasing an on-going service, then this is a persuasive form of encouragement to get people into action. If someone’s website suddenly goes off-line, you’d be surprised how quickly people will leap into action to rectify this, even if they’ve been repeatedly warned that non-payment will result in loss of services in the past. Some people tend to ignore warnings, but a suspension will usually get them to instantly rectify any outstanding payments.
  3. Request payment up-front. Here at Travel Victoria, we recently implemented a policy that we don’t start work for new clients unless we are paid in advance for our services. We’ve found this very effective as no time or effort is spent trying to recover payment from a client after we’ve finished our work. It also has the added advantage of weeding out those people that are “tyre kickers” and who aren’t fully committed to a business relationship with us. However, one disadvantage is that new clients must trust us to do the work when they pay in advance, which may deter a few people from dealing with us.
  4. Clearly highlight the terms of their contract and their commitments. It’s unfortunate, but an increasing number of people are simply ordering things or purchasing services with their brain turned off, forgetting who they have signed up with, what they are buying or what the payment arrangements are. Make sure you keep proper records so you can show someone what they have ordered, their acceptance of your conditions, and when payment was due . Most people, when confronted with a simple list of their actions and where they have broken the conditions of sale, will rectify the situation as a matter of pride.

Running a business should be all about serving your customers and growing your business, not the delicate, stressful or unpleasant task of debt recovery. So think about some policies you can implement to ensure that you quickly and easily get paid.