By Monica Pitts
Many people know very little about how the web really works making them easy targets for scammers. Website owners are a lot like car owners. I own a car and know how to drive it but I only have a rough idea how it works. So if I go to a shady auto repair spot and the mechanic tells me, “fix these 10,000 things or your car won’t run” I have no idea if it’s legit. I either have to call for backup (cue the trusty husband or dad) or just go with my gut.
The first rule to avoid any scam is to go with your gut. If your gut says no, then things are probably not right.
SCAM #1: People Pretending to be Google.
This is the scam tactic we defuse most often. The most common Google scam call sounds something like: “I work with Google and you need to do X, Y, and Z for your business listing on Google or you’re going to lose it, or it’s going to cost you this much money.”
First off Google doesn’t call people. The caller is being sneaky, notice how they say with, not for.
Second, Google business listings are free. You do not pay for your Google business listing, you can go verify it or create it on business.google.com. But you don’t have to pay for it.
Scam #2: Stolen Images Notifications
This one is relatively new. Scammers send out a letter or email claiming you owe them money for using improperly licensed images on your website. Just so you know you can’t just use any image you find on Google for your site. That’s like image plagiarism but worse.
It’s a great scam because if you did “steal” images for your website you’d get a very similar letter claiming the same thing.
So how do you know if it’s real or scam?
Do a self assessment:
Did you or your web developer purchase the images on your website? Or did you just Google search for an image, right click on it and save it then use it on your website?
Are you sure? You are the owner of the site after all so you are legally responsible for what’s on it.
Tell tale signs of authenticity:
1. Most big companies truly will send you a physical letter if they can get a hold of your actual address. If what you have is a mailed piece of paper it’s more likely to be legit.
2. Look for a photo reference number. It should have something indicating the exact picture or where it’s located on your site. Legitimate claims are making a legal claim so they will be specific about the image in question.
3. Most legit letters tell you how to remedy the problem. It will tell you who to contact if you do have a license to use the image and how to remedy the situation if you don’t have permission to use the image. Scams will have you fish for the information by clicking on a link to learn more.
So double check any emails or letters for the correct information. A real claim will explain exactly what you did wrong and how you can make it right.
Scam #3: False Domain & DNS Expiration Letters
This scam is not new but it’s still really confusing. People will send you a letter saying you need to pay for DNS, or for your domain name. But they don’t own your domain name, and your domain name is not registered with them.
I call these people domain pirates. When they hijack your domain they will sell it or use it for another site and it breaks all things associated with your domain name. The one people usually notice first is their email.
What the heck is DNS?
Your domain name, some people call it their web address, can be used in different ways. It can be used for email (email@example.com) or your website (mayecreate.com) and a few other things as well. DNS is like the roadmap that tells those pieces of your domain name what to do and where to go.
How to debunk this scam.
1. If you got the notification by fax or letter that’s a red flag.
Your registrar, the company you registered your domain with, is almost never going to send you a piece of mail or fax. They email you. And when your domain is about to expire or your credit card has expired, they will email you a bajillion times. So check your email. Not sure which email to check? The Whois report I explain in #3 below will tell you.
2. Look for “this is a solicitation not a bill” on the document.
The scam letter, fax or email you receive will likely look like an invoice. It will have a stub for you to tear off, pay and send it. By law, the sender is required to say, “this is a solicitation not a bill”, somewhere the items they sent you, if you have this on your letter it’s a scam. Oftentimes, it’s in small print in the middle somewhere.
3. Make sure it’s from your registrar.
If your domain information is public, and many are, you can find it’s registrar by doing a “Whois” search. You search for free at https://lookup.icann.org/lookup. Type your domain in the search box and it will spit out a long report of information about your domain. Look for the word “registrar”. If that does not match what is on the letter that you received, it’s likely a scam.
If you’re not sure someone is trying to scam you trust your gut and do your homework. If you’re still not sure, check with your web designer. They can help you debunk the scam!
Monica Pitts is the founder and Chief Creative Officer of MayeCreate Design. She spends her days constructing a marriage of form and function; creating art with her design team to grow businesses through websites and online marketing. Monica considers herself an artist, marketer and web dork with the ability to speak geek and English.