Every so often there seems to be an uptick in what some call the China domain name scam and now is one of those times. Our China lawyers frequently get emails from U.S. companies asking us what they should do about an email that they just received (usually in badly written English) telling them they must register their domain name in China right away or lose it forever. We have been getting a ton of those lately, but when I get one from a sophisticated international lawyer I feel it is time I write about it again.
These emails seem to come right after the foreign company just returned from a trip to China, or else it is then when they are most attuned to them and most concerned. I do though believe that there are people in China who get the names of U.S. and European companies that go there and then send out these emails.
Just so you know, these emails usually look something like this and they are complete fakes and should be ignored:
We are China’s internet domain services company and last week, we received an application from a Chinese company that has requested “[NAME OF U.S. COMPANY”] as their internet name and China (CN) domain name. But after checking into it, we learned that this name conflicts with your company name or trademark. In order to deal with this matter better, it’s necessary to send email to you and confirm whether this company is your distributor or business partner in China and to confirm that you authorized this domain registration Please respond soonest.
Or something like this one, which went to my international attorney friend:
This is about the registration of your company name “______________.” Please forward it to your companys leader. Thanks!
Dear Sir or Madam,
I am grateful for you checking this letter out. We are a Chinese domain registrar. Recently, we received the registration request from “__________ Technology Ltd” applying to register __________ brand and domain names(cn hk etc), which have same main body as your company’s name. We send this letter to confirm with your company whether or not you authorize them to register those names. Please give me your thoughts ASAP so as to let us carry on, Thanks.
It’s a scam, and even if it isn’t do you really care?
If your company has done anything in China (even just sending someone there to meet with a supplier), you have probably received a somewhat official email offering, at a steep price, to “help” you stop someone from taking your domain name.
DO NOT RESPOND.
Near as I can tell, every single one of these that I have seen (and I have seen at least fifty of them because clients are always sending them to me) are a scam.
You also may get emails from someone claiming to have already registered some iteration of your company name (or one of your product names) and seeking to sell it to you. For example, if your company is called “xyz” and you already own the xyz.com domain name, your email may come from someone who has purchased and now wants to sell you the xyz.cn domain.
What to do?
First off, as soon as possible, register whatever domains necessary to protect yourself. Determine now what domain names you care about so you do not need to make this determination with a gun to your head. Right now is the time to think about Chinese character domain names.
Secondly, if someone has taken a domain name that is important to you and they are now offering to sell it to you, you essentially have three choices. One, let the domain name go. Two, buy it from the company that “took” it from you. And, three, pursue legal action against the company that took it from you.
Preemption by registration is your best and least expensive protection.
Nothing has changed since then, near as we can tell, other than that the popularity of these domain name scams waxes and wanes and lately they’ve been on an upswing. Here’s something else you have to ask yourself: do you care that someone is registering your domain name in China? And if you do, do you have a trademark there, which likely would prevent it? And if you care about China, are there other countries where you should be registering your domain name?
Anyway, just be careful out there.