Website Owners: How to Avoid the ‘Directory Listing’ Scam

If you own a website and you do not subscribe to a domain name privacy service, then your WHOIS information is public to anyone who knows how to look for it. (WHOIS information is simply the name and address of a domain name registrant.) The average person doesn’t know or care about finding the owner of a website, but scammers trying to sell bogus ‘directory listings’ do! They use publically available WHOIS information to build mailing lists for their con.

What the letter looks like: The rip-off artist’s trick is to send a letter that looks almost exactly like a bill or invoice in the hopes that you might pay it without further examination. There is often a due date. The words ‘This is not a bill’ will usually be written somewhere in small type.

What the letter promises: The service description is often vague; scammers usually promise to include your website in one or several web directories or perform SEO (search enging optimization) analysis upon payment.

How much they charge: The cost is about $10 – $20 for each year your domain is registered. For example, if you registered a domain for 5 years, the ‘bill’ could be $50 – $100. The cost is similar to what you paid to register your domain name, a trick scammers use to make you less suspicious. (WHOIS listings include the length of the registration period, allowing scammers to set their prices accordingly.)

Who sends these letters: The company name on the offer is neither your domain name registrar (Godaddy, 1and1, NameCheap, etc.) nor your web hosting provider (HostGator, HostMonster, DreamHost, etc.) Instead, it is something nondescript that you’ve never heard of, such as ‘Web Directory Listings Inc.’ or ‘Website Listing Services LLC’ If they provide their web address, the page will have very little information. In fact, if you look up their WHOIS information, it is almost always private. Regardless, you can rest assured the company is non-existent.

Why you should never pay for any directory listing service: There’s no need to pay a company to get your website listed by search engines. Google, Yahoo, and Bing do this automatically and for free, for every website on the internet as long at least one other site that links to it. There are also hundreds of ways to get free links and directory listings. If you should happen to pay these scammers, at best they will take your money and submit your website to a free directory service. At worst, they could steal your credit card or checking account numbers.

What to do if you receive such a letter: Contact your state’s attorney general or the FTC. You can always just ignore the letter and throw it away, but if you report the scammers, it might save a more gullible person from being defrauded.

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