PSA: Don’t Fall for Deceptive Business Practices
Nobody likes to feel manipulated or deceived in any way. That includes us. We recently started receiving mail that looked like invoices for a domain listing service, which was odd. We hadn't signed up for anything new, and certainly not with a company we had never heard of, so why would we be getting a bill? (Cue the frustration.)
As it turns out, when you read the fine print, it states, "This is a solicitation." In other words, it's an ad. And a tricky one, at that. It looked so much like an invoice that it even included a tear-off payment stub with space to write your credit card number before mailing it in the enclosed envelope. How convenient.
While we've learned how to sniff out the deception of companies like this, we realize that might not be the case for everyone. In fact, we started getting calls from some of our clients who received the exact same "statements" in the mail. Luckily they called us before writing checks or handing over their credit card information. We were able to confirm their suspicions before it was too late, and we want to do the same for you.
If you're a local business owner with a website, there's a good chance you've received an "invoice" for a domain listing, too.
Spotting the Deception
Domain listings have become a predatory practice designed to trick small businesses into paying for a fake service. There are many things that irritate us about these fraudulent companies. For one, their letters are clearly designed to trick someone into paying hundreds of dollars for nothing in return.
To further deceive the recipient, they will often reference a legitimate domain registrar, such as GoDaddy. So, it could easily appear to be a bill for that service. These companies are essentially banking on people not reading the fine print and blindly paying for their service.
Doing More Harm than Good
Even if someone did understand they were paying to be listed on a directory, it's essential to understand this is not a real service, regardless of what their advertising will tell you. Our particular letters were from a company called Domain Networks. Their website states, "We offer a premium listing service that helps rank your business on search engines. We use unique and updated white-hat tactics to help drive more traffic and customers to your website or local business." This is simply not true.
White-hat tactics, which are approved search engine optimization tactics, include things like well-written content, mobile-friendly websites, and fast page load times. It has nothing to do with being listed on a fake website. In fact, having a backlink from an untrustworthy location could potentially do more harm than good for your Google rankings.
Protecting Your Business
There are many ways to protect yourself from deceptive advertising, including domain listing services and other forms of manipulation, and we've outlined a few easy things you can do right away.
- Read Everything. In the example of Domain Networks, the mail we received wasn't necessarily illegal. While their practices may be unethical, they did include a disclaimer that stated it was a solicitation. That puts the brunt of the work on us as consumers. We must read and question everything - especially if we're being asked to pay someone our good, hard-earned money.
- Trust Your Instincts. If something feels off, it probably is. If you've never heard of the company that is requesting money, or if you're feeling coerced, walk away. You always have the right to say "no thanks." Definitely don't hand over your credit card information, cashier's check, or any other form of payment unless you're positive who's on the other end. A good business partner will never make you feel uncomfortable or try to confuse you.
- Google It. Google can be a great resource for checking the legitimacy of a business. People will willingly post their reviews, record videos of their experiences, and write blog posts about the company if they've run into a true scammer. Using search terms such as "Is [Domain Networks] a legit company?" should give you what you need to know. Searching the Better Business Bureau website is another good source to consider.
- Be On Guard. At some point, you may run into a company that's breaking the law. As the amount of online fraud increases, each of us has to be on guard when it comes to our information. Be suspicious if you receive a letter, text, phone call, or email from someone you don't know. And, if it appears to be from a company you do business with, they should never ask for personal information. As a customer, they should already know what they need to know.
- Watch for Typos. One easy way to sniff out a scam is if there are typos in their communications. Professional companies would never send emails or letters that misspell the name of their own brand or write sentences that don't make sense. Be on high alert if you have trouble reading or understanding something. You're much better off deleting it and moving about your day.
- Phone a Friend. If you're caught in a situation where you're unsure if something feels legitimate or not, and you're questioning your course of action, consult someone you trust. We were so glad when our clients reached out to us. And honestly, whether you're a client or not, feel free to contact us any time. As professionals in the digital marketing space, we'd be happy to review an "invoice" or even audit the cost of your web services. As a quick example, GoDaddy will often charge hundreds of dollars a month for things you don't really need. It's not necessarily a scam, but it's another way you could be losing money for no reason. We're always here to help and be of service.