The domain name scam returns for a sequel

Some scams have their heyday for a while and then go dormant. Sometimes scammers employ a new twist or angle, and others just recycle the same scheme from rote. Well, the bogus domain buyer scam is making a comeback, most likely because they’re hoping to fleece a new crop of beginner domain sellers who aren’t savvy to their fraudulent pitch.

The domain seller scam works like this. You’re trying to sell a domain name via domain buyer/seller websites like sedo.com or afternic.com. You receive an email from a random broker informing you that he/she is representing a (usually rich) buyer who is interested in the domain you’re selling. In order to satisfy and placate the buyer, the broker requests that you have your domain appraised and provide trademark infringement verification. Here’s where they hope to score pay dirt at your expense: the scammer ‘recommends’ a website which will perform both services ‘accurately’ and ‘cheaply’; only then will the buyer go through with the sale. The problem is, if you fall for this scam (probably because the dollar signs are obfuscating your pragmatic objectivity), you’ll be wasting money on an essentially worthless service…and you’ll never hear from the bogus broker and his/her bogus buyer ever again.

I’m currently trying to sell several domains. So, naturally, I recently received the following email from a ‘Ralf Hetzner‘ allegedly from Switzerland:

Hello!

My client is a businessman from Emirates (UAE). He is very interested in buying your (domain name).com.

Please respond and specify a desired price in the subject line.

My client has $240,000 usd for 60-70 domain names. He is very interested in financial, shopping, adult, gambling, mobile phones and weight loss related domains.

Please let us know your preferred payment method  (PayPal, Western Union, escrow etc.). If this is your first time domain sale I may help you with the sale/transfer process.

Are you a member of domain seller communities/forums? Probably, we know each other under some nicknames?

Regards,

Ralf Hetzner

Switzerland
Bern
Langmauerweg 17
Phone: 031 311 45 61

I decided to play along and replied with a price. Afterward, I immediately received this reply from Ralf (believe me, when these scumbags smell blood in the water they strike fast):

5000 – Ok. Great! Before we proceed my investor needs only one thing from you:

As you may know all major domain brokers does not allow listing above $1000 or higher if you don’t have an official appraisal. Since the sale price is not low in our case, my client needs an official certificate of price (appraisal). He also needs to know you have no trademark problems. It won’t be a problem since I know an official appraiser that offers this option (trademark infringement verification) for free as a part of the appraisal service.

I’m also interested in a good valuation and a high sale price because my client pays me a commission (10-15% of the sale price) on every domain purchase. So I’m not interested in low sales too.

Of course, you should not use a free automated service like Estibot or similar services. My client won’t accept them. I was working for Estibot and knew they were using automated scripts for free appraisals. In our case we need a real manual valuation.

To avoid mistakes and wasting money on useless automated services I asked in the forum about reliable manual valuation/TM verification services. Please read this: http://answers.archive-google.com/answers/threadview8529714.htm

The process is very easy:

1. Go to the appraisal site and order the valuation with the TM verification. Submit your domains to them and let them know you have a buyer with $X,XXX offer so you need the appraisal near this value. After several hours you will get the results.

2. Then send these results via email and we’ll proceed with the deal.

If you are new to the appraisal process I can help you with a step by step instructions.

Regards,

R. Hetzner
Switzerland
Bern
Langmauerweg 17
Phone: 031 311 45 61

First of all, I’m willing to bet that all of the posts generated here were authored by Mr. Hetzner’s fellow scammer partners (notice the specific post where someone supposedly made $34k by transacting with Hetzner). Ah, then there’s the ‘recommended’ website. Sigh. I mean, just look at this pitiful thing. Would you purchase a service from a website built by some dudes still stuck in the year 2000? And look at the screen shot of the ‘appraisal calculator’ tool they’re also offering — I guess you can only run it using Windows98. Don’t be fooled by the ‘icann’ in the domain name; these bozos are not affiliated with ICANN.

Want to read more about encounters with this particular scam? Read on here and here if you’re not convinced. One domainer, Gene Pimintel, had a hilarious exchange with a scammer named ‘Bradford Whitman.’

Selling a domain name is often a long process — it can sometimes take months or even years to sell a domain, especially now that the World Wide Web has existed for two decades. However, if a buyer really wants the domain name you’re selling, he/she isn’t likely to demand an appraisal. If an appraisal is requested, you as the seller are not required to front the money for one. Here’s a good suggested response offered by a forum poster should you be asked to provide an appraisal:

As you are aware there is a problem with ‘appraisal scammers’ at the moment so if you are interested in this domain then you pay for the appraisal and if you purchase the domain I will reduce the price by the cost of the appraisal. I am sure you, as a genuine buyer, will find this the safest way to proceed.

Such a reply should separate the genuine, legitimate domain buyers from the scammers.

UPDATE: It appears those ‘appraisal’ sites have been taken down because the links appear quite dead. I’ll bet the scammers, like gypsies in the night, have set up shop elsewhere. Hmm, I wonder where they bought their new domain names?