China Domain Name Scams

China Domain Name Scams

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-looking email offering to “help” you stop someone from taking your domain registry in China or maybe somewhere else in the world. Picture this: Your company finally brokers a deal with a Chinese supplier. You’re excited about the possibilities. But just as the ink dries on your agreement, you receive an alarming email. The message warns of another entity trying to hijack your domain name in China. At first glance, the email seems official enough to send a jolt of panic through even the savviest of business professionals. If you’re doing any form of business in China or with Chinese partners, this probably sounds very familiar to you.

Just about everyone doing business in China or doing business with China gets or will get one or more of the following emails from someone who will purport to do the following for you:

  1. Prevent someone in China from registering your domain name.
  2. Register your domain name in China, “just in time” to prevent someone from beating you to it.
  3. Make sure your domain name registration in China does not expire.

In other words, you should expect to receive emails from people offering to protect you from “others” seeking to register a Chinese translation or variant of your name or product or someone seeking to sell you an already registered translation or variant.

The Emails Look Convincing, But They’re a Scam

Every so often, there seems to be an uptick in what our China lawyers call the Chinese domain name scam, and now is one of those times. Our lawyers have lately been getting a slew of emails from companies asking what they should do about an email they just received (usually in badly written English) telling them they must register their domain name in China right away or lose it forever.

Near as we can tell, every single one of these that we have seen (and we have seen at least one hundred of these, because clients and readers are always sending them to us to review) is a scam. Number 3 above may not be a scam if you have a Chinese domain name, but if you do not, it is.

First Things First: DO NOT RESPOND!

Inform your intellectual property attorney as soon as possible, but do not respond to the email sender. Scammers send thousands of these emails every day, and it’s likely no such attempt to secure your domain name has been made.

But if the scammers hear back from you, that’s an incentive for them interfere with your domain name because they know you exist and that your domain name is important to you. They will then get you to pay them for their “help” in undoing what they themselves did.

Examples of China Domain Name Scam Emails

One of our lawyers got the following email which went to her spam folder, indicating that Outlook recognized it for what it contained, a standard China registry scam email:

We are China’s internet domain services company, and last week, we received an application from a Chinese company that has requested “Example USA 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. To deal with this matter better, it’s necessary to send an 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.

Another attorney who sought our advice on behalf of one of her clients received this:

This is about the registration of your company name “Example USA Company.” Please forward it to your company’s leader. Thanks!

And here is another one:

I am grateful for you checking this letter out. We are a Chinese domain registrar. Recently, we received a registration request from “ABC Technology Ltd” applying to register Example brand and domain names(.cn, .hk, etc.), which have the same main body as your company’s name. We are sending this letter to confirm with your company whether you authorize them to register those names. Please give me your thoughts ASAP to let us carry on, Thanks.

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 domain name, your email may come from someone who has allegedly purchased and now wants to sell you the domain.

What to do Next

The first thing you should do when you receive an email offering to protect you from “others” who are seeking to register a Chinese translation or variant of your name or product or someone seeking to sell you an already registered translation or variant is to ask yourself whether you even care. And if you do, you should next determine whether you have a China trademark that would stop it.

Second, you should as soon as possible register whatever domains you need to protect your company or brand. Determine now what domain names are important to your business so you do not need to make this determination with an email “gun” to your head. Now is also the best time for you to figure out what brand names and logos matter to your business in China (if any) and to protect those brand names and logos by registering them as Chinese trademarks.

Third, if someone has taken a domain name important to you and they are now offering to sell it to you, you essentially have three choices:

  1. Let the domain name go.
  2. Buy it from the company that “took” it from you.
  3. Pursue legal action against the company that took it from you.

Preempt Problems by Registering Your Domain Names and Trademarks

Preempting all these email problems by securing your domain name in China and by registering your brand names, slogans and logos as trademarks in China is your best and least expensive protection.

If you do not want someone taking your company name or one of your product names (or some variant of these) and using them for a domain name, register those as domain names right now. You should also consider registering them as trademarks in your home country and wherever else (including China, of course) you do business. Note that for trademark purposes, in most countries in Asia, “doing business” includes manufacturing.

Trademark Scam Emails Are Also on the Rise

In addition to domain name scams, my law firm’s international intellectual property attorneys are also seeing an uptick in similar emails to our clients about their trademarks. These unsolicited emails insist someone has just applied for the American/European/Canadian/Australian business’s trademark in China. These emails are virtually always scams as well, and the odds are that nobody has submitted any such action on any of your trademarks. Still, there are proactive steps you can and should take with your own China IP attorney to safeguard your brand assets.

From domain scams to trademark hoaxes, you need to be vigilant about all the emails get regarding China IP. It is crucial  that you recognize potential scams, act proactively by registering your domain names and trademarks, and consult with intellectual property attorneys when in doubt. The cost of preparation and awareness is nothing compared to the potential financial and reputational risks of falling victim to such scams.

Be careful out there.