Who will stop Domain Registry of America?
May 31, 2007 9:17 AM   Subscribe

Yet another one of my clients has been confused by a Domain Registry of America "invoice" mailing, and now I'm even madder at them. I saw this FTC ruling from 2003, but is there any kind of action/suit against the company now? If not, why not?

This is the third or fourth client of mine to go through this. These are smart people, they're just busy and they are very conscientious about paying all their invoices. Naturally, when they receive a mailing warning them that their domain name is going to expire, they just put a check in the envelope and send it off. I only found out about it because I asked how many years they'd like to renew the domain name, and they told me they'd "renewed" it last week. I got suspicious, mentioned the usual technique of Domain Registry of America, and the first word of the reply message from my client was an expletive.

I am so tired of this. It would be easy to assert that this company's entire business model is built on the kind of advertising that confuses people. Is there some kind of class action suit, or going on? I've spent a number of otherwise-billable hours helping these people untangle this issue, and my clients have lost time, too.

If there's a good reason why a suit _can't_ or _shouldn't_ be filed, I'd love to hear about it from AskMe contributors who, whether or not they are lawyers, would of course not be my lawyer and would not be rendering me official legal advice.
posted by amtho to Technology (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I just stuff their return envelope with the rest of my junk mail and simply send it back. I have tons of patience so I plan to do this as long as they can keep this up.
posted by special-k at 9:49 AM on May 31, 2007

amtho, lawsuits are expensive and no single domain owner in their right mind has the time, money or inclination to do this.

That's what makes Whois/domain privacy a worthwhile investment.
posted by FlamingBore at 10:22 AM on May 31, 2007

Response by poster: Well, that's one idea, but I doubt that the marketing department or CEO actually have to deal with the incoming mail. Also, it's not much help to people who aren't as clued in as you seem to be...

I don't mean to be snarky, but could you perhaps consider spending that 10 minutes on a FTC/state attorney general complaint form? The more complaints they receive, the more likely something will be done (I realize that one complaint doesn't do much, but I'm prepared to argue that it might do more than mailing junk mail to the company).
posted by amtho at 10:27 AM on May 31, 2007

Response by poster: FlamingBore, I had in mind something like a class-action lawsuit. I'm laboring under the impression that there are hundreds of hungry, heroic lawyers out there in the world who might be interested in this kind of thing. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
posted by amtho at 10:29 AM on May 31, 2007

They've even mailed me all the way over in the UK. But I'm not an idiot and I binned their mail because I know who I registered with and it wasnt them.

Warn all your clients in advance so they dont fall into the trap and rewarn them a couple of months before their renewal is up.
posted by missmagenta at 10:44 AM on May 31, 2007

Response by poster: I have warned them. But who can guarantee that they'll remember when the time comes? Also, a lot of companies (and government agencies) have invoices handled by a different set of people than those with whom I'd interact... and those invoice/ads seem to come at random times, but far in advance of the actual renewal dates.

Also, I think it's probably wrong for a company to get business in this way, and I think it would be lame of me to just expect the world to keep on working well without effort and vigilance on my part. We all benefit from the general honesty and ethics we've come to expect while doing business, and I don't think it's too much to ask that I take action occasionally to keep things this way.
posted by amtho at 10:52 AM on May 31, 2007

amtho: No snarkiness taken. I have complained to the ftc in the past multiple times. I've even called them before. So yes, now that I've exhausted all venues available to me, I'll continue to send them junk mail.
posted by special-k at 11:11 AM on May 31, 2007

Is there an actual, answerable question here, or are you just venting and seeking commiseration?
posted by mkultra at 11:14 AM on May 31, 2007

and btw, you're not the only unhappy person. They've been doing this for quite a while.

See here, and here
posted by special-k at 11:18 AM on May 31, 2007

The question is about whether he can sue them, or, failing that, what else he can do to stop them.
posted by oaf at 11:21 AM on May 31, 2007

amtho - even class action suits are expensive to someone. Someone has to organize it, ya know? There's plenty of bluster about it. But the bottom line is that since they've changed their habits to include the appropriate disclaimers there isn't anything illegal about sending those notices.

Now, how they are getting the information to send those notices is something else entirely. I, and many other people in the industry, believe they are mining the registry information which is unethical (at best) and against the rules according to ICANN but because ICANN is essentially a toothless agency there's little that can or will be done.

Education and an ounce of prevention is the best cure for this. If there weren't a sucker born every minute they wouldn't have a business. You're absolutely right that they prey on the disorganization (or over-organization) of people too busy to notice.
posted by FlamingBore at 11:33 AM on May 31, 2007

Response by poster: Yes, there is a question: Is there an existing class-action lawsuit against Domain Registry of America, and if not, why not.

I linked to the FTC page in my question, and I did do a search on Google for ["Domain Registry of America" class action]. I also turned up a case in which DRoA sued Tucows for defamation. I considered noting all this in my question text, but I'm trying to write more concisely and so decided to leave it out.

Clearly, my communication skills need work. Apologies.
posted by amtho at 11:43 AM on May 31, 2007

Why don't you find the name of a firm involved in some other big class-action suit against Internet companies (such as the Paypal suit) and let them know about DRoA's allegedly fraudulent activities.
posted by grouse at 11:55 AM on May 31, 2007

Response by poster: These clients of mine aren't suckers -- they're good, smart people -- and the ads are still misleading. Yes, the fine print is a little larger than before; I've seen it change over time. But (three or) four of my clients have been fooled. I don't have that many clients -- this represents a large percentage -- and a few of the ones who aren't being fooled have contacted me because they're confused.

Prevention is well and good, but a) it's a drain on resources, and b) if DRoA is acting in bad faith, they should be stopped to prevent the spread of a total "caveat emptor" situation.
posted by amtho at 11:55 AM on May 31, 2007

Best answer: Is there an actual, answerable question here, or are you just venting and seeking commiseration?

Yes, it's in the OP:

is there any kind of action/suit against the company now? If not, why not?

I'm not a lawyer and this is not professional consultation, but I do have access to a (massive) database tracking internet law happenings and the last I see of DROA is that FTC injunction (approved by the FTC) going back to the court for approval. I'm assuming that this is still in litigation 4 years later in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

I've searched that court's site and seen nothing new, but the presiding judge is still there so presumably they're still in litigation. But that FTC proposed final judgment had a huge amount of provisions for making restitution for people defrauded and monitoring the company for future bad practices.

I guess it's just slow in getting that final judgment.

Unless there's something in the PACER or Westlaw databases which I don't have access to, that's the state of things.
posted by cowbellemoo at 11:58 AM on May 31, 2007

FTC suit is in civil court and seems to be the FTC-led equivalent of a class action suit brought by private citizens. (For all I know, anyway).
posted by cowbellemoo at 12:03 PM on May 31, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you, cowbellemoo!
posted by amtho at 12:30 PM on May 31, 2007

Best answer: And just some more background in case anyone's curious. Looks like the FTC's suit was brought on the basis of, or in paralell with (hard to tell), a suit from Register.com. The notices don't just confirm a new registration, but transfer administration from another registrar. So it's worth some money to a consumer to sue, but worth alot for a registrar to sue over unfairly poached customers. Luckily.

I screen mail for my company and see ads camoflauged as invoices all the time. I answer phones, too, and have to deflect alot of scams calling to fish for information to put in such fake invoices. My company also markets using something like receipt forms in direct mailings. It's all very deceptive and I'd like for it to end as well.
posted by cowbellemoo at 12:41 PM on May 31, 2007

How about changing the address and contact info for the domains wherever they are registered at? That's what I do... any mail sent to the domain owners comes to me instead of directly to the clients. I can trash the junk and the clients never have to know or worry about it. Just change your currently registered sites to your address, and do the same for any new ones you create.
posted by RoseovSharon at 4:47 PM on May 31, 2007

$20 for private domain registration is the best $20 you'll ever spend.

It's not just the DRoA crap. The contact info in WhoIs registries is a massive database for all kinds of spammers and scammers.
posted by spitbull at 10:52 PM on May 31, 2007

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