Avoid These Common Marketing Scams

Scams are everywhere. According to the Federal Trade Commission, one in 10 adults in the US will fall victim to fraud every year. 

These scammers trying to steal what is yours are crafty individuals skilled with the ability to get you to slip up just enough for them to get a toe in the door and wreak havoc. They construct emails that look legitimate and make aggressive phone calls that incite panic hoping your emotions will overtake clear thinking. 

It is rare that we do not get at least two or three messages each week from clients asking about the legitimacy of an email or phone call they’ve received pertaining to their website or domain name.

It is important to understand what these marketing scams look like so you know what to do when you receive one of these messages.

Here are some common marketing scams we’ve seen for years and a couple of news ones that have popped up lately that everyone should be aware of. 

Domain Expiration Notices

Your domain name is one of the most important components of your brand. Your website lives behind it. Search engines index it allowing people to find you via keyword searches. Other websites and online directories link to it. Your email is connected to it. All of the printed marketing materials you’ve invested in have it carefully placed to ensure visibility. 

It is irreplaceable.

Since it’s so valuable, you cannot afford the chance it might expire and become available for someone else to register. If that ever happens, you will have to do backflips through flaming hoops while singing “My Heart Will Go On” in perfect melody. Yeah, it probably won’t happen.

So, when you get an email or a letter in the mail saying your domain is going to expire unless you take immediate action, you perk up and question everything. 

Is this legit? When does my domain expire? Where is my domain registered… is it with this group sending me the message? What is my password? 

Here’s an example of a common email we see come through website forms all the time. Sample of a scam email stating domain is expiring

Sure, this looks official and it’s tempting to click on one of those links to see if there’s truth to their claim. 

You do not want to click on these links nor reply to these notices. 

Before you do anything, log into the account (GoDaddy, Network Solutions, TuCows, etc.) where your domain is registered and see when it expires. The registrar where your domain is registered will be the one who sends you any notice about an expiration. 

It’s natural to let your website designer or one of the younger members of your team who’s a little more tech-savvy than you manage this. Treat the access to your domain like the title to a vehicle. The person who has the login has the power. If they become disgruntled or disappear, you’re going to have some work on your hands to get access.

Tips to Avoid This Scam:

  • Make sure all the contact information on the account is up to date with a current email, phone, and address. YOUR contact information should be at least set to the administrative contact. Never let the person who designed your website be the only point of contact for your domain. 
  • Set your domain to auto-renew and make sure it is locked. Instructions for how to do this will be well documented with your registrar. 
  • Check that the credit card on file is up to date and does not expire soon. You want to be sure when your renewal date comes that you have an active method of payment to process the auto-renewal. 
  • Consolidate all your domains into a single account that can easily be managed. Make sure your contact information and billing details are kept up to date in that account. 
  • Never click links in emails from people you do not know no matter what their claim is.

Stolen Images on Your Website

This one’s a little tricky because there is a real problem with image theft and copyright infringement in the online world. Not too long ago, most people held the belief that any image on Google (or the internet) was fair game and free to use. All you have to do is right click and save the image. Bam… it was yours to use wherever and however you choose. This is not nor was it ever true.

Each image is someone’s intellectual property requiring their consent for use. There have been countless lawsuits and penalties for unauthorized use of photos. It is in your best interest to have full rights to all images used in the promotion of your company.

Knowing this, imagine how the following email might catch you off guard and immediately trigger panic-mode making those links very tempting to click.

Example of scam email stating images were stolen

This very same email (almost down to the word) has appeared in 7 of our client’s inboxes. We were able to immediately defuse these as we built each of the sites and uploaded all of the images used. 

Tips to Avoid this Scam:

  • Have a thorough understanding of the processes that were used during the sourcing of photos for your website, social posts, print ads, or anything to promote your company. Only use images you have the rights to use. There are many free stock photo sites and even more who sell affordable licenses to give you full access and approval to use their images.
  • Never click links in emails from people you do not know no matter what their claim is.
  • Most legitimate allegations will come in the form of a certified letter in the mail. Usually the owner of the property you are using will hire legal counsel to handle the initial contact on their behalf. 

Spoofed Website URL or Email Address

Spoofing is when a scammer disguises themselves as a trusted source to get you to take some sort of specific action like click a link, respond with sensitive data, or send money. It is easy to be tricked by some of these messages because the scammers do a great job making the message look and seem very legitimate. 

A common example of this might be a message from a parcel service like UPS or Amazon containing vague information about the status of a shipment on its way to you. The drastic rise in online ordering has made this a method often used since many of us are expecting packages in the mail. 

One of the most devious uses of spoofing (I have ever seen) happened to a client of Neon Goldfish. This scammer did some homework and tracked down the email address of the owner and the controller of the company. They sent an email that appeared to be from the owner with instructions to send a large check to the address listed in the email. The controller did not think much of it since this type of transaction was not uncommon for their industry. 

Here’s where the scammer got crafty. The company’s domain name contained the letter “m”. The email they sent appeared to be the owner’s email but they created and used an email that replaced an “r” and an “n” next to one another to make it look like an “m”.

This is an example of what this could look like:

jeff@amazon.com vs. jeff@arnazon.com

If the right font is used, it is very difficult to notice the difference. 

Thankfully, the controller had a question about the check they asked in a phone call prior to it being sent in the mail. The scam was caught before any damage was done.

Tips to Avoid a Spoofing Scam:

  • Carefully read the message and, more importantly, who the message is from.
  • If your gut tells you the message does not feel right, investigate further. 
  • Do not respond directly to the message and definitely do not click any links inside the message. 
  • Verify all shipment tracking or order status updates by logging into the website you originated the order from. The details of your order will be there. Don’t hesitate to call the company you ordered from to validate the legitimacy of the message.

Misspelled Word(s) on Your Website

There has been a recent upswing in messages sent through website’s contact forms noting a word on the website has been misspelled. An example of this message looks like the following.

Example of email stating a word was misspelled on a website

This appears to be a good samaritan pointing out a simple error however these messages have contained links that could be clicked on and lead to all sorts of problems. Most of the instances we’ve seen point out words that are not native to the website. 

Tips to Avoid This Scam:

  • Do not click any links in the message. 
  • Contact the person who maintains your website and share the message contents. Have them scan your website for any instances of this word and verify there are no misspellings using that method. 

We Want to Hear From You

There’s lots of other scams out there we didn’t cover in this post. Let’s share our stories so more people can be aware of what to watch out for. Tell us your unique story in the comments below.