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Anatomy of a domain name appraisal scam

[Update March 23, 2009: a similar scam has surfaced.]

One of the oldest and most popular scams against domain name owners is the domain appraisal scam. It works like this: someone emails you interested in buying a domain. When you reply, they require an appraisal to verify the value. The scammer either owns the domain appraisal company you are referred to, or is a paid affiliate.

I recently received an offer to buy a domain, and knew it was a scam from the beginning. But I decided to play along. Here’s the thread, and the tipoffs that it was a scam.

E-mail 1: Scammer
Dear Sirs, Does anybody really use the term “sirs” anymore?

I’m writing regrading your domain listed for sale.

Have you received bids from other buyers?

Could you be so kind to drop me your asking price. This is somewhat fishy, since it’s listed for sale on the site with a “make offer” value. But alone this wouldn’t be a red flag.

I run a software development company. Selling & buying names is not my main business. Just another way to invest free money and make some income. Hmmm…that’s a lot of detail to try to act innocent about domain names. This clearly is a time consuming venture for the “buyer”, since he/she has to find domains for sale on Sedo and then look it up in WhoIs to email the buyer. Why not just make an offer through Sedo in a few seconds?

Kindest regards,

Ph. D. President Rather formal title, don’t you think?

When I searched for the company name, I didn’t find it. Since the person claims to own a software company, you’d think they at least had a web site. Furthermore, the “from” address was from a free email service, not a company domain.

Email 2: Me
Please make offer through Sedo.com

Email 3: Scammer
This email had a different “from: name” than than the original.

I need to know your asking price first. Please send it to me via email. This could be legit, as the buyer could want to find out if my asking price is lower than what they want to offer.

How do you prefer to get paid: www.PayPal.com, www.escrow.com, check or
wire? Here, the scammer is trying to prove he/she is ready to make the purchase.

Looking forward to your reply.

Email 4: Me
$250, PayPal is fine.

Email 5: Scammer
250. Ok.

Do you sell a developed site or just domain name? If you don’t have a site
it’s not a problem. I’m mostly interested in domain names without content. You’ve gone through a lot of effort to buy this domain, but you haven’t even looked at the domain to see if there’s a developed site??

Do you have an appraisal of your domain? I need an appraisal certificate for
domain priced in your range. Domain name is an investment for me. I’m going
to sell your name later and make a profit. If I overpay I won’t be able to
make a profit in the future. It’s very important for you and me to know the
current market value of your domain. Ah, the appraisal request. An appraisal for a $250 domain? Most people don’t get appraisals on domains worth $thousands. It’s also a bit hokey here…why explain why you are buying the domain?

Please note that I don’t trust free or cheap appraisals. So I cannot accept
appraisal from each and every site. Because he won’t make money if I get the appraisal through someone else 🙂

To avoid mistakes I asked domain experts about reputable appraisal companies
in an Internet law forum:
First, this isn’t a law forum. Second, the discussion is obviously built up to make this buyer look like he means business. In one of the posts, he tells “another person” that he went ahead and blindly sent $4,100 to his PayPal account for some domains. Of course, the thread suggests one domain appraisal service in particular. Also, the URL display is different from the actual URL you are sent to if you click on it. I don’t know any forum that let’s you enter HTML to go to a page other than the typed URL.

Juck check this posting.

After I verify an appraisal from you we’ll continue our negotiations.

How do you prefer to get paid: www.PayPal.com, www.escrow.com, check or
wire? Again, showing his eagerness to make the deal.

Looking forward to your reply.

Email 6: Me
I decide to turn it around on the scammer.
Sure. You can go ahead and pay for an appraisal and I’ll subtract it
from the purchase price.

End of Messages
Do you think I ever got a reply from Email 6? Yeah, right 🙂

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Reader Interactions

Comments

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  1. Al

    I have just had this very same email as I am trying to sell though sedo, glad I found this post! As you were, I was very suspicious of this offer.

  2. Bluecrab

    Got the same email today:

    I visited your site.

    1,000 USD. Ok.

    Do you offer a web site or domain name only? I’m mostly interested in
    names.

    Do you have an appraisal ? I need an independent appraisal certificate for
    domain priced in your range. I consider your name as an investment. In other
    words I’m going to sell your name later and make a profit. If I overpay I
    won’t be able to make a profit in the future. It’s very important for you
    and me to know the current market value of your domain.

    Of course, we must be sure that you are engaging a reputable appraisal
    company. Please note that I don’t trust free or cheap appraisals.

    To avoid mistakes I asked domain experts about reputable appraisal companies
    in a forum
    http://www.domaintalk.ourplace.com/Archive/28014.htm

    Juck check this posting.

    After I verify an appraisal from you we’ll continue our negotiations.

    Looking forward to your reply.

  3. Editor

    I’m glad to see that this has helped people out. If you receive any other variations on this scheme please post them here.

  4. almostasuckertoo

    i also recieved the EXACT WORD FOR WORD email about 1000usd ok.

    just a copy with a name change

    thanks for the heads up

  5. sam

    I got the same email – it looked legit to me.
    I also could not find anything about the company. The guy told me the company was in Norway.

    I assumed that the fishiness was really because he needed my domain for a real business but did not want to let me know that and instead he was posing as a small time domain investor.

    Incidentally in the email I got – I was offered $5k. This guy is getting more generous!

    ANyway the link to the discussion group looked odd to me – but I could not even underdtand what he wanted me to do….

  6. Barney

    Received same emails…only with the name
    James Ueland Ph.D.

    Trying to get me to pay for appraisals.

    Softforces.com and allfordomains.com is the same company.

    Emetrix is just their online payment processor. Probably not involved but should be alerted.

  7. tn

    Andew, Thanks for exposing this scam on your blog. I received the same appraisal scam July 9, 2006:

    ****Appraisal Scam Alert****

    How about * USD for *com? Ok?

    Do you sell the name only without hosting? I’m interested in the name so hosting, developed site and other things are not so important.

    Do you have an appraisal certificate?

    Domain name is an investment for me. In other words I’m going to sell your name later and make a profit. If I overpay I won’t be able to make a profit in the future. It’s very important for you and me to know the current market value of your domain.

    Of course, we must be sure that you are engaging a reputable appraisal company. I heard many appraisal companies often made inaccurate appraisals. I will only accept appraisals from independent sources I know and trust.

    To avoid mistakes I asked domain experts about reputable appraisal companies in a forum
    http://domaintalk.ourplace.com/Archive/82046.htm

    Juck check this posting.

    If the appraisal comes higher you can adjust your asking price accordingly. I also hope you can give me 10% – 15% discount of the appraised value.

    After I get an appraisal from you we’ll continue our negotiations.

    How do you prefer to get paid: http://www.escrow.com, http://www.PayPal.com check or wire?

    Hope we can come to an agreement fast.

    Looking forward to your reply.

    Regards,
    Robert Hegglund, Ph. D.
    President
    TG Technologies
    topmanagement@ToughGuy.net

    ****Appraisal Scam Alert****

  8. MD

    Hello,

    Could you send me price for the name mentioned in the subject line?

    By the way, investing in domain names is not the main direction of our business but a good way to generate additional income.

    If you have other domain names for sale please send us the complete list with prices for consideration.

    I’m a very busy person so it may take several hours before I respond 🙂

    Looking forward to do business with you.

    Regards,
    Jon Terner
    Vice President
    Opera Software
    ==============================
    3,000 USD. Ok.

    Do you sell the name only without web site? I’m interested in the name so web site is not so important.

    Do you have an appraisal certificate for your domain name?

    Domain name is an investment for me. In other words I’m going to sell your name later and make a profit. If I overpay I won’t be able to make a profit in the future. It’s very important for you and me to know the current market value of your domain.

    Of course, we must be sure that you are engaging a reputable appraisal company. I heard many appraisal companies often made inaccurate appraisals. I will only accept appraisals from independent sources I trust.
    I heard some appraisal companies often made inaccurate appraisals. So I will only accept appraisals from independent sources I
    To avoid mistakes I asked domain experts about reputable appraisal companies in a forum
    http://domaintalk.ourplace.com/Archive/92047.htm
    Just check this posting.

    If the appraisal comes higher you can adjust your asking price accordingly. I also hope you can give me 10% – 15% discount of the appraised value.

    After I get an appraisal from you we’ll continue our negotiations.

    How do you prefer to get paid: http://www.escrow.com, http://www.PayPal.com check or wire?

    Hope we can come to an agreement fast.

    Looking forward to your reply.
    ========================================
    Sedo is a good broker. Unfortunately , Sedo is not acceptable as an
    appraiser because your names are listed with them and they are not
    independent. They are interested in earning 10% commission on every sale. I
    need appraisals from a company which is not interested in
    selling your domains.

    I heard many appraisal companies often made inaccurate appraisals. So I
    cannot accept appraisal from each and every site. I will only accept
    appraisals from independent appraisal companies I know and trust.
    ====================================

    ****Appraisal Scam Alert****

  9. Still Out There

    Did you hear about recent big sale on the market?

    Porn.com for $9.5M in cash. This is the largest all-cash domain sale ever
    reported.
    http://seoblackhat.com/2007/05/16/porncom-sells-for-95-million-in-cash

    Ok. Let’s talk about our deal.

    Can you accept 30,000 USD for
    ======.com
    ======.com
    ======.com
    ======.com

    Do you offer a web site or domain name only? I’m mostly interested in
    names.

    Have you had your domains appraised already? Can you show me your valuation
    certificates? As fas I know it’s a common practice to show appraisal of
    domain name (even without traffic and web site) before doing business.

    Without appraisal I risk to overpay. In other words I won’t be able to make
    a profit on reselling this name. It’s very important for you and me to know
    the current market value of your domains.

    Of course, we must be sure that you are engaging an appraisal company with
    REAL manual service. I heard many appraisal companies often made inaccurate
    auto-generated appraisals. I will only accept appraisals from independent
    sources I trust. To avoid mistakes I asked domain experts about reputable
    appraisal companies in a forum

    http://domaintalk.ourplace.com/Archive/497586.htm

    Just check this posting.

    If the appraisal comes higher you can adjust your asking price accordingly.
    I also hope you can give me 10% – 15% discount of the appraised value.

    After I get an appraisal from you we’ll continue our negotiations.

    How do you prefer to get paid: http://www.escrow.com, http://www.PayPal.com check or
    wire?

    Hope we can come to an agreement fast.

    Looking forward to your reply.

  10. Fandango

    Today i got the same email, with offer to sell my domain.

    Author was:
    Andreas Winski
    Vice President
    TNN Technologies

    Well, as Jason has just wrote, new name of Appraisal Scamer
    🙂 Be careful.

  11. Nigel Greaves

    I’ve just got the same email as you guys and it’s signed off as:

    Andreas Winski
    Vice President
    TNG Technologies

    A slight change in the company name to TNG rather than TNN Technologies but heck he did say he was busy right?

    I was a little surprised that he chose Phreaker.net as his mailing address though.

    Nigel

  12. Roger

    I just got this one today. I am glad I did a research on this Dude… I will play along and see how far he goes…

    ——————————–

    Hello,

    Please reply me with your asking price for #####.net. I’m browsing periodically domain auctions and your domain has good potential (in my humble opinion).

    We are working on software market. Reselling gives us a new income opportunity.

    Looking forward to do business with you.

    Regards,
    Andreas Winski
    Vice President
    TNG Technologies

  13. caymanick

    Got this today:

    Hello,

    I’m checking sites with domains for sale from time to time. By my opinion, (mydomain).com can generate income. What is your price?

    We are working on software market. Reselling gives us a good income opportunity but it does not have relation to our main business.

    Looking forward to do business with you.

    Regards,
    Ronald Winski
    Vice President
    PHR Systems

  14. Alexander

    I have got the same e-mail as above, and I have paid for Appraisal Certificate for my domain amount of $ 87,78 at namesale which has referred by him. Before, I thought he was a real buyer, finally I knew that he only wants to be my domain broker with 14 % commission. Here his e-mail:
    ============================================
    Hello,

    Please reply me with your asking price for holiday-in-bali.net. I’m browsing periodically domain auctions and your domain has good potential (in my humble opinion).

    We are working on software market. Reselling gives us a new income opportunity.

    Looking forward to do business with you.

    Regards,
    Andreas Winski
    Vice President
    TNG Technologies

  15. Ronald

    Same to me, same arguments, same words, same text.

    Last e-mail i wrote now:

    Ok, was nice to play around with you a bit.

    You and your texts are well known in the web.

    I dont think you are very interested in doing business with me.

    If you are, just use the SEDO platform incl. auction system to do a bid for the requested domain.

    No other chance to do business.

    Please be patient.

    Ronald Korschelt

  16. mikeb

    rec’d a similar variation today. but individual was Patrick Harrison. management@phreaker.net

    Hello,

    From time to time, I’m checking online auctions. Several hours ago I’ve found your domain name (mydomain).net.

    Just email me your price and we will consider it.

    Of course, domain reselling is not a main direction of our business (we develop software). But domain aftermarket is hot now, so we are always interested in domain names.

    Looking forward to do business with you.

    Regards,
    Patrick Harrison
    Chief Operations Officer
    PHK Consulting

  17. deana

    Got one today too! Thanks for the scam info, although it is quite a let down and really pisses me off that there are people out there that would do this. Mine came from Emmett Hodges “chief_executive@phreaker.net” he offered me $12000 USD for my domain.

  18. Nigel

    I got the same email too.

    Signed by:

    Craig Huffman
    Chief Executive Officer
    TNG (The Next Generation) Services

  19. HB

    just got one from him last night
    Robert Gardos
    Vice President
    TGS Technologies

    it’s crazy that 3 years later he’s still at it

  20. BB

    Me too… :))

    Hello,

    Your domain name has been found online.

    Please let us know your price.

    We make money on selling and buying names and sites. Now the domain
    business is very attractive.

    Looking forward to do business with you.

    Regards,
    Anthony Monteiro
    CEO
    ELT LLC

  21. Folk Bastion

    New Variation, coincides with new SEDO listing:

    Hello, My name is Jeffrey Burnstein and I’m very interested in your domain. Investing in domains is a profitable business. Please let me know your price for the domain in the subject line. If you have other good names just send me the list with prices. Looking forward to do business with you. Regards,Jeffrey BurnsteinCEOOBS LLC ========================================================NOTICE – This communication may contain confidential and privilegedinformation that is for the sole use of the intended recipient. Anyviewing, copying or distribution of, or reliance on this message byunintended recipients is strictly prohibited. If you have received thismessage in error, please notify us immediately by replying to the messageand deleting it from your computer.========================================================

  22. Dave

    I recently received a domain appraisal scam attempt from buy-domain-hosting.com, This contact started off with stating his name is Michael but, after doing a little bit of research I was able to uncover this company’s true meaning to scam domain owners into getting an appraisal but not continuing to make any legit offers for my domains.

    DO NOT TRUST BUY-DOMAIN-HOSTING.COM THEY ARE DOMAIN APPRAISAL SCAMMERS!

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