This post is about my dealing with the company DROA / Domain Registry of America.
I first wrote about them in Dec 2004: “Domain Registry of America scam“: they had sent me letters to urgently advise me to renew my domain names. When I researched a bit who they were, it became clear it was an shady initiative of some Canadian ‘businessmen’. They write scary letters in the hope that a non-tech-savvy person in the accounting department gets scared and quickly pays, thus transferring their domain management to DROA, who charge more than the average.
Then in March 2007, they contacted me to demand the removal of the blog posts, if not they would sue me for an Ontario court. “Govern yourself accordingly” showed that I was not impressed with that threat.
Now the saga continues: I have been contacted by a Gilbert Duchanan in an effort to make me remove my blog posts. It started on last Aug 19, with a short email. “I represent a company that is currently in talks to acquire the company Domain Registry of America. Upon searching on Google we discovered links to negative articles on your blog regarding the company. What would it take to have you remove the article(s) found at (…) Gilbert“. Just a first name, not a “Legal representative”, “Customer relations” or anything. That’s kind of weird for a legal person.
I replied: “Dear Mr Duchanan, I find it hard to believe that a company with honest and bona-fide practices would be interested in taking over the heritage of the DRoA. So unless you could convince me of the opposite, I will just assume that the scam will continue, and I will not take away the articles. Please be aware that this conversation could end up on my blog too. Peter” Who knows, it might develop into a good story. I of course expected to have legal threats at some point.
The next day, a reply, again from ‘Gilbert’. Mind you, I still had no idea who he worked for.
For the past 2 months we have been conducting our due diligence regarding Domain Registry of America (DROA). We have seen negative publicity towards some of their advertising practices causing us to question the company about it. DROA has provided us with documentation from the United States Federal Trade Commission, The British Advertising Standards Authority, and The Canadian Competition Bureau. These organizations are the governing bodies for advertising in their respective countries. The documents we have been provided with show complete compliance with their respective country’s laws. We are fully aware of previous matters dating back to 2002 and 2003 with the FTC and ASA but these issues have been resolved. These dated matters do not concern us as we are aware that most fortune 500 companies have and continue to resolve matters brought on by the FTC and other governing bodies.
Our audits have shown that the company has hundreds of thousands of customers under their management that continue to renew their domains and domain related services. This shows us that their clients must be satisfied with their service, support, and pricing in the extremely competitive domain name industry. It is unfortunate that the number of complaints online pale in comparison to the number of satisfied customers that DROA has. We have found similar numbers of complaints about the top ten registrars as well. While we cannot address every online complaint we will do our best to make contact with members of the general public, like yourself, in an attempt to address your concerns.
Well, ok, let’s see what is true in this statement.
- Federal Trade Commission: there is a 2003 complaint that was resulted in an order as follows (without the legalese): “IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that, (…) Defendant, (…) are hereby permanently restrained and enjoined from making (…) any false or misleading statement or representation (…) that the transfer of a domain name registration is a renewal.”
This is the letter they still send in 2008 (at the right): “You must renew your domain name to retain exlusive rights …“
- The Canadian Competition Bureau had the following dealings with the same company: Internet Registry director fined for bogus invoice scam (June 2004)
- The British ASA formulated their opinion as recent as 2009: ASA Adjudication on Domain Registry of America:
“We noted the mailing stated “This notice is not a bill …”, “You are under no obligation to pay the amounts stated below …” and “… now is the time to transfer and renew your name from your current Registrar to the Domain renewal Group …”, but did not consider it was sufficient to remove the overall impression that the mailing was a genuine bill requiring payment. We concluded that the mailing was misleading for falsely implying that recipients had already transferred their domain name to DRG and for not making sufficiently clear that it was a marketing communication. (…) The mailing must not appear again in its current form.”
- While I’m researching: let’s see with the USA Better Busines Bureau says: Rating F on a scale from A+ to F: because of “177 complaints filed against business, Failure to respond to 11 complaints filed against business, 26 complaints filed against business that were not resolved, 1 serious complaint filed against business“
- “the issues have been resolved” – I still get comments on both my blog posts that the same practices as in 2004 continue.
Before I reply, Gilbert sends me another mail: “Our 90 day due diligence period is coming to an end and we have not received a response from you regarding our previous email. We would like to provide you with more information about our company, but as we are a publicly traded company on the U.S. NASDAQ exchange, we cannot disclose any information regarding mergers and acquisitions to anyone outside the Board, as this would be in violation of the rules and procedures of the Exchange.”
So I answer on Sept 1st:
“The company we are talking about, has a history of conducting business in a shady and immoral way. I do not find enough verifiable elements in this conversation to assume that this behaviour has stopped / would stop. If you are indeed who you say you are, your due diligence will have to take note of the abundance of negative goodwill surrounding the company. It will take a lot of effort to clean up that reputation.”
Mr Duchanan does not give up and answers 2 weeks later:
Thank you for your response. In regards to your statement of the company “conducting business in a shady and immoral way” could you please be more specific. If you are referring to their marketing practices, what is it that you find different than that of the United States Federal Trade Commission, The British Advertising Standards Authority, and The Canadian Competition Bureau.
The marketing material was designed to clearly inform domain owners of their upcoming domain expiry and offer them the opportunity to switch registrars if they so desire. We can provide you with a copy of the solicitation that will show that there is no possibility of deceit or trickery involved in the material. The solicitation clearly states the below
“You must renew your domain name to retain exclusive rights to it on the Web, and now is the time to transfer and renew your name from your current Registrar to the Domain Registry of America. “
It also states:
“Domain name holders are not obligated to renew their domain name with their current Registrar or with the Domain Registry of America. Review our prices and decide for yourself. You are under no obligation to pay the amounts stated below, unless you accept this offer. This notice is not a bill, it is rather an easy means of payment should you decide to switch your domain name registration to the Domain Registry of America.”
The wording of this solicitation shows clear intent to inform prospective customers of their options.
Well, the BBB, the ASA, some 20000 pages online and me find this intent less clear. We all seem to think that the letters are intently misleading.
By now, I’m getting annoyed that Mr Duchanan does not want to tell me who he’s working for. Actually, I suspect there is no Gilbert Duchanan, and that it’s just a decoy for someone who, I presume, works for DROA.
Dear Mr Duchanan,
you contact me via a Gmail account, without any indication of what company you work for, without any phone number, without any professional credentials whatsoever. You could be telling the truth, or not. I have no way to verify your identity or links with the current/former owners of DROA. If you are serious about this, provide me with the coordinates of your office, your boss, some references.
If I see the comments on my own blog and on other blogs reporting on DROA, the scam practices are still continuing in the same form as before (complaints even in Sept 2010). I still see no reason to change my opinion, or my publication.
And today the reply came. Do I know now who he is, or who he works for? Of course not. My comments are [inline].
As mentioned in my previous emails we are a publicly traded company who has yet to announce our acquisition although we have entered into a definitive agreement to purchase all the outstanding shares of the holding company that owns and operates DROA. Therefore if I provide you with the information you request it will expose who we are and therefore violate the rules of the Exchange. I hope you would find by the tone of our emails and all the inside knowledge and information we have provided to you that I am an insider with the company. [an insider to what company? the one that is presumed to acquire DROA or DROA itsel?. Of course you’re an insider. Why would you contact me otherwise?]
It is disturbing to us that you would use the word “scam” in this email as well as on your blog. The word “scam” implies an act of theft or dishonesty, an act which we know the company does not practice in and must address our shareholders and the public will demand it. [It may be so that the company does not find its practices hishonest, but every professional body and several hundreds of victims do.]
While everyone in this world is entitled to their opinion, when published or said, should that opinion be false, misleading, or defamatory, it becomes slander. We have provided you with enough information to ensure you that all material produced by the company conforms to its local regulations. If you are uncertain as to the validity of the information we provided you with, you are always welcome as an individual to contact the entity in question to ensure its validity. [Of course I’m ‘uncertain’ about the validity of your claims. You won’t even tell me who you work for. So which entities should I contact? The FTC, CCB, ASA, BBB?]
Therefore anyone publishing the word “scam” or any other wording along those lines in their opinion regarding the company, it is slander. Once the acquisition is completed and we have moved all of DROAs operations to our New York offices we would like to invite you, at our expense (flight and hotel), to come to our office in New York City so we can offer you a tour of our facility. [Sure, as if that is going to happen.]
We would like to resolve this issue with you in an orderly fashion but if all else fails we will have no option but to utilize the legal system here in America. We have hopefully tried to the best of our ability to satisfy your concerns but it appears we are not succeeding. If we provide you with the contact information to our Corporate Attorney will you please forward it to yours so they may be in contact with each other in hopes of resolving the issue? [Ah, a legal treat! I was waiting for that! I will indeed ask for contact info of your Corporate Attorney.
To be continued …