It is perfectly legal to send out scam letters, provided you label them as scam letters. If people don't read, well, it's on them.
In the mail today, a piece of junk mail that I threw out right away. But then I retrieved it from the trash, as it was good blog material. It is a scam of course. They mock-up the mailing and envelope to make it appear that your domain name registration is up for renewal - at an astounding $288 a year! (odd number, eh?). I'm sure some people or small businesses pay this without thinking.
Your secretary or accounting person gets this "bill" and cuts a check without looking at it too closely. After all, they are busy, right? If you send out a million of these letters, and one-in-ten respond, well, you've made $28 million. Nice work if you can get it. Even if one-in-a-hundred respond, you make a couple mil. One in a thousand? You still make back your postage cost.
The key is, of course, that they say, in big print, that this is NOT a domain name renewal, but merely listing your domain name on a "directory" that is on a website. I've seen this scam before with regard to Trademarks and Patents. And lawyers.
I've had clients call me and ask whether they need to pay a Trademark "registration fee" or a Patent "publication fee." They were suspicious, as the post card they received was printed on a dot matrix printer and instructed them to wire money to Hong Kong. One client actually sent money, thinking he was avoiding "lawyer fees" by "doing it himself!" In the fine print on the post card, they tell the real story - the fees are only to have their Patent or Trademark "published" on CD-ROM which will be mailed to someone, somewhere. They aren't doing absolutely nothing in return for your $288 but it is awfully damn close.
But Lawyers get caught in this web, too. Not a day goes by I don't get a SPAM message asking me to register online for some sort of lawyer directory, promising me loads of clients, if I put my name on a website!
Invention Brokers advertise online, promising you can make money from your invention. They ask for $5,000 to $10,000 up front and then keep it and do little else. The FTC investigated them and discovered that basically no one ever made money from their inventions - the success rate was something like 0.0025%. So as part of a settlement, the invention broker had to publish their success rate.
So they did. And people still sent in their money. There are a lot of people who are not very bright in this world, and senility and dementia factor into the equation.
So, if you want to make money, send out a letter or spam-call people asking them to send a dollar to "Happy Dude!" and you'd be surprised how many people do just that.
Hey, it worked for Homer!