A client called the other day, asking about an offer that had been made to him over the phone. A Queensland-based company wanted to see if he was interested in the ".com" version of his domain name (since he already had the ".com.au" version).
Turns out they'd registered this .com version 2 days prior to calling, and were now aiming to sell it to him.
A couple of numbers to put things into perspective. At Winch Websites, I charge $44 per year to register and/or renew a .com domain name. For this, all you are doing is grabbing that particular domain name and making it yours. So additional related services (such as a website, webhosting, business email, etc. etc.) are all extra. We're talking only about the domain name itself.
It's a bit like vehicle rego, when you renew that you don't get a car or driver licence, you just get the rights to put the associated vehicle on public roads. Register and renew a domain name, and you get the right to use it in internet-land however you choose, and nobody else can have it (legal claims to the name aside!).
Now, this Queensland company was offering to sell the .com domain name at $650 plus GST. This is the exact same domain registration service as I provide for $44 inc GST.
There is nothing strictly illegal about this. They have the right to register any .com domain name they choose, unless it is a trademark. And likewise, for a .com, they are free to sell it to whoever they like for whatever price they like. (Note that this practice IS illegal for .com.au domains).
But is it wrong? I firmly say Yes. Is it immoral to pre-register a variation of someone's existing domain name and sell it for over 10 times the going rate? Absolutely.
What can you do about it? Not much. They've already registered the domain, and it will be theirs for at least a year. At bulk-buy discount rates, it costs them $10-$20. Obviously worth the gamble or they wouldn't be doing it. In your marketing activities, you may need to make it clear that only the .com.au version of your domain is yours.
However, because you are reading this, you may actually be able to head off the issue. If you have .com.au domain names, maybe check to see if you could register the .com equivalent too. It's a small price for the peace of mind that someone else couldn't steal it (and possibly abuse it).
Feel free to get in touch if you'd like any assistance with your domain name registrations and renewals, it's a critical part of your internet activities.