A new scam has come to light using publicly available "whois" data to rip off domain name owners.

The scam, like many other increasingly targeted attacks, uses contact information available in the publicly available "whois" database to direct its emails, according to industry newsletter Domain Name Wire. The emails claim to originate from a company called Domain Renewal, which operates a professional-looking site and offers to renew users' or companies' domain names.

Targets are sent an email informing them that their domain name is about to expire, and offering to renew it. Many companies and users buy different domain names from different registrars, making the scam hard to spot - a fact "Domain Renewal" acknowledges on its site.

The company claims to simplify the renewal process via deals with domain registrars around the world, allowing users to keep track of all their domains on one site.

"It is not uncommon for companies to have purchased their domains with different suppliers which makes it even harder to keep track of their domain portfolio. DRS will find and renew your domains for you. We make agreements with ISPs all over the world to renew our customers' domain names," the site states.

There's just one problem: such third-party renewals are not in fact possible under the current domain-name registry framework.

The emails direct users to a slick site that displays Microsoft, Oracle, Cisco and IBM logos, as well as those of major credit card makers. Payment is taken via a payment service called MultiCards.

The Domain Renewal sites are owned by an organisation in Brussels, according to whois.

The Domain Renewal site, domainrenewalonline.com, was still functioning as of Tuesday morning.

Industry experts advise users not to follow links from emails claiming to come from e-commerce websites or authorities such as domain name registrars, since such emails are a common way of carrying out financial fraud.