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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Internet

Avoid fake drone-registration sites

You know you're supposed to register that new drone. What you might not know is lots of third-party sites hope to overcharge you.

I recently upgraded to a shiny new Phantom drone, the first I'd purchased since the FAA's drone-registration rules went into effect.

At first I thought, "Eh, I don't really need to register, do I?" Then a friend asked if I knew the penalty for flying without a license. A couple hundred bucks, I guessed? Nope: Failing to register may result in civil penalties up to $27,500, while criminal penalties may include fines up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.

"Pay the five bucks," my friend said.

So, naturally, I Googled "drone registration." The first result, Federal Drone Registry, looked like the right thing, so I clicked on through, entered all my personal and drone details, and proceeded to the checkout page. But then I found myself staring at a $24.99 cart total. Huh? I thought registration was five bucks. Maybe the cost went up since December?

drone-registration-fakes.jpg

Don't blindly click the first search result that appears, otherwise you could end up paying an unnecessary premium for drone registration.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Nope. Turns out I'd fallen for a pretty standard search-engine bait-and-switch, the same kind that tricks people who search for, say, "HP tech support" and similarly broad topics. Unless you look closely at the results, it's easy to blindly click a seemingly suitable link and end up with a third-party vendor -- exactly what happened to me.

Turns out a number of small companies have cropped up to offer drone registration, providing little or no added value despite much higher prices. The aforementioned Federal Drone Registry, for example, looked pretty darn official, and only a later perusal of the site's FAQ page revealed it had no FAA or U.S. Government affiliation.

Yes, I absolutely should have known better. Yes, upon closer inspection, there were telltale "Ad" stickers (tiny ones, though) alongside each of the top three search results. And, yes, I'd been in a hurry, so I clicked before I looked.

Don't make the same mistake. If you need to register a drone, head to the Federal Aviation Administration's Small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) service. (The link, just so you can spot it in search engines, looks like this: https://registermyuas.faa.gov/) The price is $5, and when you're done you'll receive a small certificate you can print and an ID number you can adhere, engrave or write on the drone itself.