|To begin with, a domain name is the www.yourcompany.com that people type in, or click on, in order to find your Web site. This is usually set up when developing your Web site and is often handled by your Web site developer.
Originally, all domain names were registered through and maintained by one private company appointed to do so by the U.S. government. However, several years ago, domain registrations were decentralized and yet another, brand new, Internet industry was born.
With this decentralization, practically anyone could offer domain name registration sales and maintenance. With that came the struggle to win a share of the domain name market. Some people offered lower prices, some claimed better service, but some lowered themselves to more devious methods.
Most recent is the domain renewal/expiration hoax letters. While clearly unethical, the concept is simple. You receive a letter in the mail, from a legitimate-sounding company, stating your domain name is about to expire. All you have to do is give them your credit card information and send the letter back. But, in reality, your domain isn't even close to expiring and it's not even registered with the company who sent you the letter.
Several things make this easy for them to do.
First, domain names are renewed on a yearly basis, often for several years at a time. So, 18 months go by, you receive an invoice in the mail claiming your domain name is going to expire and you have to renew right away. Would you remember what company your domain name was registered with? Or, even remember how long ago it had been purchased?
As I said before, many times your domain name will be registered by your developer so you many have never even been aware what company it was registered with. But, these letters are purposely sent to the owner, not the developer.
That leads me to my next point. Every domain name has several bits of contact information associated with it. There is the owner's contact information and administrative, technical and billing contact information as well.
This breakdown makes it very easy for these companies to pick out the owner or billing contact information and bypass the person who would be most aware of these types of scams.
Furthermore, all this information is publicly available. While it is illegal to use the database of domain name owners for this purpose, there is nothing in place to prevent it and no one seems to be enforcing it.
People often ask me what the big deal is. As long as their name doesn't expire, who cares what company it is registered with?
Well, there are several reasons to care.
First of all, we are talking about your domain name. Imagine if you phone number was just given to your biggest competitor. That's what could happen with your domain name. If you lost that, all your marketing, search engine placement, brand building and all the efforts you had made to promote your Web site would be lost.
What happens if the company you switch to goes out of business?
There are times you could need customer service to change your contact information or e-mail address associated with your name. Do you think a company who is willing to resort to illegal, deceitful tactics really cares about your customer service experience?
There are even questions of ownership. Different companies have different policies on this and you may be handing over final ownership of the domain without even knowing it.
Lastly, by supporting these companies, we are condoning the behavior , when in reality what they are doing is just wrong.
The bottom line is the next time you receive a notice that you domain name is up for renewal, do a little research. Find out what company you are currently registered with and when your domain name is really going expire.
Useful Web Sites:
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) ˜ http://www.icann.org/ ˜ A nonprofit corporation that is assuming responsibility from the U.S. government for coordinating the management of Internet domain name system. InterNIC ˜ http://www.internic.net/ ˜ Includes a utility for looking up domain name ownership and registrar information as well as a useful information about domain names in general. Domain Scams ˜ http://www.domainscams.com/ ˜ outlines the current happenings with fraudulent domain letters being sent out, lists the companies to watch out for and offers links for reporting domain scams.