by Richard Lowe, Jr.
Today I received a notice in the mail claiming that my domain name was about to expire. The letter was written in extremely alarming terms, as if my entire world would be destroyed forever if I was stupid enough to allow the name to expire. The letter made it clear that I could renew immediately and should, because if the domain expired I would, of course, lose it and thus life as I knew it would come to a close.
Closer examination revealed that the document was not from my domain registrar at all. In fact, it was from some company that I had never heard of before. The letter certainly looked official and important, but in reality it was just more junk mail.
Okay, first question: how had these idiots gotten my home address? Simple. As it turns out, this is a common practice among some of the less ethical domain registrars. Using the WHOIS database, they get a list of all of the domain names about to expire, then send a letter to each address explaining this fact and offering to renew the domain.
The WHOIS database is a list of each domain name that exists on the internet, along with the name and address (and some other information) of each owner. This information is public knowledge, freely available to anyone.
What would have happened if I had sent a check to the domain registrar to pay for a renewal? It would have been transferred to the new registrar. If I had not read the letter carefully, I probably would not have realized that I was not just renewing my domain, I was transferring my domain to a new registrar.
In some instances worse things happen. You could receive an email in your inbox, for example, making the same claim: your domain is about to expire. Click on a link and you’ve given (unknowingly) permission for your domain to be transferred. A few days later you might discover your web site not working, your email turned off and your domain information completely unavailable.
This is called “domain name slamming”, and it is named after the practice that some highly unethical long distance phone companies employ. These companies will, at the least provocation, change your phone company to themselves. You could cash a check, return a post card or use any number of other means to “give permission” to change. Some of the most unethical companies have been known to just change your service without even asking. The moral of the story? Keep good records of where your domain names are registered. If you do get an email or a letter, go directly to your domain registrar’s web site and renew the domain yourself. Don’t click anything in the email, respond or send back a letter. Just go to the web site and renew. This way you can be sure you understand exactly what is happening, and this way you can be positive that nothing else is occurring.
And oh yes, stay away from those registrars who engage in this practice. At least, that’s my humble advice. I find the whole tactic unethical in the extreme, and personally, I will go to extremes to not do business with any registrar who slams.