If you have your own website, chances are you’ve received something in the mail reminding you to renew your domain name before it expires. People generally react to these notices in one of the following ways:
- “Is this actually something I have to worry about?”
- “I already paid for my web hosting, so I’m good. Right?”
- Panic and send money to the address provided.
First, let me clarify what’s happening here. If you have a website, it has two important parts: the hosting and the domain name. I like comparing these to your rent/mortgage and your mailing address; you need hosting so that your website has a space on the internet at which all of the files are stored (just like you need a house for all your stuff), and you need a domain name so that people know where to find you (just like you need a mailing address to receive mail). The difference is that in the physical world, we aren’t charged just to have a mailing address. That’s where a domain name is different: it is indeed a bill that is sent separately from web hosting services, and it does need to be renewed every so often, usually once a year.
Unfortunately, many people buy a domain name, get their website set up and running, and then forget about it again until the bills show up. Usually it’s easy to remember where your site is being hosted, because you’ve probably been in contact with them while you set up your website. But with so many companies out there selling domain names, it’s easy to forget which one you initially chose. Then when you get a letter like the one above, you’re sure that must be a bill, so you pay it.
That’s not always the case.
This is actually a very common scam, loosely known as “domain slamming”. Unscrupulous companies get your information (which is publicly accessible when you set up your new domain name), and attempt to get you to transfer your domain to them, using what looks like a bill. The result? You end up paying sometimes four times as much money for the exact same service.
So, how can you tell the difference between a bill and a scam?
If you don’t remember which company you originally used to purchase the domain name for your website, just visit whois.icann.org and search for your website’s name. You’ll get all of the information associated with your website, including the name of the registrar (the person or company from whom you purchased your domain name). If the name under “Registrar” is not the name on the paper you received, then it didn’t come from your registrar, and it’s a scam.
When you look up your website in WHOIS, you may also see a status setting that reads: “Domain Status: clientTransferProhibited”. This means that your domain name is locked, and that you have to unlock it before it can be transferred to a different company. This is another level of protection that you can use to ensure that your domain name stays where it belongs–namely, out of the hands of scam artists. Common practice with most registrars is to lock domains automatically, specifically because of spams. But if you’re unsure, just ask. Your registrar should be happy to help.