Domain name hijacking is alive and happening in Greeley.
Colette Pitcher, owner of Art Department at Showcase, 1335 8th Ave., Greeley, recently learned that her Web site's domain name was taken over when her Web host failed to pay her name registration fees.
Her domain name, http://www.artbycolette.com/, now takes the user to a search engine with a notice that the
site is unavailable.
"It just all of a sudden didn't work, and I punched in the name and got another site," Pitcher said. "It was something on nursing. It didn't really make any sense, and it certainly didn't need to be Art by Colette. I was surprised someone wanted it so quickly."
According to the Mountain States Better Business Bureau, domain name hijacking takes many forms. Pitcher's was the least extreme, but one that may not be uncommon.
"There are companies out there just waiting to get the list of expired names and grab them," said Barbara Read, communications director of the BBB. "They put on pornographic material or send a blackmail letter, saying if you want it back, it will cost you."
Large businesses and even government municipalities may find their sites hijacked with offers to have the site returned for a fee ranging from $2,500 to $500,000.
Most Web site names are purchased for a specific length of time. The rights must be extended or they will expire. In the worst-case scenario, someone grabs the expired domain, usually high-traffic sites, and points users instead to pornographic content.
The more traffic the URL gets, the greater the click-through value to a site hijacker. This means more potential damage to the original owner, and a higher ransom to get it back.
Pitcher said she feels lucky. She has a new Web site, http://www.colettepitcher.com/. Instead of relying on a server company to ensure her registration fees are paid, Pitcher says she now manages the site herself.
Luckily, she said, her site wasn't imperative to her business: "It's handy for me to use as a portfolio, instead of sending one out in the mail," Pitcher said. "It's just a convenience."
The BBB advises that the best antidote is for business owners to ensure that their domain names remain properly registered and current. For those with names or trademarks they don't want abused, the best defense is to register variations in both the .com and .net form. The .org is probably only necessary for those involved in charitable activities or organizations.
Some businesses may get e-mails warning them that their registration is about to expire. Rather than submitting credit card information, Read suggests going directly to the source.
WHAT'S A DOMAIN NAME?
In simple terms, a domain name is a human-language equivalent of an address on the Internet. The name actually translates to a number, or more correctly a series of numbers, roughly comparable to a telephone number. Like a telephone number, an Internet address is unique. No two are the same. And like a telephone number, it serves to connect "callers" to one specific place on the Internet.
Domain names have at least two parts, separated by a dot or period.
The part after the dot is called the Top Level Domain. The Top Level Domain serves to broadly categorize the name as to its type or purpose. Common TLDs include:
* .com (commercial)
* .org (organization)
* .edu (educational institutions)
* .net (networks)
* .gov (U.S. government)
* .mil (U.S. military)
The part of the domain name before the dot is the Second Level Domain. If you're registering a name, you have considerable freedom of choice in what this will be. So long as the name you choose does not already exist under the same TLD, and is not obviously a famous trademark owned by someone else, its registration is generally allowed. An SLD can contain up to 24 characters: letters, numbers and dashes are allowed.
Databases of domain records are maintained by InterNIC, the primary name registry on the Internet in the U.S., and by a variety of similar agencies throughout the world. Accessed through a utility program called WHOIS, these databases are easily accessed from throughout the Net. InterNIC presently charges $100 for the first two years' registration of a new name, upon initial registration.
Most people use an Internet "Presence Provider" to assist them to register and set up a domain name. Typically, these businesses will charge $50 to $100 for their assistance in registering a name with InterNIC.
For more information on Internet scams that affect businesses, contact the BBB online at http://www.mountainstates.bbb.org/ or call 686-7722.
For information about the legal aspects of domain name theft, visit www.llrx.com/congress/100200.htm. Or for complete listings of Internet protections, visit www.internetprivacyadvocate.org.