If you have your own domain name (a .com, .org, .net or whatever), do you know who you are registered with? As a web site developer, I’m often shocked that people do not know this basic information, and this often leads to some interesting detective work.

A "not a bill" bill (click for a better view)

It’s important to know this, because if you are registered as a domain owner, you will get notifications about renewing your domain.And not all of them will come from your actual registrar. There are a number of companies who will send you something that looks very much like a bill for domain renewal. They are actually trying to do is get you to transfer your domain to them, where they will often charge you over the odds for the privilege. As a web professional, I get a lot of these. And clients often call me worried that they are going to lose their domain and want to know if they should send the money.

Here’s some sample wording from a notification I received yesterday:

You must renew your domain name to retain exclusive rights to it on the Web, and now is the time to transfer and renew your name from your current Registrar to…

And:

Failure to renew your domain name by the expiration date may result in a loss of your online identity…

If you read that through calmly, it’s fairly evident that this is not your current registrar reminding you to renew. The mail also does state “this is not a bill.” But look at that front-loaded sentence filled with the statement that you “must” do something or you’ll lose your “exclusive rights.” These companies know people mostly skim this sort of mail, so many people will just pay this “bill” rather than lose their “exclusive rights” and “online identity.”

And the funniest thing about it?

You can take advantage of our best savings.

Note the “our,” because they sure as heck aren’t YOUR best savings. This company wants to charge me $35 for a year’s registration. What a great savings: I just checked and I can renew the domain in question with my current registrar for $11.62 (including fees). That’s a savings that would take $23.38 out of my wallet.

If you don’t know the name of your current registrar, check your emails and bills to see who you paid. If you’re being told to renew by someone else, chuck that mail in the nearest bin (recycle, though). Or delete it from your inbox, if it came in email.

If you are currently paying $35 a year, look at your expiration date and consider transferring to a new registrar when renewal time comes. I won’t recommend one registrar in particular, but I’ve done fine with GoDaddy (but I recommend against hosting a site with these guys) and Namesecure . Watch, though, that you only sign up for the domain and pass on all the extras you don’t need (privacy, extra email addresses, variations on your desired domain name). It’s a thicket to get through them, but worth the time spent clicking “No Thanks.”

As for the unethical domain registrar, I won’t name names, but beware those letters with a little American Flag in the return address portion of the envelope and the words “Domain,” “Registry,” “of,” and “America.” Scam artists of the first water. Don’t fall for it.