You remember when "The Phone Company" was broken up into Baby Bells? (Okay, maybe you don't, but don't sweat it.) All of a sudden, there were a grunch of phone companies competing for customers, many of which are now household names (Sprint, MCI, etc.) The thing that was so cool was that if you didn't like, say, AT&T's rates, you could switch, and pay less for your long distance. Just call the new company (or more likely, they'd call you) and say you'd like to switch. "Don't worry," they'd say, "we'll take care of it from here."
Now, some unscrupulous companies wouldn't bother with the formalities of actually contacting customers, they would simply switch a bunch of customers-to-be over to them... and these shady operators didn't exactly have the lowest prices in town. These became known as slammers.
Sadly, the same sort of thing happens in the world of domain registration, too. Some of my clients and friends have received solicitations from companies, excitedly telling them that they are at risk of having their domain registrations expire. "What gives, Thomas?" they'd ask, "Didn't I just pay for this last month?" They've just made the big leap into Webmasterdom, and they're not quite familiar with all the ins and outs that entails. Unfortunately, some companies prey on these web-newbies, often to their detriment. In my opinion, it's a predatory practice by shady companies, and I make a point of telling my clients that if (a) it didn't come directly from me, then ignore it: it's a domain slam attempt, and (b) look at the price, it's not even a legit attempt at wooing customers with competitive prices.
"Shady?" you say? "Predatory?"
Yes. In my opinion, there are two kinds of companies:
- Those that treat their customers with respect, clearly and honestly offering competitive goods or services, and
- Everybody else, who rely on obfuscation and ignorance to eke out an ill-deserved living.
A company that falls into category 1 would say something like "we're not the people you just purchased your domain through, but we've got a competitive offer we think you'll like."
Unfortunately, my clients and I get letters from companies telling them that "[their] domain is at risk" unless they "act now" (even though renewal is over six months away.) Hidden in paragraphs of technically correct, but practically irrelevant information is the fact that they're asking to transfer domains to them... (and by my calculations, usually at a premium price: as much as twice as what I charge my friends and clients.) They never come out and say that they are a third party looking to transfer you.
The point is: if you get a letter from a company you don't remember doing business with, urging you to renew your domain (and at a price higher than what you remember paying for it) be suspicious. Contact the person or company you originally registered your domain through, because they will get in touch with you well before renewal is due (typically 30-60 days.)
Tip: make sure they have your latest and greatest email! If they can't contact you to bill you, your domain registration might lapse for lack of payment. When that happens, you can still get your domain back during the 'redemption' period, but it won't be cheap!
Just like in the long distance carrier business, there's slamming going on, and some of the characters are quite shady... probably not the sort of folks you want to do business with. One thing that never seems to change is the old saying, Caveat Emptor.