Imagine this: You go to your church website and discover it’s been replaced by a Russian gambling website.
This happened to one of the churches in our diocese the day after Christmas – but their website had not been hacked. In fact, nothing illegal had occurred at all. They had simply forgotten to renew the subscription to their site’s domain name, and when it expired – on Dec. 22, when everyone was busy and distracted with Christmas – it was snapped up and redirected to the Russian gambling site.
A church domain name right before Christmas had to be a plumb catch indeed for someone looking to trick traffic onto their gambling site. But while it was undoubtedly done with malicious intent, purchasing an expired domain name is perfectly legal, and the church has no way to get it back.
Fortunately, the church’s website still existed, unharmed – they just couldn’t access it until a new domain name had been purchased and directed to their site. I was able to help them with this, but they still need to track down and update every place that links to their old domain name. Fortunately, their church email didn’t use their domain name, so they avoided the additional disruption of losing their clergy and staff email addresses and having to create and disseminate new ones.
Losing ownership of a church website’s domain name is not an uncommon mistake to make. I’ve helped several churches with this issue over the years and have heard similar stories from my counterparts across The Episcopal Church.
However, it is an extremely easy mistake to avoid. Here’s how.
Step 1: Identify who is paying for your church’s domain name, and when it is up for renewal. If you don’t know this, look up your domain name at lookup.icann.org/lookup. This will tell you the domain name’s expiration date.
Scroll down to “Contact Information” and, depending on how and with which registrar the domain name is set up, you may be shown exactly who has ownership of the account, or at least get some clues pointing you in the right direction.
If you discover that the church’s domain name has been registered by a parishioner, talk to them about setting up a plan for handing over the account if the time comes that they no longer wish to continue managing it. I have seen churches lose their domain name – and sometimes their website too – because the parishioner who was paying for the accounts left without handing them over.
Step 2: Make sure the information about the domain name registration is recorded in the church office. If it’s being paid for by the church, make sure it’s on the radar screen of the parish administrator and the person responsible for processing the church’s bills, so that they don’t miss renewal notices.
You wouldn’t forget about your church’s electric bill until the power was turned off. Treat your domain name registration (and your website) the same as a utility bill, and you won’t have to worry about suddenly losing your website.