When Googling Stowe schools, the top option reads, “Welcome to Stowe School District,” and most people are probably used to clicking on that link.
Underneath, however, five small words offer a warning.
“This site may be hacked.”
Opening the website, what used to give a description of Stowe’s education system now offers the history of basketball player Michael Jordan and his popular Air Jordan sneakers.
Rather than holding the promise to educate children, StoweSchools.com now promises to sell basketball shoes at a discounted price from an Asian company.
It also stresses that the company provides safe, online shopping, and protects all transaction data.
So, what happened?
When Stowe schools missed the renewal date on its domain name — StoweSchools.com — and didn’t have automatic renewal set up, the domain was sniped, and registered by a third party.
Domain sniping is the practice of registering a domain name once registration has lapsed.
Unless the original registrant holds a trademark or other legal entitlement to the name — which Stowe schools do not — they are often left without any options in getting their domain name back.
“Somebody else picked up our domain, and we tried to get it back, but were unsuccessful,” said Tracy Wrend, the school superintendent. “It appears to be held by someone overseas.”
Sometimes people wait a long time to snipe the domain name of their choice. Others buy big blocks of expired domain names, in the hopes that at least one will be important. They hold the sites for ransom in search of a payout from someone who needs the website back.
Although Stowe schools were unable to retrieve their old domain, they had already created a new website and registered another domain name at the beginning of the year, so they haven’t lost their web presence.
The only problem is that, while some of the links on the old site still redirect to the new one, school officials no longer have control over where it leads visitors. Instead, people should use StoweSchoolsVT.com, and update their bookmarks.
Stowe schools’ new website doesn’t show up on Google’s search engine yet.