Naramata firefighters’ next rescue mission may involve their own website, which has become the subject of a hostile takeover.
Ownership of the www.naramatafirerescue.com domain name lapsed last year and information about the department that had been on the website has now been replaced with pornographic images advertising video chats with “shemales.”
Naramata fire chief Tony Trovao was not aware of the takeover when told about it Thursday.
He said the department let go of the domain name about a year ago to help push web traffic to a community news portal and the website of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, which oversees Naramata Fire Rescue.
A link on the RDOS website to www.naramatafirerescue.com was removed Thursday within minutes of the Western News alerting the regional district to the pornographic material.
RDOS spokesman Andrew Stuckey said the fire department is the victim of a “parasitical” practice known as “drop-catching” that sees lapsed domain names snatched up by people hoping to cash in by reselling them, sometimes to their original owners.
“It’s perfectly legal to do that. Thousands of domain names are recycled like that each day,” he said.
The RDOS board last year approved a plan to develop a policy to standardize its peripheral organizations’ websites, like www.naramatafirerescue.com, and began a review of those sites on Feb. 4.
“Regrettably, the former Naramata (fire department) website was not reviewed because it was defunct and we had no knowledge of its existence,” said Stuckey. “We didn’t know it was there.”
He said the RDOS is now exploring all options to get the offending material off the website, including buying back the domain name.
According to website registry information and archived material available online, www.naramatafirerescue.com was created in December 2003 and by January 2014 the legitimate content had been replaced with a page holder that said the domain name was for sale. The pornographic content then went up about a month ago.
A registry search indicates the domain name now belongs to Stacy Hanks of Fayettville, Georgia. A phone number provided for Hanks on the registry did not work, nor did an email request for an interview.
The takeover of the Naramata Fire Rescue website highlights the importance of organizations being diligent about renewing their domain names or hiring reputable companies to look after them on their behalf, according to a local web marketing professional.
“At least if someone who is legitimate and you trust is managing your name, they get notified and make sure it’s renewed properly on time,” said Greg Bauer, CEO of Navigator Multimedia.
“A big part of it is people just Google and they click and they sign up with the cheapest guy they can find,” he said.
“Really, your domain is so cheap but is the most important part of your website.”
Bauer said Navigator helps 20 to 30 clients each year get their expired domain names back and it’s likely whoever took over the Naramata Fire Rescue website is looking for a payout.
“I’ve never been in that position where I’ve been blackmailed or any of my clients have… but it probably is something like that where they know the fire department wants to maintain their reputation,” he said.