Regardless of what type of website you’re building, the first thing you have to do is purchase and register a domain name. Many hosting sites will allow you to get a free domain name when you register with them, but even the ‘free’ domains can come at a price. However, there are some hidden clauses, loopholes and tricks that allow unscrupulous opportunists to capitalize on your good name.
1. Lock-ins. This service was originally created as a way to combat the problem of unauthorized transfers (we’ll get to that in a minute). It’s a great idea in theory; it keeps underhanded people from transferring your domain without your knowledge or permission. The problem comes in when the company won’t unlock your registration, nor allow you to unlock it yourself if you wish to transfer it without paying for the privilege.
2. Whois scams. Whois is a database all registered domains must list with. It makes it so the public can investigate who’s behind any website, and contains all of the domain owner’s personal or business information. There are a few ways companies have found to benefit from this that will hurt you. One is to charge you a super-low rate for the name and registration, and then charge you a hefty fee when you want to change the information in your Whois listing (this is something that is usually included in the initial registration fee).
The second scam is when a company offers to allow you to register using their information if you don’t want to provide your own name, address, and phone number. However, Whois considers the owner of the domain to be the person or entity who is listed in their database. Technically, an unscrupulous registrar could claim ownership of your domain.
3. Backdoor marketing. This is another case of buyer beware. Some disreputable companies will offer to register your domain for an insanely low price, then use your domain without your knowledge or permission via redirects to parked domains or ‘free’ URL forwarding service to place spam, pop-ups and other advertising gimmicks that your customers will hate you for.
4. Fake renewals. Whois data mining is big business, and there have been some safeguards put into place to protect your information. However, there’s one scam where a company will send you what seems to be a legitimate notice to renew your registration. In reality, it’ a transfer authorization form, and what you’re really paying them for is the transfer of your domain name, to them.
5. Transfer fees. This is where is pays to read your TOS carefully, because many contain hidden clauses like outrageous transfer fees that are added to your credit card without your knowledge.
If you plan on keeping the same domain name and same hosting service forever and ever in perpetuity, these scams may not affect you. But, it’s important to read the small print regardless, and beware of the hidden scams that are abundant on the Internet. Online, as in life, it’s a good idea to check out anyone you’re doing business with.