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Hosting company stole my website, and my domain name – what should I do?

If you own a domain name read on, there’s a good chance you or your friend might need it.

Here’s how the nightmare story goes.

My friend, let’s call her Nicole, calls me last night at 9pm. The problem is, she doesn’t want to renew her domain or hosting for another year and pay $100. However, she wants to save her website because she paid some $800 for it, naturally she wants to protect the investment. Now some of you are thinking, well that’s a piece of cake, just copy the files with a FTP program, or just download the tar.gz file with cPanel. The problem is, my friend Nicole isn’t tech savvy, she’s an artist. Now that wouldn’t be such a problem if the guy who developed her website, and pretends to be a “hosting company” isn’t looking to take advantage of her, her ignorance, and extort money out of her. He tells her, you can’t get the website unless you renew everything for a whole year.

So, I tell Nicole to ask for the username and the password, so we can save the website, and for the EPP code to transfer the domain. I managed to convince her that it would be smart to save the domain, and that I have several hosting accounts, and that she could host her website for free on one of mine accounts. There’s only 1 more day left according the WHOIS, so I am thinking, OK, there’s still enough time. She first told me that today was the last day. I also checked her website, and it was still functioning, it had a cart for ordering paintings, about me page, etc.

Hosting company turns into Darth Sidious
Hosting company turns into Darth Sidious

Nicole calls hers… I still have trouble calling that extorter a hosting company, because that would be putting a dark shadow over the good guys. So from now own, I will call him, Sidious. The thing is, hosting companies are holding the entire Internet up and running. Those tabs you have opened up there in your browser, you couldn’t see any of that if there were no hosting companies. People in the hosting industry are some of the most hard working people I know. They have to deal with 24-7 support, hackers, updates, upgrades, business, lawyers, blacklists, spams, etc… I am telling you, it’s a war zone out there. Trust me, you do not want to run a hosting company when 200 of your clients get hacked on Christmas morning, and you have a hangover.

So anyway, Nicole calls Sidious, and asks for what’s rightfully hers. And she doesn’t understand what she is asking (just repeating what I told her). To give her the username and password, and the domain name EPP code. What happens next? Sidious suspends her website, and tells her it’s too late, and that she should press CTRL + F5 to see the change. Adding again she needs to pay the $100 for another year if she wants her website. I confirm, the website is now down.

….

The awful thing is, when I was a hosting provider, I had similar experience with my new hosting clients. They wanted to jump boat, and Sidious guy was giving them a hard time. So Nicole asks me, WHAT NOW? You could hear the despair in her voice, thinking she was robbed, lost her website, her domain, gone. Thinking, a website was a bad idea. At this point, I am thinking, how can I cause damage to this guy. However, I know better than that. I want to teach as much people as possible that this can happen. Users should check with their hosting provider, and the domain registrar right from the start, an exit strategy.

Hosting company works hard to protect you
Hosting company works hard to protect you

In case a thing like this does happen, feel free to call the police, lawyers, threaten with legal actions and try to find a friend who understands the language and protect your rights. I wish I could say something down the lines of “if you can’t afford a lawyer one will be appointed to you”, but it won’t. You have to get someone from the hosting industry to protect you. There are ways of hurting a hosting company, but that’s far to powerful weapon that I can just blog about (I don’t mean any illegal activities). The thing is, I know there are more than few cases when a client is wrongfully accusing a hosting company, and I wouldn’t want them with this weapon in hands, again, the good hosting guys might get hurt.

Oh and another thing. Always check the WHOIS if you and your email address are there as your main point of contact, and ask your provider how and where you can unlock the domain and get the EPP code. It is alternatively called an auth code, a transfer key, a transfer secret, EPP authentication code, or EPP authorization code. EPP stands for Extensible Provisioning Protocol, check Wikipedia.

We made a website years ago where you can check whois for free, check where your website is hosted (nameservers), if you are blacklisted, and the exact date of domain name expiration – signup here. Where do you host your website and where do you register your domains, and have you tried leaving them?

Here’s a few more advices that people on Hacker News commented.

1. Always register your domain name with a company other than your hosting provider. Don’t even allow the domain registrar to be owned by the same corporation.

2. Always maintain a complete, separate copy of the website’s content. Never allow the only copy of a Website to be in the hands of an ISP.

Written by Goran Duskic

I am the founder and CEO at WhoAPI. Entrepreneur for more than a decade in the hosting and domain industry. Sold my previous company. 500 Startups and StartLabs alumni. Author of a white paper "Domain Disclosure: Dirty Dozen" and eBook "26 Fundraising Questions for Startups".

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23 Comments

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  1. Hi Goran, I own a business and had to register a domain with .net extension because there was another company in the same type of business owned the .com extension. Couple days ago, I checked to see if they still owned that domain name and I found out that a domain company took it over only a few days ago. They have no intentions of using that name for their business. They took it probably to take advantage over business owners like us. Is there anything I can do about it? Your help would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Ersan!

      Thank you for your interest in this topic. Unfortunately this is the way domain registrars do business. According to the contract you sign (or should I say ticked the box), they have the right to register the domain once it is available for registration. As a matter a fact, anybody can do that, only they are the first “on scene” so they snap it.

  2. Yo Goran. I know how to cause significant damage to this guy. I’m a search engine optimization professional who just happens to have extensive experience with reputation management (and the opposite of it). I’ll walk you through it via email if you agree not to share the information. I hate scammers/liars/thiefs and this guy sounds like a real turd.

    We can get negative things about him ranking #1 for his name, and very highly for his company name. dow.brandon at gmail dot com if you’re interested

    • Hi Brandon,

      Something similar just happened to me. I’m just wondering if there is anything I can do. The hosting services expired 4 days ago without my knowing and I realized my sites our out of service. I lost some of the clients already since they couldn’t reach my website. So I realized how poor services from http://www.westhost.com I was actually getting in the last 2 years and not talking only about the customer service but also about the speed, loading and servers were down several times. So I did a research and decided to migrate to the new hosting provider. However, westhost.com for my surprise doesn’t allow me to access my content of the website and collect all of my data, unless I pay for another year. I was really surprise I could get such a refusing behavior for such a well know host. Is it anything I can do or am I just forced to pay another year just to collect my website files?

      • Hi Martin

        I am sorry to hear there are more people with the same story. This problem is connected with the terms of service, and they “can’t” access your files once the hosting package expired. When I ran a hosting company back in 2006-2011, we always did this for free.

        The only way you can get your files if you are able to convince someone on the senior management that it would be a wise business decision for them to help you and give you the care their clients deserve. Unfortunately, this is one of those issues that are easy to prevent (backup, copy off-site) but hard to cure.

    • Hi Rakesh

      Thanks for sharing your company with us. I hope that you don’t treat your customers the same way as the “hosting company” I talked about in this example? For example, do you allow backup downloads after the hosting package expires? Does your hosting company allow to transfer their domain name with ease?

  3. Looking for some advice and you seem like the kind of nice person who might help me out. I purchased a domain through GoDaddy last October, started building a website and then got pulled away on a work project so had to ignore it for 6 months. I intended to pick it up again last month (April) but was surprised to find out (after some digging) that the original seller re-sold the domain to someone else if February, and re-sold it through GoDaddy no less!! Originally, GoDaddy offered to try and get a refund from the seller, but when I insisted that what I want is the domain, since I am the rightful owner, they became defensive and unresponsive. I finally suggested I’d retain a lawyer if they wouldn’t help me and then they offered to try and get the domain back. However, today they said they’ve contacted the seller twice but have gotten only “vague” responses from him. If you were me, what would you do next?

  4. Nice article. Site5 deleted my sites. ALL OF THEM. When an employee by accident deleted them when I opened at ticket to upgrade the sites. I payed on time. 1 week early actually. Now they have not answered my ticket for 72 hours and all my sites are gone. They deactivated the account with the backups and created a whole new one. Leaving me helpless. Since I had just payed 190 for a new year, and they did not respond for more than 2 days, I asked that they cancel the transaction and refund the money. No response still. How do I get them to answer? Any suggestions? I already moved a bunch of sites on to a new host, but would really like to have the files!

    • Hey Matthew

      Thanks for coming forward with your story, I am so sorry to hear what has happened to you. I know this is going to sound like a sales pitch on my end, but this is exactly why we partnered with DropMySite, to provide 3rd party instant backups. This way your backups aren’t affected by the hosting company, and it’s easy to “upload” the backup to a new provider.

      In these situations nice word goes a long way, and I understand that may be hard for you to achieve at this point. Put ego and pride a side, and remember what’s the most important thing you are after, remember your outcome. Getting the money back, and your website. Read their terms of use and learn what rights you have or don’t have.

      There could be numerous reasons why someone may not be responding, so I can’t speculate. Try other forms of contact (chat, email, phone, forum, social media), and eventually one will work.

  5. Can you tell me where to get help via telephone? My registrar/host gave me a 5 day extension in writing to pay my domain renewal, promised it would not be suspeneded or caceled and I would not need to do anything else other than mmake the payment as agreed on the 29th if October. On the 29th of October when I logged in, I found that my entire account with 13 domqains had been migrated to a completely differennt system without my request or permission and all the domain renewal dates had been changed and all domains had been suspended, and they were charging me 177.00 for privqacy which I never ordered or requested.
    I contacted them immediately and when I said I was having trouble accessing the system for my account inf – ftp, c panel, etc., they immediately started changing my password – 3 times they did this without asking me and when I said I didn’t want my passwords changed, they did it again.
    When I triied to make the domain payment on a 1 time basis I was redirected to a non secure page – where I refused to enter credit info and told them to just take the auto payment as always had been done in the past. They say they don’t have my info – this went on for 6 hours on the 29th and has continued every day since. I’ve had this account and host for 7 years – all payments have always been like this. I went to 3 whois services – 1 says my domain is for sale, the other says it is registeered to me, the last says it has never been registered. There’s much more to this story but this is the worst of it.
    The host/registrar refuses to answer or respond to any of my support tickets.
    I am legally blind and use 400% nagnification to access internet and my domains/websites is why I ask for telephone number – it takes forever for me to type as is required most of the time when the talking system will not work.
    Sorry to take so much space… I want to retrieve this domain and get away from this host but they refuse to communicate. What can I do? One of my domains has the same name aas my legally registered business.
    Please excuse any typos – I cannot see this font. thank you

    • Hi Tana

      Thank you for coming forward with this story. Unfortunately, we are not a company that does website and domain name retrieval, so we cannot offer immediate phone assistance on this matter. What we do is give transparency on your domain names (so that you can see where exactly your domain names are, and who is the real owner of them). We also offer 3rd party website backup, so that in case of an emergency you can switch to a different hosting provider in just a couple hours (depending on the size of the website), and you don’t need your current hosting provider consent at the time.

      As for your situation, you need a specialist to take a better look at what exactly is going on with your account.

  6. 14:51

    My ex web designer is using my domain name www(dot)norfolkdiscohire(dot)com
    I told him to take down the website as I am no longer his client. He has refused and got very nasty. Can you help me remove my domain from the website. I don’t know what to do.
    My domain is registerd by myself and paid for it myself.

  7. I’m gutted I have lost my website and domain. I invited the hosting company in to host my already up and running wordpress site, AND just paid for the Genesis theme – which I cannot access! It’s my business site – and now I’m losing everything. It’s like being blackmailed!

  8. Hello,
    We have registered our company website in a company in China, now we are going to transfer it to another company but the Chinese company don’t give us the domain.
    I have question that how can I prove that this is my business domain? Is there any way to transfer it?
    The Chinese company also don’t give me a control panel access for domain or also hosting. They just ask to send us your design then we will upload it on server.
    We also did not renew the domain with the company last year, it was expired and deleted but unfortunately they register it again.
    Can you help me what should I do?

  9. Hello
    I had a domain name for many years and spend money on google and people were able to search me on google but took many years
    few months ago someone took my domain name because unfortunately my credit card was not updated and domain name could not be renewed but now my domain name is directed to a chinese person and goes to china .. and i am very upset .. what to do?

    • Hello Sylvie,

      Unfortunately, at this point, there’s not much you can do. I really try to raise awareness with that issue, but so far it looks to me I am doing a poor job, because these things still happen very often!

      We even built a tool http://webmaster.ninja, which among other things, gives you a backup notification when a domain name expires!

      You could try to purchase to old domain back from this new owner, but be prepared to hear a price tag you are not going to like.

  10. I’ve recently taken over the office management position of my husband’s business from his step-sister (we’ll call Sally). Our website was unable to download the most recent version of WordPress so I contacted Jetpack and they told me LRE Hosting is who hosted our website. Long story short, contacted them several times last week for access since Sally used her personal email to register with the host. Finally got a hold of her, got the log in stuff (still haven’t heard back from them at this point about prior emails or voicemails). Come to find out, she hasn’t told us we needed to pay the hosting bill since 2015!! Thankfully they never shut us down! I paid up, but again, I’m dumb as a box of rocks when it comes to their cpanel and the only way they allow contact is through email. Should I go with someone else? I prepaid for another 3 years, should I just count that as a loss?

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