Do I own my domain

Here’s how the nightmare story goes.

My friend, let’s call her Nicole, called me last night at 9 pm. 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 around $800 for it. Naturally, she wants to protect that investment. Now some of you are thinking, well, that’s a piece of cake, just copy the files with an FTP program or just download the tar.gz file with cPanel.

You can’t get the website unless you renew for another year

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 another 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 my accounts. There’s only 1 more day left, according to 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, an about me page, etc.

What to do when a past owner sells your domain name

What to do when a past owner sells your domain name

Web hosting companies are holding the entire Internet up and running

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 on, 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 hardworking people I know. They have to deal with 24-7 support, hackers, updates, upgrades, business, lawyers, blacklists, and spam. It’s a very competitive industry, and getting new clients for a web hosting company is not easy. 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). 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. Repeating what he said earlier, she needs to pay the $100 for another year if she wants her website. I confirm the website is now down.

Did I really own my domain?

The awful thing is, when I was a hosting provider, I had a similar experience with my new hosting clients. They wanted to change a web hosting provider, and Sidious guy was giving them a hard time. So Nicole asks me, NOW WHAT? You could hear the despair in her voice, thinking she was robbed, lost her website, and her domain was gone. Now she thinks that having a website is 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 many 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

A web 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 protects 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 too powerful of a weapon that I can just blog about. 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 their hands. The good-hosting guys might get hurt.

Prepare to transfer a domain name

Oh and another thing. Always check the WHOIS if you and your email address are there as your main point of contact. 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.

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 are a few more pieces of advice 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.

Featured image made with Photo by Darius Bashar.


Goran Duskic has been the Founder and CEO of WhoAPI Inc. since 2011, a company that specializes in developing APIs, including the well-known Whois API. He started his career in internet entrepreneurship in 2006 and has co-founded several online businesses, including a web hosting company that he later sold. Goran's work primarily involves creating practical API solutions to meet technological needs.

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