How could you let this happen? Trust me, you shouldn’t be upset with yourself. This has happened to the best of us – it even happened to me. Get your domain name back and take control of your website and business. You might even learn a few tactics along the way that will make your unethical web developer regret having stolen your domain name.
Your domain name is one of your business’ most important assets. And then, like a punch in the gut, you one day find out you are not the owner of your own domain name. Your domain name is registered to your former web developer!
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How to get your domain name back
You’re probably reading this post because you, or someone you know, have somehow lost your domain name and are trying to figure out the best way to get it back. If you are the person who lost their domain name, it’s likely you lost the domain name under one of three scenarios.
- A developer your hired registered it as their own domain name and now they refuse to transfer the registration to you—the rightful owner. (That’s the type we’re mostly covering in this article.)
- A competitor registered it before you could. (Perfectly legal.)
- A domain reseller registered it when you let it expire. (Perfectly legal)
Reclaiming lost domain names can be a costly and complicated endeavor. That said, you do have a few options to help you reclaim lost domain names. You will need to identify, locate and contact the domain owner (if the owner is your web developer, you already know how to contact them – I hope!)
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Someone stole my domain name
If you learn that a former employee or website developer has stolen your domain name by registering your domain in their own name while acting as your employee or paid contractor, then there are steps you can take to secure your domain name.
1. Prepare yourself to forego justice
The most efficient route might also be the most difficult. You may have developer who is demanding money. Find out how much money they are demanding in exchange for your domain name and get this demand in writing. It could be helpful to your case if a legal battle ensues.
Enlist the help website consultant you trust to communicate on your behalf. (1. We speak the same language. 2. We can play dumb and lend a sympathetic ear to the enemy where you cannot.)
2. Alert Your Registrar
No matter what, you need to alert your domain name registrar company. The registrar is the company from whom you bought your domain name. While it is unlikely they will be able to take action, they may have some guidance to offer. This is an easy step so make sure you check this one off of your list.
3. Understand the Role of the Company That Runs the Domain Name
ICANN: The governing body of domain names. They are responsible for putting compliance rules into place with registrars. They also set processes in place for registrars to comply with situations such as domain name hijackings.
VERISIGN: They control the infrastructure of domain names. They are responsible for the WHOIS information and are the only organization with the authority to transfer a domain name in the case of a hijack (with a court order or ICANN compliance notice).
4. Lawyer Up
While I hate to say it, this is going to be a tough row to hoe without the assistance of an experienced lawyer. You may ultimately need a court order to get your domain name transferred back to you, and your lawyer will help you navigate the muddy waters in getting there. Understand that registrar companies do not have the legal authority to transfer a domain name back to you without a court order.
*Having a registered trademark to your domain can be very important, and can help with the entire process of recovering your site.
When and how to get domain name justice
The right time is AFTER you have secured your domain name. How angry are you? Make them rue the day they messed with you. Once you have secured your domain name, then publicly shame this person with detailed negative testimonials on Google My Business and all social media platforms. Write an SEO blog post detailing your experience with “John Doe website developer” so that your article comes up first in Google Search results whenever somebody searches their name. LOL!
How to fire your website developer
Firing your web developer can give anyone anxiety. In deciding to terminate the relationship, consider how dissatisfied you are with their performance. The is your opportunity to take back control of your website and your business. I say, “seize the day!”
Review your contract for termination details
If you’re under contract with your current website design agency, read through the details before taking action. The contract should cover any type of early termination situation. The termination clause could include advance notice policies, early termination fees, and more. Contact your legal counsel as necessary.
Make sure you have all your valuable information
Chances are that you hired a website developer because you didn’t have the time or capacity to manage that task on your own. However, you need to make sure you understand the technology well enough to make the transition to a new vendor painless.
Where is your website hosted?
Whether your website provider takes care of hosting your website on their servers or outside servers, make sure you know who is the current hosting company. If the only files are hosted on their server, and they delete them – you’ll be straight up s*** creek with no paddle in sight.
Do you have copies of all of your files?
How often is your website backed up? Do you receive copies of those files? Ask for the most recent copies of all your website’s files if you’re planning on switching vendors. That way you don’t have to worry about losing them and starting from scratch.
Who has access to the back-end of your site?
Make a list of all users that have access to your content management system. You want to ensure that you revoke access once you switch providers. It’s like changing your keys once your ex moves out!
Do you have written permission to use all imagery on your website?
If your current provider uses stock photos on your website, make sure you have a copy of the permission to use those stock photos. If a large company like Getty Images decides to come for you – you want proof that your use of the photo was legitimate!
Notify your vendor
The next step is the most uncomfortable, but doesn’t have to be stressful. If your current website provider isn’t meeting your needs, then it’s time to part ways. Be respectful, honest, and civil when you notify them. It’s your business and your decision!
Do I need domain privacy?
The simple answer to this question is “YES!- if you don’t want to be found. ” Some of you (and you know who you are – may not want to be found). If you don’t want to be found, then privacy is important to you. Since ICAAN broadly requires the mailing address, phone number, and e-mail address of those owning or administrating a domain name to be made publicly available through the “WHOIS” directories you may want to consider a domain privacy provider as an additional safeguard against domain theft. Domain privacy (often called WHOIS privacy) is a service offered by a number of domain name registrars. A user buys privacy from the company, who in turn replaces the user’s information in the WHOIS with the information of a forwarding service (for email and sometimes postal mail, it is done by a proxy server).
Aside from domain privacy, there are steps you can take to protect against domain name theft. Here are some simple steps that provide additional measures of security.
1. Register Your Own Domain Name
It’s never a good idea to have a web design agency register your domain. When you register the domain, it becomes your digital property. Unethical agencies want to sign up for you so that it becomes their property. Don’t let this happen to you!
- Your domain name is one of your business’ most important assets. Take time to ensure all contact names are correct and their email addresses are valid and working.
- Consider setting up an email account such as gmail to use for these contacts.
- Using an email account specifically for domain registration makes it possible to arrange for emails to go to the appropriate staff member without changing the domain registration information.
- If you use a privacy protection service then also check that account to ensure correct information. Most typically, you can access this privacy protection account by logging into your domain registration account.
- Check the expiration date of your domain and create a reminder to renew it well before expiration. Do not rely on notification from your domain registrar.
- Make a list of all account logins and passwords. Store the list and a backup copy in 2 different secure locations. Ensure at least two trusted people know where the password information is stored.
- Send a test mail to all addresses listed in the domain registration.
2. Insist on Full Administrative Access to Your Hosting Account
The hosting account is where your files exist. It’s the backend stuff that makes your website look and function beautifully. Unless you’re a designer, you probably won’t use this access much, but you need to have access to maintain control. The last thing you want to experience is an unethical web design agency stealing or deleting your website.
3. Get Full Administrative Access to Your WordPress Dashboard
In addition to hosting access, you also need administrative access to your WordPress dashboard. Don’t settle for anything less! Administrative access depends on your user role. WordPress offers 5 roles: only the administrator role gives you full access. Don’t be browbeaten into agree to anything less than full administrator role privileges. You’re the boss so make sure you have the control you need!
Does having a WordPress administrator access scare you? If so, we can help. WordPress training equips you with the knowledge and skills required to manage your WordPress website with confidence. We’re a team of WordPress experts ready to help you master this sometimes complicated platform.
Watch the video above for details or read on to learn more about our online and in person WordPress training classes
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