You paid for your domain registration, but do you own it?

All too often the surprising answer to this simple question is no. Having the wrong name on your domain registration can cause expensive and frustrating problems. We have dealt with several cases where a client ran into serious trouble when they discovered that the domain they thought was theirs turned out to be owned by someone else.

The risks are real. Companies who have built their business around a domain they thought they owned have been held hostage by suppliers and former employees. Reasserting ownership of your domain can cost a lot of money, involve delays and legal fees, or in extreme cases even force switching to a new domain name.

Who Owns My Domain?

Start by checking your whois record (click here to check yours now). If you don't use a privacy service (if you do, see below), you should verify the following:

  • The registrant name is either your name or the full legal name of your business.
  • The address and phone numbers are current and correct.
  • All contact names are correct and their eMail addresses are valid and working.
  • The contact addresses should either be those of people with a legal responsibility to the business, such as owners, officers and directors, or "meta-addresses" like This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Consider setting up an account with a mail service like Google Mail for your contacts. After all, if your domain has a serious problem, there's a good chance mail to your domain won't be getting through.

If you use a privacy protection service then you need to check that they have the correct information. The process for doing this varies from service to service. In most cases, the service will use the information provided at the time the domain was registered. You should be able to access this by logging in to your registration account. If you don't have access information for this account, this might be the first sign of trouble.

Help! My Domain Isn't Mine! Now What?

First, don't panic. There are lots of ethical businesses and loyal staff who will never give you a problem. Most of the time, correcting the problem is simple and inexpensive. Your domain was probably registered by your web site developer, a current or former staff member. If you have a good relationship with them, no problem. The trouble starts when that relationship breaks down.

If Your Web Site Developer Owns Your Domain

This is fairly common. After all, your web developer has the expertise you need to get your site registered, created and hosted. It makes sense to let them handle the initial registration. Web shops can frequently get bulk discounts for registering multiple domains, so their costs may be lower than what you could get doing it on your own. But even then, the domain should be registered in the name of your business, not theirs. It's also prudent to make sure that once the domain is registered you establish ownership and maintain exclusive control over it. Insist that your developer move the domain to an account that is exclusively for your use. Once that's done, change the password.

This may seem inconvenient, but the risk of giving a third party developer control over your domain is that if you ever elect to switch suppliers, an unethical shop may try to hold your domain hostage, often demanding transfer payments in the thousands of dollars.

This is one reason why Abivia encourages customers to register their own domains, particularly if you decide to use a registrar other than us. But we understand that the process can seem complex for non-technical people, and we're happy to do it for you. You can rest assured that any domain we register on your behalf will be registered in your name or the legal name of your business.

If a Staff Member Owns Your Domain

This is rarely a problem until after someone leaves the company. If the parting was not on the best of terms, or if it was due to some incapacitating illness, then there can be significant trouble. The employee can claim ownership of the domain, disable access to it, intercept eMail, or even redirect your customers to another site that can be very damaging to your image.

Make sure that the persons listed as domain contacts have a "fiduciary responsibility" to your business. Examples are owners, officers, and corporate directors. These people have a legal obligation to act in the interests of the company, which offers you a degree of legal protection against misappropriation.

Summary: Domain Owner Checklist

Make sure your domain is secure and yours by going through this check list:

  • Verify that registered name matches the name of the business.
  • If you use a privacy service, verify that their information matches the name of the business.
  • Verify that you have access to the domain's account at the domain registrar by logging in.
  • Change the password to the registrar account and keep it in a secure place.
  • Make a backup copy of all account logins and passwords. Keep the copy in a different physical location.
  • Ensure that at least two people know where this information is stored.
  • Consider using meta-addresses for the domain contact email addresses. Then either have the responsible person add this account to their mail client, or have it forwarded. This way if you change staff, you can ensure that domain related mail gets through without needing to update your domain registrar.
  • Send a test mail to all addresses for the domain (administrative, technical, and billing). Make sure a trusted and responsible person gets each test message.
  • If you have to give a third party access to your registration or hosting accounts, change your password once the work is complete. Make sure you update your backup copies with the new passwords.

Abivia can check your domain and ensure that it's legally yours, and that everything is set up correctly. Your domain name is one of your most important business assets. It's worth the time to make sure it's protected.