In the fall of 2008, a Portland Oregon small business owner found a local developer, and told him that she’d like to have her website redone, and she wanted some search visibility.
Her current site was old, not showing in the results, and she’d lost track of the original web designer.
So, after a few emails, phone calls and meetings, she signed a contract for $1500 down and about 6k over 6 months, after which she assumed she would have a new optimized website, they would part ways. What she got though, was something completely different.
(The fact that the end product had duplicate title and description tags throughout the site is neither here nor there, and whether a “good job’ was done on the SEO is pretty irrelevant at this point, but I thought it should be said here.)
In the spring, after making over $5k in payments since December, she could no longer pay his $550 “maintenance” charge, and wanted to cancel anything ongoing. Plus, she claimed, she never got any form submissions or phone calls, and she was really disappointed.
At this point, after a couple of emails and a phone call, he tells her that it will cost $3150 to both “finish”, and for him to then “give her all the files”.
Also, since she wasn’t paying anymore, and (he says) she owes him money), he told her that if she didn’t pay, was “taking the site down” as of July 1st!
Now (late June) there’s a disagreement that can’t be rectified, so she needs to do something quick, and that’s when she phoned me, after being referred.
Unfortunately, I eventually found out that she doesn’t own her domain anymore, and that he had stolen it.
How did this happen?
First he explained that he could not use her Yahoo small business account for hosting because they were awful (I agree and she needed to transfer it to another host.
That means that he simply needed to change her DNS settings a.k.a name servers to change hosts.
That made sense to her, and she didn’t understand all this technical stuff anyway, so she gave him all her usernames and passwords for “web stuff” that she knew of, to make the transition easier.
Next, however, is where this guy crossed the line in my opinion…
Her web host was Yahoo, but she had purchased her domain name from them too, which made Yahoo (Melbourne IT) her registrAR too. (You probably see where this one’s going…)
He told her he needed to “get it off Yahoo” (which I’ve said often enough but in doing so, he apparently changed the registAR too, over to one of his own control.
When changing the registrAR, you get an option to keep the same contact details or enter new ones, and he also changed the registrANT as well, as of 12/2008, so he owns it. That’s like having a contractor come in to drywall your basement, and they change the house into their name instead of yours on the deed!
Of course, he was extra sneaky by also adding “Privacy Protection”, so there’s no easily seen public record. The registrant just shows as proxied@Dreamhost etc. but it’s clear what happened.
Contacting Dreamhost was pointless, because it was a done deal, and they’ve NEVER HEARD OF HER AND WILL NOT TALK TO US.
Well, July 1st, this guy has removed the domain from his host, and there’s an empty index folder. we can’t change DNS, because she no longer owns it. We changed domain names, and she now has to get a lawyer involved.
I believe this guy is guilty of theft by fraud, and I told her to attempt to file a report with the Portland Police, and to please tell me what they say. I also recommended that she contact a lawyer to sue this guy.
At this point we’re getting her up with a new domain name, but don’t let this happen to you! Be 100% sure you know all this stuff about your domain name.
I’ll update this post with more details as they unfold…