You Only Thought You Owned It!

Posted by on Dec 30, 2016 in Blog

You Only Thought You Owned It!

He thought he owned it. After all, he’d been running the business for years, just his son and him. What could go wrong?

How about EVERYTHING!

We’d built a new website for them, using a production server and it was now time to log into their registrar and change their domain name’s DNS to point to our web server.

Domain Name Servers

When you “buy” a domain name, you’re really just sort of leasing it, for a number of  years. (Don’t ever just get 1 year – but that’s another story.)  You get the name through one of the authorized “Registrars”.  (We recommend Hover.com).   You then set this domain to “Point” to your webserver like this:  ns1.mywebserver.com  ns2.mywebserver.com    If you change hosting servers, you have to also change these DNS settings like this:  ns1.mynewwebserver.com  ns2.mynewwebserver.com

When the gentleman (owner) asked me for assistance, I explained that he should never give his registrar login out. Instead, I asked him to create a user account for me that would only allow me to change DNS and not ownership.

Well, he didn’t have the login. He said that his son probably had it, but his son hadn’t showed up for work in several days after leaving one afternoon in a rather disgruntled mood. I did a quick “WhoIs” check. Sure enough, his son’s email address controlled the domain name, and that email address was from yet another domain which my client had no control over.

I did a business name check through his state’s website, and thankfully the son didn’t own the business name, but to my surprise, neither did anyone else! No DBA, no LLC, no trademark, nada! Anyone – a disgruntled employee, a competitor, even a web developer like me could file ownership of the name and more than a decade of building his brand and customer loyalty would be instantly lost.

In the Web Business, this story gets repeated like an “I Love Lucy” rerun. Over my years as a web developer, I’ve probably seen at least a dozen good businesses destroyed like this. Too much trust and too little attention paid to important details. It may be a son, daughter, spouse, sibling or trusted partner. But things go bad, people change. Sometimes it’s drugs. Sometimes “little problems” that have been brewing over time, suddenly blow up.

In practice, it doesn’t matter that much, if you’re listed as the “Registrant” of a domain name. What really matters is the Admin and Registrant email addresses. Because whoever controls these emails, can change the Registrant Name or any other parameter in the registrar record.

And never, ever use an email from one of your domains. If you lose control over that email, say your hosting server goes down – but there are a number of reasons you could lose temporary control, then you’re “out of luck”. Use a trusted, generic email address like Gmail. Have a strong 12+ random character password on that email, with 2-factor authentication, and don’t share it with anyone.

Likewise, your registrar account login should be secure and not shared. You can put these logins and other important information in a sealed envelope and make arrangements for it to be given to someone only in the event of your death or total incapacitation.

You are at the mercy of whoever controls those email addresses.  Don’t make the mistake of merely getting a similar name, maybe one spelled with dashes between the words, because the person holding the first domain(s) has the search engine links and can post negative content to hurt your business.

Business Names

There are three main levels of (ficticious) business names:

  • DBA (“doing business as”)
  • LLC or Corporations
  • Trademarks

DBA’s are filed with your county clerk.  If you’re running a small business with a single, local address, this may be sufficient if nobody wants the same name and gets an LLC or trademark, but it does not have the liability protections of an LLC or Corporation.

LLC’s & Corporations are generally state filings and protect your business name throughout the state.

Trademarks protect your business name nation-wide with options for international use.  If there is a trademark for a business name, you cannot file a corporation or dba for that name.  Similar restrictions generally apply for LLC or corporation names that prevent you from filing a dba on.

Naturally, you should consult your attorney about these issues, since I haven’t even played a lawyer on tv.

Tragedy

If I’m your disgruntled employee, and you haven’t protected your domain name or your business name, you could be in trouble!  I’ve seen web designers do this too!   Suddenly, “your website” is totally different and it’s disparaging your business and promoting a competitor.  You go to an attorney and the next day he tells you that not only does your antagonist own your domain name, but they’ve just filed a trademark on your business name.

Your options are to pay whatever ransom is being demanded, or start all over with a new business name and a new set of policies.

Insurance

If you need help navigating these waters, let’s talk.  At my current rates, $100 will have me research your business and domain name situation and assist in getting things setup the way I’m recommending in this article.  Do it yourself, or get professional help, but do it now and at least oversee everything carefully, so that you know who owns your business!

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