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A Friendly Reminder About Domains

March 22, 2021

By: Matthew Sebert

Filed Under: ,

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This post was born from a horror story, but don't worry; there's a happy ending.

It was only a few days ago that I was minding my own business jumping into client sites to do a bit of routine maintenance when it happened. I entered the URL to one of my client's websites and bam I'm met with an [ERR_CONNECTION_CLOSED] screen.

Oof, their domain had been parked.

I have calendar notices set for most of my clients, but these guys (I'm going to call them PG for sake of anonymity) have their own IT department that takes care of these things. For due diligence, I give them a ring to see what's going on and it's a mad house - I can tell just by the commotion in the background when my point of contact picks up the phone and I can hear the stress in her voice. In most cases, when something like this happens it's not quite so bad. I mean, to be honest, it usually doesn't get to this point, but when it does it's usually something as simple as a recently out-of-date credit card. Well, not this time.

So what actually happened to their domain? They had no idea. Their IT department had no idea. I was left to do a bit of digging.

This is a business that's been around for decades. Their URL was first purchased in 1997 and the person who bought the domain in the beginning isn't around anymore. (That sounds like they've passed away, but they just left the company). This makes it a bit more difficult to suss out, but that's alright, let's get to digging...

ICANN informed me that the domain registrar is GoDaddy - alright, that's a start. I hop back on the phone with PG and ask them if they have the login credentials for a GoDaddy account.

Nope. They don't. To their knowledge they've never had an account with GoDaddy, but at the same time, they can't remember ever seeing an invoice in recent history regarding their domain.

When we launched their new site a couple of years ago I never had access to their DNS. My main point of contact (who, of course, doesn't work there anymore) handled informing the right people to update the records. So HE knows where the DNS is, or at least who's able to access it, but unfortunate for me, I'm unable to get ahold of him.

So from what I've gathered at this point, whoever purchased the domain most likely did so through a third party reseller. No one at PG, past or present, has ever had an account with GoDaddy.

So What's the Process Behind Proving You Own a Domain?

This was a first for me, I've never been so locked out of an account, with zero information such as the correct email (which even if we DID have that, their email system was toast due to their domain being parked), and of course I also don't have the customer PIN. So what's left?

For anyone else out there who's never gone through this process, it's a doozy. I'm told I need to provide proof of ownership and relay that to my client back at PG. I tell them that they'll need to go to the URL provided and send a series of documents. These are:

  • A Government Issued Photo ID Card of the Account Holder
  • Business ID (but only if the domain had been registered TO the business, at this point we still aren't sure) which can be:
    • A business License
    • Tax Certificate
    • DBA documentation
    • IRS 501(C)3 Determined Letter

Once that information has been provided, my client will still need to wait 3 days to even hear back from the registrar. All while they're floating dead in the water with no email, no website, no marketing, nothing. Luckily, it didn't come down to that, but it very well could have!

There IS a happy end to this story and it comes with a friendly reminder.

Luckily, due to more digging, we find that the agency that had built their OLD website were the ones that still had ownership of it. Thanks to what the nameservers had been titled we got the clue that we needed. These guys had purchased the URL on my clients behalf and held ownership.

I'm not privy to how the phone call went, but I heard through the grapevine that this old agency had done everything to hold on to it. They had let it lapse without warning, the credit card on file had expired, but they didn't reach out to PG letting them know and replacing the one on file. Could be an oversight I suppose.... maybe.

This is why I tell my clients that I'm more than willing to help them purchase their domain, but they should do so under their own account so it remains in their ownership and their control.

In the end, everything worked out, as I'm writing this we've transferred the URL to an account that they own and manage now and I'm sure they'll remember this one for quite some time.

Matt Sebert

Matt is the co-host of The Admin Bar, and the owner of Matthew Sebert Design located in the beautiful small town of Keene, New Hampshire.

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