I recently received a message from a visitor to thesitewizard.com telling me about how he checked for the availability of a domain name, found it unregistered, only to lose it to someone else before he was able to buy it at a later date. This article deals with some of the unsavoury practices that go on in the world of domain names and the precautions that you can take to avoid being victimised.
It has been a long-held suspicion by many people that a practice known as "domain name front running" exists. Domain name front running occurs when someone monitors attempts to check out currently nonexistent domain names, and then quickly snaps up those names before the person inquiring can buy it through a registrar. The intention is to sell the domain name to the interested party at a higher price, thereby making a tidy profit without even having to develop a website on the domain.
At the time I write this, it has not been proven that these practices occur. However, since such monitoring is technically possible and easily accomplished, and anecdotal accounts from victims abound, many people believe that domain name front running is very real. Particularly when they lose a domain name they have just checked.
A related issue to domain name front running is that of unscrupulous domain registrars. Recently a domain name registrar was found to have registered every domain name that was entered into their search box. If you go to that registrar simply to check whether a domain name was available, your domain name will be instantly snapped up by them. Unlike the alleged domain name front runners, however, their operation is designed to be more anti-competitive than anything else. You can still register the domain name at their advertised price (which is more expensive than most other registrars), but only with them. No other registrar will allow you to buy that name, since as far as they are concerned, the domain name has already been bought.
As far as I know, till this day (the date I wrote this article), that registrar continues this practice. (Don't worry, I didn't mention that registrar in my list of registrars that I've used, so you're probably safe if you've only checked using the registrars on thesitewizard.com's page.) That disreputable registrar will however probably drop this practice eventually, since ICANN, the overall organisation in charge of domain names, plans to start charging registrars for any domain name they pick up, even if it's only for a few days.
As mentioned in my article on How to Register Your Own Domain Name, before you even go to a registrar, jot down a few domain names that you want. List the possibilities and make a decision to buy even before you reach the registrar's page to check.
Only go to the registrar that you plan to buy from. Don't check the domain with other registrars, just for fun. Don't check for the existence of a domain by typing it in your browser window. If domain name front running exists, that query for a nonexistent domain name will be noted. Don't take that risk.
Once you see that the domain is available, buy it immediately. It may be available now, but not a few seconds later (or even less). Don't check and then imagine that the name will be around at some future date when you figure out what to do with that domain name. If you don't have a plan for the domain, don't check it. Or just buy it first and plan later. Whatever the case may be, once you check it, you should regard yourself as having committed yourself to the name. Unless of course you don't really want the name anyway.
If you have doubts about whether one set of domain names is better than another, buy them all (if you can afford it). New domain names are cheap. Second hand domain names (bought from another owner) are not. You can always let a domain expire if you decide you don't want it later. Prices of domain names are now almost universally around $10 USD a year, so it's penny wise pound foolish to save those few bucks now and pay thousands of dollars to a reseller later.
Finally, don't do what a lot of newbies do. Don't post in a forum asking for opinions about whether a particular domain name is good for such and such a purpose. When you do so, you run the risk of someone quickly registering that domain before you can. They may not even want to sell it to you later, since good domain names are hard to think of, and they may want to use it for the same purpose you did when you announced your intentions to the world.
If you have to ask someone, ask only a person with whom you have a personal relationship, whom you trust. Even better, ask after you've bought the whole kit and caboodle. Then it won't matter which option your friend picks, and whether he/she is trustworthy. You'll already own them all.
Don't make the same mistake that my visitor made when he lost his desired domain name. Be aware of the underhand tactics used by some people and take the precautions I mentioned above when buying your own domain names, so that you won't be another victim of the Internet underworld.
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