The recent DomainSherpa article “How to Keep Your Domain Name Searches Safe From Poachers” by Michael Cyger made me think of those times during my years of domain name purchases when I experienced things that seemed odd. Although I could not prove anything when it happened, I knew something was off. As a matter of fact, I even tweeted back to Hiten Shah and Chris Dixon, who had both tweeted the original article, expressing my belief that I have been the victim of shady activity in this industry.
In fact, I had a recent experience that fell in this category. I was going to simply ignore it, but then as I sat in traffic on 128 outside Boston, I just got more heated and ultimately decided I wanted to share my story.
Let me start by saying that what I recently experienced is not necessarily domain name front running (DNFR), but it feels like it is in the same family.
For you impatient folks who do not want to spend the time reading my likely ridiculously long recounting of the event, the short story is:
A domain name I wanted that was not in auction is now in auction, for nearly $3,000 with zero bids and virtually no views (with exception of mine) – all within hours of my showing interest.
If you want to know more about how this came about, keep reading.
So, I had a project I was working on, and as most of us do when we have projects, I looked for an Internet identity in the form of a domain name. I wanted to go with a short URL model like a .ly or .do. After thinking of what would make sense, I searched and found just what I needed and registered it, along with a few different variations. Afterward, just for kicks and to cover my bases, I looked up the .com, .net and .org version too.
My search showed that the .com was registered – not in auction, just registered. No biggy, I thought to myself, I’ll just get the .net and .org and then maybe follow up with the owner of the .com later to see if they want to get rid of it for a reasonable cost. A few days passed and I decided to visit the .com domain name to see if there was a website with contact details. I did not find a traditional website, but a parking page with a link on it to buy the domain name like the one you see here:
I decided I would try this since I was going to reach out to the contact anyway. Coincidentally, I had been contacted through this very same service just a few days prior about a domain name – a variant for my current company – that I was unwilling to sell. I was curious, how well does this stuff work anyway? I forked over the $69.99 to find out.
Once I paid, it took about 8 to 10 hours before I got an email notifying me that an appraisal was ready – you know, an “official” estimate of what someone might be willing to pay for this doman name. The estimate came in at between $1,200 and $1,600. The high range concerned me – was this process going to be biased?
After getting over my initial frustration with the high price, I figured I was screwed. Surely the person with the domain name was going to ask way too much, right? Well, not exactly. In fact, I wonder if the person was ever informed of my interest, at least in the way I would have expected them to be.
Here is where the story really gets interesting, for me anyway. About 4 to 5 hours after getting my appraisal, I received another email telling me I had a refund for $79.99. Yes, a refund. And no explanation as to why. I would have expected something like, “The person was not interested in selling,” or “Because the person is not interested in selling, we want to be nice and refund your money because we did not do much for you.” Instead, I got no explanation, just, “Here’s your refund.”
To understand what happened, I called the domain name registrar. I was told that since the domain name was “in auction” I could not buy it through this process. Recall, however, that in my original search of the .com domain name, it was “not in auction, just registered.” Brimming with frustration at that point, I immediately looked to see if it was in fact in auction. Sure enough it was:
Coincidence? Who can say for sure, but it certainly smelled suspicious.
You may be wondering how I knew the domain name was not already in auction when I originally looked it up. The way their system works, if you look up a domain name and it is in auction, they tell you it is in auction. That did not happen in my first lookup, but now it does. Here is the new lookup result for the domain name I wanted to buy:
So what does this mean? Does this prove anything? Let me make a few observations and pose a few questions.
- Notice from the screenshot that the auction has only 2 views (maybe 3 or 4 now because I needed other screenshots) and 0 offers. I am convinced most if not all views are mine. If this domain name had been in auction longer, you would expect more views, especially based on the price it is listed for.
- Look at the categories (word and phrases) in the auction: it is listed as “cool.” Really? I can tell you the name is not that cool, and if it were, I would suspect more views and offers.
- Did the person who owns the domain name get notified that I was interested in purchasing it? If so, did this make them want to put it in auction? Were they encouraged do to that?
- Did the .ly- and .do-like searches along with the registration of .net and .org domain names have an affect on how this process was handled?
Unfortunately I do not really have a satisfying conclusion to the story, and I do not know the right answers to the questions my experience raises. I do know that similar situations have happened to me over my reasonably long career of registering and managing domain names. I know that I likely cannot prove this, nor have I ever tried, but since this experience happened so close to a recent post about DNFR I felt compelled to vent the details. And I know that going forward, even though I think I am somewhat knowledgeable and cautious in this area, I need to modify my approach to domain name registrations.
Comments are welcome.
If you enjoyed this article, subscribe for updates (it's free)