Unscrupulous marketers are taking advantage of small business owners by promising them “free” website design services were the client need only pay for website hosting.
The catch? The websites are shockingly badly built, updating services don’t exist and, as it turns out, the “design” isn’t actually free, either.
The situation was so bad for one business owner that they called us, almost in tears, asking that we take over their domain and shut the site down while a properly designed solution could be built.
That’s when the story got interesting.
We tendered a domain transfer request to our ISP. As it turned out, the “free” website company hosted at the same ISP. This should have been a good thing. Since no other ISP was involved, a quick domain transfer could be expected and the client’s problems could be quickly resolved.
However, the domain transfer was repeatedly rejected by the “free” website company which, in this instance, is based in South Africa.
Since a website domain transfer can only be rejected on a few grounds, one of which is non-payment, we dutifully contacted the client to confirm that their account was paid up. They promised it was.
A few more calls to Hetzner and the client revealed the full extent of the “free” website company’s dubious plan.
While the company offers a “free” web design service, this is only true while the client pays for website hosting. If the client gets fed up with their bad design and lack of support, they can’t move the domain until the site is paid for in full “at market-related website rates”.
In addition, there is no termination clause for how long one needs to have hosted a website with the company until the website is deemed “paid for”.
So, as it turns out, the website is badly designed, the company offers no real support to speak of and to top it all, the site is not really free, either.
That would be the same as a cellular service provider offering a “free” cellphone to customers so long as they use their network . . . without a contract expiry date.
Sounds fishy? Yup, fishy like a shark.
I wish we could report that the situation had eventually been resolved. However, at the time of writing we believe that the client was still in the same position – being unable to transfer their own online trademark property because of a payment demand from a company which never serviced them effectively.
While it’s probably likely that there is legal recourse for the client’s situation, who wants to pay for an attorney up-front while wrangling over a domain name for weeks, months or even years?
Perhaps the only long-term solution to this kind of domain problem would be the implementation of an effective domain “ombudsman” with the necessary technical and legal authority to remove ill-gotten domains and return them to their rightful owners.