Cyberclinic: Help! Someone has hijacked my homepage

Having just lost control of my domain name, can you advise how to avoid cybersquatters?

Domain names, the core part of the web and e-mail addresses that we type every day, are big business. Competition for memorable ones is strong, and even competition for ones that are a hamfisted mistype away from being memorable is pretty feverish. As per the column concerning web hosting a few weeks ago, it's clear that the process of registering and hanging on to a domain is shrouded in mystery for many - and where there's mystery, there's usually a few people getting ripped off.

The first sound piece of advice comes from Jim Player: "Don't automatically buy domain names from your ISP, or your web-hosting provider. If your relationship with them sours, they could be at risk." Indeed, it has recently taken me a year to get full control of a domain name I registered some years ago; in the end my impatience with the company in question forced me to cough up a completely unnecessary "transferring fee".

The lesson is clear: go with a seller that offers direct and transparent access to all the settings related to your domain name - renewal, transfers and hosting. Shop around, and seek recommendations; easydns.com and dreamhost.com are two US-based services with a no-nonsense approach.

It's a cut-throat, first-come-first-served world, and Jayne Brookes points out - from her own bitter experience - that you should keep that domain idea to yourself. "Then, if you find that it's available, just buy it. It should only cost between £5 and £15 for one year, and you can bet that if you don't buy it today, someone else will tomorrow."

Of course, there are unscrupulous types who register domains in the hope of levering more money out of people they know will pay up - the dreaded cybersquatters - but they're not the kind of people you should be doing business with. If that domain name is central to your business plan, consider changing the plan. If you believe you have a legal right to the name, the registrar of the domain will have a dispute resolution department - but the process will inevitably involve lengthy legal wrangling.

Once you've bought the domain, remember that you have merely hired it from the registry. Paul Lomax from Fibranet, whose freeparking.co.uk domain service is highly rated, has a word of advice for keeping hold of your domain purchase; simply don't forget to renew it. "The easiest way to lose a domain is to change your e-mail address and forget to tell the registrar. We try to help by reminding people to keep their details updated, and ironically we get a handful of customers complaining that they don't want junk mail from us! You can't win."

Diagnosis required

Next week's question comes from Al Blackmore:

"I've watched hours of material on YouTube, but I'd like to get involved as a producer of content, rather than a passive consumer. What are the procedures and pitfalls?" Any comments, and new questions for the Cyberclinic, should be e-mailed to cyberclinic@independent.co.uk.

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