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8 Clues a Domain Name is Stolen

8 warning signs a domain name is stolen.

thiefOver the past few days we’ve learned about a number of domain name thefts, including YH.com and VL.com.

People typically steal domains with the hopes of selling them before word gets out that the domain is stolen. Here are 8 clues a domain name you’re thinking about buying is stolen. Just because one of these is true doesn’t mean a domain is stolen; but you should use caution.

1. Person claims they must sell the domain fast – there are legitimate reason for needing to sell something quickly, such as to raise needed cash. But it’s also a warning sign that something else is at play. So when there’s a sense of urgency, be suspicious.

2. The seller emphasizes the need to use a particular, unsecure payment method instead of traditional escrow services – this is usually PayPal (which offers absolutely zero protection to domain buyers), or some sort of PayPal knock-off. If a seller requests a wire transfer and rules out any sort of escrow, you should also be wary.

3. Domain owner sends you an unsolicited PM on a domain forum – if someone sends you a PM out of the blue offering a domain for sale, ask yourself why they wouldn’t have posted the domain for sale on the forum itself? Surely that would maximize their return rather than just sending a one-off message to you.

4. Seller has a short history on domain forums – if you are transacting on a domain forum, make sure the seller has been an active user of the forum for a long period of time.

5. Person sends an unsolicited email to you with a few quality domains for sale – whenever someone sends you a sales pitch rather than you contacting them, your risk goes up. Of particular concern is when someone sends you an email out of the blue with a good deal for a 2 or 3 character domain name. If the domains are good, people won’t resort to unsolicited emails to sell the domains. I’m not talking about those annoying emails from someone listing hundreds of crappy domains they’re trying to sell.

6. The domain was recently transferred to a second-tier domain name registrar – if a domain was transferred from a top 10 registrar to one you’ve never heard of, ask the seller why.

7. The whois information changed recently – if the whois for a domain you’re buying changed recently, you need to ask the seller why. Just because the whois changed doesn’t mean it’s stolen. A lot of people quickly flip domains. But it’s also a warning sign. Run away from any domain that has transferred ownership several times in the past year. Be wary of any domain that suddenly changes whois information and is transferred to another domain registrar. If you are an active buyer, you owe it to yourself to use DomainTools’ whois history service to verify domains you’re buying.

8. The price is too good to be true – this goes for just about anything in business, but especially domain names. If someone emails you offering to sell a 2 letter .com domain for $25,000, it’s probably stolen. If someone posts Recent.net, Than.net, and They.net on Flippa for $1,000, they’re probably stolen.

Here are three take-away tips:

-Ask questions! You’ll find holes in the seller’s story. Or they’ll just give up and move on to easier prey.

-Ask to talk on the phone. If someone won’t take a simple phone call for a five figure transaction, they probably have something to hide.

-It’s your responsibility to research the history of a domain on DomainTools.

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Reader Interactions


    Leave a Comment

    • Andrew Allemann

      @ Jorge – correct. If you are willing to lose the money if push comes to shove, PayPal is OK. But if you’re buying something for $10k, I’d be careful. I’d also be careful about receiving $10k via PayPal.

  1. so far not burnt

    I have been lucky so far.
    I will only use paypal with someone I know or has an industry reputation.

    Everything else is done through Escrow.com or Stevan Lieberman (IP lawyer) when it involves a contract.

    I haven’t experienced it but I have heard that even Escrow.com can reverse a payment.

  2. Tim

    @Domain Joe…..that tool is totally useless.

    It did not show one domain I owned or those of others, however it showed a bunch other domainers I and I do not own.

    I’m not sure why that “tool” even exists….total bunk.

  3. Karen Bernstein

    Get the terms of purchase and sale (and the transfer details, price, etc.) into a written agreement with a clause that the seller owns the domain name free and clear, that the domain name is not subject to any third party rights, and that if you (the buyer) get sued the seller will pay all your legal bills. Use a lawyer; spend a little extra money; get it in writing. You wouldn’t buy a house from someone without getting a title search, right? Since you can yet do that with domain names it’s worth it to spend a little money and hire a lawyer to eliminate headaches down the road.

  4. Acro

    Well-said Andrew, and allow me to add: Don’t transact with users that have zero to basic transaction history, no trackable record of sales and no presence in the domain community.

    Also be wary of deals that appear too good to be true, even if the seller is legit. Often, accounts get compromised and a thief may pose as the legitimate owner.

  5. Stephen Douglas


    Any domain sale for under $5k is great for Paypal. Contrary to your comment that Paypal “offers absolutely zero protection to domain buyers”, Paypal is one of the safest way to sell a domain name under $5k, and being owned by eBay gives it a lot of credibility.

    Three years ago, I had a buyer of one of my domains pay me $300 for the domain, then he forgot to initiate the transfer of the domain to his registrar. After about a week, he didn’t get his domain. I tried to tell him how to proceed correctly, but he was so freaked out, he botched every bit of instructions I gave him.

    Ultimately, he filed a complaint with Paypal, and my whole account was frozen. It wasn’t until i showed Paypal resolution team my emails and the guy finally got the transfer right, did he release his “dispute” and my paypal account. So yes, Paypal DOES protect a buyer’s payment.

    My concern with your post saying that Paypal “doesn’t protect buyers” is a strongly “wrong” statement to make, especially since most domain sellers for low cost domains use Paypal exclusively. You should retract that, or get more information on Paypal protections for buyers, because eBay doesn’t fool around with fraud transactions. They’re hardcore on top of them… and most domain sales below $5k are done by Paypal.

    • Andrew Allemann

      @ Stephen Douglas – my experience has been the exact opposite. A domain name isn’t a physical good, and thus PayPal will not provide protection to buyer or seller. There have been a couple times as a buyer that I’ve been ripped off, and PayPal told me they couldn’t do anything about it.

      That said, if you’re willing to take the risk you can go right ahead.

  6. Stephen Douglas

    Hi Dub A,

    The point is well-taken, but I don’t know the specifics of how you were ripped off by a company that is run by one of the largest online funds transaction company in the world, eBay.

    There’s all the factors to take into consideration, of course, before you make a sale, either buyer or seller, (Verified Paypal account, recognition of the buyer/seller, a written contract to specify the purchase agreement terms, etc.).

    So I’m not saying “just use paypal in any domain sale” and depend on that to keep you safe in your purchase of the domain. I’m saying “once the research has been done and the party has been vetted and verified, make a purchase agreement and Paypal will be fine for under $5K purchases”.

    I would like to know what sales processing entities, as in escrow on a purchase where the price is high enough for you to consider using, are your favorite. Escrow.com? A registrar losing/gaining the domain? A simple bankwire? What methods do you prefer for a domain selling for what minimum price, beyond Paypal, or even any other method?

    I’ve heard horror stories even about Escrow.com (mainly in the amount of time they take to complete a payout, even after receiving the domain/payment). I personally have not had problems with Escrow.com.

    This might be a subject for a different article though.


    • Andrew Allemann

      @ Stephen – well, if you’ve done that level of vetting you can just pay cash 🙂

      The point is every interaction I’ve had with PayPal has been poor. Whenever I’ve challenged a transaction in which it was a “service” instead of a physical product, I got a canned response that PayPal won’t do anything about it b/c they only protect product purchases.

  7. Stephen Douglas


    Hmmm… it might be my threats that work for me. lol JK

    Maybe I’ve just been lucky. You still haven’t indicated what sort of payment method you depend on, and at what price level you kick that method in.

    just curious…

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