Internet Web Hosting Scams and Ripoffs
Internet Web Hosting Scams are becoming more common every year. The following article was derived from my own experiences of acquiring a hosting service for my own business when I first started out as a web designer. It also includes dealing with some of my client's web hosting companies that provided them "Free" web space or a "Free" domain name or an "All in One Package" or what I call "Template Wizard Web Hosts" and bad hosting practices causing their client's sites to be vulerable to Domain Poisoning.
Free Web Space
Most ISPs (Internet Service Providers) will provide free web space to their e-mail clients with usually 5 or 10 MB of web space. If you just want a small personal page or business web site that doesn't change much with very few images or products and you don't intend to have people pay for your products with their credit cards online then this may work for you. However if you are starting a small business and want your business to grow then this will not be a good option for the following reasons.
Free Web Space Companies may not Provide the Following
- Reliable server to prevent frequent down time.
- Enough bandwidth (if your site draws too much traffic you may be charged extra).
- A secure server so people can order products online.
- A SEO Friendly shopping cart or no secure ordering with it.
- Backups of your files in case their server or your computer crashes.
- A CGI-bin so you can install small programs like forms.
- E-mail forwarding or autoresponders
- Includes may not be available. They contain data in separate file that allow the header, menu and footer to be drawn up into the page so you don't have to change multiple files every time you add a new page to the site.
- 24/7 support in case your site develops a technical problem and goes offline.
- You won't have access to their .htacces file and cannot set up a 301 redirect and thus search engines will not pick up your new url if you move (even with refresh code) and you'll have to shut down the old site and start over with a totally new site and gathering links on a new website.
Free Domain NamesThe old adage that "You get what you pay for" is true in this instance because such domain names rarely end up being truly yours because you will usually have to append your business name on the end of your ISP's domain name, for instance:
Reasons this is not good for a business:
- This URL is too long for anyone to remember
- A URL with slashes looses PR (page rank) with every slash.
- Most surfers will recognize this as as a free site and will assume this is not a reputable business if you can't even afford your own domain name when they can now be purchased for under $12.00 per year.
- Many search engines will not list this URL for the same reason so the traffic to your site will be minimal.
- Many directories will not list free domains either.
- If your business grows and you later decide to get your own domain name then you will have to start all over with search engines and links and you will loose all your previous Internet traffic because your address will change.
- You can't set up a 301 redirect for your domain in .htaccess and redirect search engines to your new site
Even if you are promised your own domain name, without the appendage mentioned above, dishonest designers or hosting companies often register your domain name in their own name. This often becomes apparent if you ever decide to move to a more compatible hosting company at a later date then you may not be able to take your domain name with you without paying an extra (exorbitant) fee. And not all hosting companies will even agree to the later because if they allow too many clients to leave then they won't meet a certain quota that is needed to be able to purchase domain names in bulk at a reduced rate.
A dishonest hosting company may even refuse to provide the right information to your preferred host when you try to transfer your domain name and thus delay or even prevent the transfer. Often clients of dishonest hosting companies are being held hostage for one reason or another (see Kidnapping Domain Names and Web Design Templates, below).
IMPORTANT: When you are considering purchasing a domain name make sure that the company you purchase your domain from states YOUR name or your company name will be listed as the Registrant or Owner of the site because without it you will not have control over your own domain name.
Only check on availablity of domains through a trusted source. Network Solutions, a major domain registrar, was sued for defrauding millions of people when they search for a domain name by immediately registering it themselves and then charging exorbitant prices for the domain so the domain wouldn't be available through competitors at a lower price (I have registered about 50 domains through Enom.com (the Registrar that Westhost.com uses) and have never run into this problem).
Also be aware of Domain Registration Scams by companies contacting you before your domain comes due trying to get you to switch registrars.
Template Wizard Web Hosts
This kind of hosting company preys on those with very little knowledge of web design or computers. They will say they have simple instructions and provide different templates that you can choose to set up your web site via a browser's control panel with no HTML knowledge or programming required. This is usually not true because even the simplest control panel will still require you to have some knowledge of web design to set up your web site. And there is no way to know how much knowledge you will need either because their demos are cleverly designed to keep that info from you until after you have signed an agreement with them--usually tying you into their service for a year, at which time you will see they use complex computer terminology in their "simple instructions" that only a web designer would understand.
These kinds of companies usually also provide "services" but at exorbitant fees or they graciously offer their "help" desk--which turns out to be preformatted FAQs for HTML problems which may or may not answer your question, if you can understand the terminology, and of course they are designed to encourage you to pay for their "services" mentioned above.
In short, these companies make their money off the extra services they provide and hidden charges you were not aware of when you signed up--like when business increases to your site you may find that you had agreed to pay more for hosting with increased bandwidth (traffic coming into your site). And you usually have to sign an agreement to stay the whole year. These same services are usually provided for free on reputable hosting companies.It can be almost guaranteed that you will have to hire their services at some point if you know nothing about web design and any web designer you hire in the future may have to use browser based control panels instead of access to the server and being able to use HTML and FTP (they may not allow access to their server) which will take over twice as long to format and thus costing you double what it would normally cost to update your website.
Also, most hosting companies that offer web design templates use software that is not compatible with current HTML standards and the pages produced by these template wizard programs WON'T VALIDATE or cause massive code bloat that slows down your website and this can harm your Keyword Rank. Check out sample sites provided by such a company and check them with a validator before subscribing to their service.
As you can see it is much more economical to pay for the domain name, design and other costs up front and then save on hosting fees later because once the site is designed and online the fees of a reputable hosting company should only cost you around $9.00 per month for a simple website whereas the Template company could charge $30.00 per month, or more, for the life of your site depending on how many hidden fees are included.
Kidnapping Domain NamesIf you sign onto a crooked hosting company and later realize your business is crippled until you can move it the crooked hosting company may try one or more of the following ploys to keep you from leaving:
- Holding your domain name hostage till your contract runs out.
- When requesting a transfer to your new host they switch it to another site they own instead.
- Encourage you to leave your domain on their site and just redirect to the new server.
Even after your domain name is successfully transferred to your new host they may send you notices that your domain name is due for renewal when the date for renewal is still 6 months off yet. What they are actually doing is trying to get you to unknowingly reregister your domain name with THEM again. So read the document carefully and make sure the company that holds your domain is the one you renew with. Also see Domain Registration Scams.
At least two of my clients had experience with a hosting company depicted above. I'm not going to mention any names but it rhymes with "high tower" and both clients had to threaten to sue the company to get their doman name released so beware of getting involved with such a company.
If you ever have a dispute with a host, whom you registered your domain through, and you end up loosing your domain you can file a report with the org that regulates registration of domains at: Internic's Whois Data Problem Report. They will try to contact the owner of the domain and resolve the issue. You will need to provide proof that the domain is actually yours however.
Web Design Templates Are Not Your Own PropertyA lot of these dishonest hosting companies will also provide images and pre-designed web templates to enhance your site, or encourage you to use forms or other additions to your site that originate from their database. However, if you ever decide to leave that hosting company then you may not be able to take those pages with you as may be copyrighted by that company, and the database driven pages will no longer work either. So, all you are left with are your own words or images that you put on your web site, i.e., you will have to hire someone to redesign your website from scratch.
Even if you decide to keep that hosting service and try and hire a webmaster the webmaster may refuse to work on your site because these template driven sites are twice as hard to work on and take twice as long for a web designer and thus they have to charge twice the money to fix them (it takes a lot longer for a professional web designer to design a site from a browser based control panel than using HTML and uploading via FTP).
Free Search Engine Submission ScamThere are a lot of companies that will also draw people in by claiming they will provide you with "Free" search engine submissions. This is a search engine submission scam because you only have to submit your site to Google or Bing, both of which are free. I fact if you can get one link from another website that gets a lot of traffic you don't need to submit to any search engines as they will find your link via the other site.
Link Exchange ScamsExchanging links can also involve a scam if you aren't careful. There are some companies that offer you to trade links within articles but hide the fact that all those articles are involved in a network of websites they own, or control, and the articles have been stolen from other websites. So what you would be actually doing is linking to your site from within a stolen article which could result in your own website being penalized for being involved in a link exchange scam.
Link Building ScamsThere are a lot of sites claiming to guarantee you hundreds or thousands of links that they will manually submit for you. However, this is impossible as it would take them too long to submit to all those websites manually. What they actually do it post them on a network of websites they own which may have little, if any, value or traffic. Google is very good at recognizing networks and will not allow those websites to rank well and if your link shows up on a multitude of those sites Google will know you purchased links from that Link Building Scam and penalize your site also via Google's Penguin penalty.
No Contact Address or PhoneWhen you are searching for a hosting company look for a physical address or phone number so if you are having an emergency you will be assured that you can contact them quickly. Check the support number on the weekends to see if they have 24/7 support. Try out their email contact and see how long it takes for you to get a reply to your question (this may not be proof that you will get the same response after you become a member). If the only support they offer is a FAQ sheet with supposed answers to common problems--run like the wind and find a real hosting company.
Reseller "Hosts"A Reseller is someone who buys a lot of space on their host and then they can pretend to be a host and sell space to clients and manage their sites from there. The problem with this set up is if that person gets sick or gets into financial trouble then your site may go down and you have no one to contact because they usually don't tell you that they are not a "real" host.
Web Designers Hosting your Website on Their own ServerThis is just as bad as the reseller host and even worse because a lot more problems can cause you to lose access to your website with no recourse, i.e., the "host" loosing electricty, phone lines go down, internet and server problems, etc. And those who put sites on their own server rarely have the money to keep their equipment upgraded to prevent hijacking and DNS issues issues like a "real" host.
These kinds of hosting companies were designed to enhance their own company, not their clients, and you will be better off hiring a web designer who knows what he/she is doing, paying for the design up front and then low hosting fees for the duration of your business.
For what to look for in a web designer see How to Find a Web Designer.
Copyright © 11-15-03, Updated 11-27-19
Other Web Sites with Information on Web Hosting Scams
Web Sites with Reviews, Discussions or lists of Web Hosting Companies
Web Sites with Articles on Internet Scams and Ripoffs
An article about Traffic Power producing it's own fake SEO forums to promote itself
Scam Busters: Free Special Report on Internet Scams: "The 10 Most Important Things You Can Do Now to Avoid Getting Scammed."
Google has a good article called Google Information for Webmasters with information on SEO Internet Scams.