What the heck!???
Are there really web designers who hold clients hostage?
I've heard many shocking storie directly from new clients and have had to get involved with their hostage-holding web designers to break them free.
How do I find out who owns my domain for sure?
You can check to see who is the registered owner (registrant) of your domain by checking the Whois of your domain. Unless your name is listed as the registrant, or your company name, you are not the owner of the domain. Being listed as technical support does not give you access to move the domain or change the owners data. If your web designer's name, or business, or your host is listed as the registrant, they own it.
What about a web designer who registered my domain to themselves?
One way to help you get them to transfer the domain into your name is to notify the registrar that they have refused to give you your domain ownership but it can be very frustrating to get any action. The best thing to do is register the domain yourself in the first place so you know what is being down as far as ownership and contact info.
Steps to get the domain changed into your own name:
1. Get a copy of your website. Unless you can do it
yourself, or hire a reputable web designer to copy the code
off all pages on your website, including images and related
documents The new designer will need your hosting login user
name and password to do this. If you don't have this
information then you've got double trouble as you'll have to
get it from your previous designer/host.
2. Put the domain in your own name. Politely ask the original designer to put the domain in your own name, not mentioning what you "really" think of them or what you might be doing in the future with the website. If they agree to put the domain into your name you may have to set up an account on the same registrar and request the transfer. The original designer will have to approve the transfer. It should take about 24 hours or less for this to show up in your new account. You can also check the Whois site again to verify whether the registration change has been updated showing you as the registered owner.
If the original designer/host balks at the idea and it was "supposedly" a free domain then offer to pay for it. If they require an exorbitant fee or don't reply in a reasonable amount of time then send the same request in a registered letter to the designer so you have will proof you tried to contact them. Sometimes you may have trouble tracking down their mailing address.
What if the web designer refuses to put the domain in my name?
File a report with ICANN. If the original designer or
host refuses to put the domain into your name, or they
demand an exorbitant price (ransom) for the domain that you
can't pay, you may be able to file a complaint with the
Icann Whois Data Problem Report. You will have to prove you
paid the designer for the domain (contract, cancelled check,
credit card record, emails discussing the issue, etc.). It
can take a couple weeks or more to resolve.
Legal advice might be a good idea if none of the above works. This site offers some info, but more can be found using the search term domain ownership dispute.
If all else fails you have the option to register another domain as close as you can to your original. (Note: If your website has been online the search engines will likely have a record of the content which means you will have to rewrite the content on every page or the new domain will be filtered out of search results for duplicate content. Changing to a new domain will also mean you have to start all over with rank and links and you'll have to ask, all current linked sites to change their links to your new domain.)