Every domain name has a publicly accessible record that includes the owner’s personal information. It’s called a WhoIs record and lists the registrant and contacts for the domain. Your name, address, city, state, zip, country, phone number and email address may be listed on the WhoIs record for your domain. It also shows when you registered your domain, when it will expire, where your website is hosted, and other technical details. You can view the record for your domain by going to domaintools.com and putting your domain in the box labeled “WhoIs Lookup” then clicking the “Search” button. These records are available anytime to anyone who does a search.
ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) requires domain registrars to make your contact information available. It is used for some legitimate purposes such as verifying ownership of a domain name in a transfer request. Law enforcement agencies may use it when investigating illegal activity on the internet. Companies or individuals may also use these records to contact domain holders who are violating copyrights or other property rights.
Your domain record may also be used in ways that aren’t legitimate or desirable. Since anyone can look up a WhoIs record, spammers, hackers, identity thieves and stalkers may access your personal information! Unethical companies check domain expiration dates then send official looking “renewal” notices in an attempt to get the domain owners to transfer domains to their company, or send “invoices” that are service solicitations for search engine submissions and other questionable services. Both email and snail mail spammers use the WhoIs databases to contact domain owners with solicitations as well.
Many domain registrars now offer a service called privacy protection. When you choose privacy protection, your personal information will not be listed on the WhoIs record. Instead, the information of the registrar’s privacy service will appear. You still own your domain.
Once you’ve activated privacy protection on your domain and your personal information is no longer public, spammers can’t use it to find your email address or send you those deceptive domain renewal notices from other companies.
Be aware that if you want to transfer your domain name to another registrar, you’ll need to remove the privacy protection and deal with some red tape in order to do so.
Additionally, some consumer advocacy TV shows and websites explain to customers how to check WhoIs records to see if a business is legitimate before they deal with them. You can take positive steps to keep this from being a problem though. Make sure that customer don’t need to resort to your WhoIs records to find out who you are and if you’re legitimate. Offer full contact information on your website including multiple methods to get in touch with you (postal mail, email, phone number, fax, etc). Consider adding ways for customers to contact you through social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook if you use them for business.
The process depends on your registrar. Contact the company where you registered your domain and ask about privacy protection. It may be included in the cost your yearly registration or there may be a small fee.