In my "Domain Names and Web Hosting" blog I discussed what Domain Names are and why they are needed for your website. In this blog I discuss the reasons why the domain name registration should always be in your name and not someone else's. One of the most important things to remember about registering a domain name is to make sure you are the registrant (the person who legally owns the domain name), or at least the administrative and technical contact for the domain name. Domain theft is very common and can mean big money for scam artists.
Domain Name Registrant
The domain name registrant (the person who legally owns your domain name, which should be YOU) can do anything they want with your domain name, so if you allow someone else to register your domain name for you, they can sell without your knowledge or consent, fail to renew it, or hold it "hostage".
When someone holds your domain name hostage, this means exactly what it sounds like; they want a "ransom" (large amount of money, much more than a normal domain registration fee) to transfer the domain name back to you. I've heard horror stories of web designers asking thousands of dollars to transfer a domain name to companies that have had their website published for years, and there have been countless lawsuits brought by companies against these kinds of scam artists to get their domain names back. Just Google "domain name hostage" or "stolen domain name".
Administrative and Technical Contact
The administrative and technical contact is responsible for handling, well, the administrative and technical aspects of your domain name. The administrative contact is the person who will receive emails pertaining to your domain. This person is also responsible for authorizing transfers of your domain name. This person should always be you, the company owner.
If you are the domain name registrant but not the administrative or technical contact, any changes you want to make to your domain name will have to go through the administrative/technical contact. This can be very difficult if your administrative/technical contact is difficult to reach. This is also why it is extremely important to never ever authorize a listing company such as Yext, Dex Media, or Hibu to be your domain name's administrative or technical contact. If you ever want to transfer your domain name or web hosting to another company, it will be very difficult to get the right person on the phone to provide you with the username and password into your domain name account.
Consequences and Scams
If you already have an established website, or your domain name is the same as your company name, losing your domain name can have particularly serious consequences. Your website address is probably printed on your business cards and other marketing materials, other sites are already linking to it, and your customers know your website by that address.
If anyone asks you to transfer your domain name to them, it's probably a scam to get you to hand over your domain name. There is no legitimate reason that someone would ask you to transfer your domain name to them. A web designer does not need to own your domain name to design or publish your website. It's the same as your car mechanic asking you to sign your car's title over to them in order for them to install new tires.
How to Protect Yourself
The way to ensure that you are the legal registrant for your domain name is if you purchase the domain name yourself. If you're not sure how to do this, your web designer can make the purchase for you, as long as he or she purchases it under your name, with your credit card and contact information, and then provides you with the receipt, as well as the username and password into your domain name account. This requires a certain level of trust, since you don't want to provide your credit card number to just anyone. So make sure you research the web designer you'll be working with, confirm their credentials, and make sure they have a website with testimonials from other clients and a gallery of other websites they've designed. Read my article on Finding a Good Web Designer.
After your web designer purchases the domain name and provides you with the domain name username and password, log in to the domain name account to be sure the login credentials are correct. Then check the domain contact information in your account to make sure that your email address is the one showing in the registrant, administrative, and technical contact areas.
Protect your logins and passwords to your domain name account, as well as any email accounts associated with your domain. If your email account is compromised, the thief can find the email containing your domain name account login, and transfer ownership of your domain name.