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Web Hosting Scams and Ripoffs: How to Spot and Avoid Them

Reliable Web Hosting

Choosing a web hosting provider can be difficult. There are a lot of things someone needs to consider when launching a website — hosting, domain names, add-on services like email and SSL certificates. Depending on the buyer’s level of comfort with web hosting technology, they may be relying on the host to provide clarity and be upfront and honest.

Because web hosting represents a significant investment for many customers (both in terms of time and money), falling for a web hosting scam or getting ripped off is extremely painful. To help mitigate such risks, this article aims to help customers searching for a hosting provider

  1. Identify scams and fake companies
  2. Recognize when web hosting companies’ promotional copy isn’t entirely transparent, so they fully understand what they’re getting (or not getting)

Finding a Legitimate Company

Anyone can start a “business” on the internet. Nevertheless, there are some markers to help distinguish a legitimate company from someone looking to scam users by taking their money and not providing them with quality services. They include:

  • Biographies and contact information about the people who work at the company. This doesn’t have to be super specific, but even a team photo with no additional details, for example, is a marker that the company is real
  • A physical address corresponding to a valid location. Sometimes, web pages will list a physical address, but it isn’t attached to a data center or office
  • A money-back guarantee, including information on how to cancel a plan and obtain a refund
  • Hosting reviews from actual customers. This information doesn’t have to come from the web host itself, but customers should be wary if they cannot find anything from other users about the host. Be sure to check multiple sources to verify credibility.

Limited Technical Support

So many web hosts offer their customers 24/7 support that any company that doesn’t seems suspicious. Staffing a support desk around the clock is an expensive proposition to be sure, but it is a marker than the company is on solid footing and won’t suddenly close up shop.

Furthermore, website-related problems can come up at any time of the day, and you’ll want to be able to reach someone for help if necessary. Sometimes, searching for answers on the internet or referring to a half-completed knowledge base isn’t sufficient.

Promotional Copy: What Are Hosts Offering?

Web hosts promise their customers a lot of perks, but do purchasers get what they’re expecting? The following sections take a look at some commonly-advertised benefits and how they might not be what users might be expecting.

Free Web Hosting

Some companies offer free web hosting plans. These typically include a relatively limited allocation of resources, have limited features, and require the customer to display ads for the company. Those who are just getting started with a small personal website that features a few images would be fine with free hosting. Those who want even a bit more, such as those needing professional websites or wanting to support higher levels of traffic, would do better with a paid plan (even if it is a very inexpensive option).

Finally, keep in mind that when something is offered for free, the company typically retains ownership (including the content on the site itself).

Unlimited Resources

Many hosting companies boast that their plans (typically the shared hosting plans) come with unlimited resources, such as bandwidth or storage space.

For most users, the resources offered by budget-friendly shared hosting plans are sufficient, regardless of whether they come with unlimited resources or not. As such, the resource-use restrictions typically apply to those with larger websites that require more from their hosting. For example, the site might include a large number of high-resolution images or feature streaming audio and video.

Such users might be surprised when their web hosting company restricts their usage, despite the host’s claims to offer “unlimited” resources. Typically, whenever a web host offers unlimited resources, they place stringent caveats that users have to follow, including blanket statements such as banning activity that requires a VPS or dedicated server.

Free Domain Names

Many hosts offer customers a free domain name, often with the purchase of a contract lasting one year or more. However, the general practice is for the hosting company to cover the fees for the domain name only for the first year. The few companies that offer free domains for the lifetime of the contract tend to state this boldly on their websites. As such, customers should expect their web hosting fees to rise in the second year to cover their domain name renewal costs.

Furthermore, domain names are typically non-refundable. Many hosts offer a money-back guarantee, but when a customer cancels, the web host usually refunds only the hosting fees paid. They keep a small amount to cover the cost of the domain name (though the customer does retain ownership of the domain name).

Conclusion

When it comes to web hosting, customers should keep the following in mind:

  1. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
  2. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Because launching a website can represent a significant investment in time and money, customers should take care to find a reputable company that offers dependable service. They should also take the time to learn industry jargon (e.g., “unlimited bandwidth,” “unlimited hosting,” “free domain name”) so they know what they’re getting even from legitimate web hosting companies.

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