When buying or selling a domain you are often dealing with a party you don’t know. Do you remit a large sum of money to them and trust them to transfer the domain to you? Probably not. But then again, they don’t know you either, so they can’t transfer the domain to you first in the hope that you will indeed keep your promise to pay them in full.
That’s where escrow companies come in.
An escrow company will take the full payment from the buyer and hold it till the seller transfers the goods. Once the buyer confirms that he’s received the goods the escrow company releases the funds to the seller. Should the buyer reject the goods, the escrow waits for the seller to confirm receipt back before they refund the payment to the buyer. So everyone’s safe.
But it’s important to choose a good, trusted escrow company to handle what is often a large sum of money. Who do you go to for that? The most well known name is escrow.com. Most experts in website buying and selling swear by escrow.com and they do so with the experience of many transactions behind them. But today I’m going to tell you five secrets that you really should know before you deal with them.
Five Things That You Did Not Know About Escrow.com and Which Should Scare You
1. There is no company called escrow.com. The company you are dealing with is IES that rents/leases or has some other arrangement involving the escrow.com domain (I don’t know what it is and you likely don’t either). That’s not a reason to distrust them but you need to know who you are dealing with. Should IES go bust sometime – no company is immune from the laws of finance – the escrow.com name will likely continue and many buyers and sellers will likely be unaware that anything has changed even though they may be dealing with a brand new company with no history! They’ll assume it’s the good, old escrow company they’ve always dealt with. On the escrow.com website, you’ll find bold claims about “services provided by escrow.com“. They flash “escrow.com” all over the site. Even their postal address is “escrow.com” (no mention of IES). You need to go to the small print to realise that it’s IES you’re dealing with and, in their own words, they are only “one of the operating subsidiaries of Escrow.com”.
Disclaimer: I’m not suggesting anything about IES’s current financial position. They may be rock solid for all I know. And do bear in mind that they are heavily regulated (more about that later) so they don’t do a runner with your money.
But “they” are not escrow.com.
2. Escrow.com/IES doesn’t provide an escrow service for websites: Seriously! It never ceases to amaze me how few people know this. Or realise the huge risk involved in putting website transactions through this company. IES has four categories: Motor Vehicle | Domain Name | General Merchandise | Services.
The closest you have to websites is “Domain Name” and people happily choose that as the closest match and think all is hunky dory. It’s not!
Risks for Buyer: You can end up getting just the domain name and none of the files, templates, designs, databases or anything else that is contained in the website you’re buying and, as far as IES is concerned, they’ll release the funds to the seller on the sole grounds that he has transferred the domain control to you.
Risks for Seller: You can transfer all the copyright, other rights, programs, files etc., to the ownership of the buyer and the buyer can then demand IES give him a refund because he’s changed his mind about taking control of the domain.
3. IES/escrow.com don’t give a fig leaf about your contract. In the purchase of a website the buyer and seller often negotiate terms and draw up a Sales Contract. It may say that certain conditions need to be met and that the buyer/seller can pull out of the transaction if there is a material change. Example: You agree with the seller that if his PR9 site suddenly drops to a PR4 then the deal is off. You send your funds to IES for them to hold during the 10 day “inspection period”. The seller changes the WHOIS for the site and sends you the password to take control of the domain. But on the very first day you find that the PR has dropped (or there is something else drastically wrong with the site and it doesn’t match what the seller described). Tough! As far as escrow.com/IES’s terms are concerned your agreement has no value. The seller gave you control of the site and if he wants to complete the transaction then IES is just going to release the funds to him. The contract entered into by the Buyer and Seller is a carefully constructed document designed to protect each party’s interest. IES won’t even look at that contract. They go by their own terms and conditions and it may or may not be in your favour.
To be fair, you can try raising a dispute or arguing the terms with IES, but there’s no guarantee you’ll succeed, it’s entirely up to them.
4. Many of the “experts” who recommend escrow.com are doing so because they get a commission. Escrow.com is one of the few (if not the only) escrow companies that has an affiliate program. That they are paying people to recommend them is not reason enough to shun their services. But be aware that any recommendation of their service may be driven by expectations of commission rather than a desire to help you.
5. Escow.com is regulated by an authority on another planet. Most experts agree that while the banks took a lot of liberties it was ultimately the regulators who failed in controlling the financial institutions and were responsible for the credit crunch of 2008.
But there is no regulator on this planet quite like the Commissioner in California. He sounds like a cross between Saddam Hussein, Michael Jackson and Imelda Marcos.
He’s power mad and a bit crazy. Nobody – anywhere in the world – can do this business with anyone based in California unless they pay the Californian Commissioner huge amounts of money, bow to his authority, promise to jump when he says jump and sign up to lots of nonsense. But the madness doesn’t end there. If an escrow company in Syndey or Singapore or Sierra Leone decides they can’t be bothered with some jobsworth in California, they need to be aware that he has banned anyone, anywhere in the world, from saying anything critical about him. I promise, I’m not making this up!
That’s just the start. If you read the California Financial Code (div 6, 17000-17305) there’s some pretty serious stuff in there that should dissuade anybody from buying or selling a site if the party they are dealing with is California based. But if the escrow company is registered there it’s even more serious. You will almost certainly lose should a dispute arise. In fact, if they file a court case against you in California, they don’t even need to inform you of the action. In can be all decided in your absence.
Read the full story of the California Risk here.
So even if IES is a very trustworthy company, has a strong balance sheet and great customer service, the fact that they are based in California and signed up to the California Financial Code is reason enough to go look elsewhere for your escrow needs.
Reliable escrow companies that proudly declare they are not registered in California:
Moniker is an ICANN Accredited Registrar and the only company with a special domain escrow account at its registrar to safely hold domains and protect both buyer and seller of domain related transactions. (not registered in California… for the moment)
I-Escrow, Inc. is Licensed by the Washington Department of Financial Institutions (No. 540-EA-42257) and adheres to its strict regulations, as well as the ordinances put forth by the Revised Code of Washington.
SEDO, escroweurope, Escrow Europa (recommended by eBay) etc., are other alternatives.