In today's hosting market, competition is fierce. So fierce in fact it drives many companies to practice less than ethical business tactics and others to absolute fraud. With so many hosting companies going under everyday and leaving their customers hanging, how can you be sure you will not be one of those customers? The truth is you can't be sure - no one can, but you can know what to look out for when searching host providers or when being tempted by a fancy ad or e-mail promising more for less money.
The lack of personal contact and judicial control makes any Internet business an ideal candidate for a scam. Please keep in mind when reading this list that some legitimate and respectable hosts use some of the marketing tactics noted. The difference is the respectable ones deliver what they promise. Here are some of the more common "scams" practiced by fly by night web hosting companies.
* Deceiving Price Advertising. Some hosting providers will advertise a very low and attractive monthly price. You will be lured to their site and overwhelmed with flashy graphics and follow the order links only to find out that in order to get that low price, you must prepay 3,6, and sometimes 1 year in advance.
* Hosting Term Contracts. This is where you sign your life away for a long-term commitment hoping the service you expect is everything you were told. Some hosting providers encourage and heavily promote advance payments for hosting services. Some even offer such tempting discounts that it is hard not to give in to their ploy. This can be done for one of two reasons. 1) the hosting company is financially strapped and needs all the money they can get to pay their bills for the month or 2) they know that their service is less than acceptable and without an advance commitment the customers are sure to leave.
With the exception of very custom high-end dedicated server solutions that are build especially for the customer, term contracts in this industry are history so don't be talked into signing one.
* "Unlimited" Bandwidth. With the exception of space itself everything has a limit. Without being too literal the word "unlimited" in the hosting industry really means that there is no set number that can define the limit, and the real limit is determined by other factors (generally of hosting provider). Most providers who advertise unlimited bandwidth use that "feature" to suck prospects in and make a quick sale knowing that only a small percentage of websites will ever use a large enough amount of bandwidth to cause problems for them. These unfortunate few are simply told that their sites are either "crashing the server" or given another excuse as to why they cannot host them. Some providers will even go as far as sabotaging your uptime in an effort to get you to drop them.
* "Free" Hosting. The word "free" is used so often and abused even more. Why would anyone give away free hosting? In most cases, your site is required to display some banner ads and generate revenue for the hosting provider. That is fine and many customers, especially customers with personal websites or blogs who can live with that sacrifice. However, in some cases, signing up for free hosting is the biggest mistake you can make. Your personal information and your e-mail address is sold to many, sometimes hundreds of, "opt in" spammers. You have essentially opted in to receive all their spam when you signed up for the free hosting and pretended you read the host provider's 30 pages of terms and conditions. At times, the service is so poor it actually costs businesses large amounts of money in loss revenues. The same can be said for very cheap hosting.
* 24 Hour Support. This is one of those features that every respectable hosting company must have. After all, your site is online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Some hosts define their support as an answering service taking messages that are never returned from irate callers. Other hosts use voice mail systems only to return the message "I am sorry, all agents are busy now, please try back" (later, of course, being between 9 and 5 when the one guy who does support is actually in).
* Host Provider Registers Your Domain For You. This has got to be one of the biggest scams ever. If a host provider registers your domain for you, make certain that their information only appears as the technical contact at most and never as the domain owner. If a host provider controls your domain you are theirs for life and are held hostage. Realistically it makes no sense for someone to purchase your domain name. Domain names cost between $7-$15 so it only makes sense that you pay for such a small cost investment.
By no means is this a complete list but these are the typical methods. You really need to do your homework and talk with salespeople, customers, or others who have experience with the webhost you are looking into. Read the companies Terms of Service to look for discrepancies relating to their advertising. Don't associate top positions in search engines with respectable companies or companies that have been in business a long time. Many top positions are bought and those that are not still have nothing to do with the stability of the companies. Remember, Google and other companies are in business to make a buck too. Look for contact numbers and contact information on the webhost's site. Never do business with any company that hides telephone numbers. Remember, if it is too good to be true it probably is.