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I have a case where a client wants to have a domain name, run a site, take payments, maybe run ads--basically do the usual e-commerce thing, but be as anonymous as possible. There's nothing nefarious or illegal here--the client lives in a conservative southern small town and wants to sell some...um...erotically stimulating lotions and devices.

I'm not sure what the state of the art in "anonymous" is. When I make a site for myself, I just register a domain in my own name.

What are the choices here?

Can a lawyer set up (relatively cheaply) a pseudonym that can be used for bank accounts, businesses, etc?

Or is there a registrar you can use that will leave name blank?

Can PO Box be used rather than street address?

Anyone out there have such experience? What do you do?

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8 Answers 8

up vote 17 down vote accepted
  1. Register the domain privately through a TRUSTED 3rd party such as an attorney.

  2. Set up a private mail box, PO box, or even virtual mailbox such as http://earthclassmail.com

  3. Go take a look at http://whois.domaintools.com and understand that there are many sites out there like this one that track changes to whois information, what IP a domain resolves to, etc. If you're trying to stay anonymous you need to understand that the internet has a "very long memory". Any mistake you make today, such as using REAL info for even a day or two can come back to haunt you later.

  4. Go take a look at http://www.archive.org and the "Wayback Machine" and understand that once again, the internet has a very long memory. Any identifiable info you put up today can be saved for YEARS into the future.

  5. If you buy an SSL certificate be sure to keep in mind that the information you use for that can be seen by anyone clicking on properties for that certificate. I've seen so many people who THOUGHT they were anonymous and then an employee registered an SSL certificate with the business street address (or one time, the owner's home address) instead of the PO Box, etc.

I've registered a lot of domains in my time, both private and public. I've also helped clients who were involved in lawsuits track down who owns a domain, etc, etc.

The domain isn't the ONLY thing you need to be concerned about. You also need to keep in mind things such as the IP the site is hosted on, where your DNS is hosted, etc.

The WORST thing you could do is go through all the trouble to be anonymous with your domain and then host your site at your house... or at a facility where one phone call and a bit of "social engineering" will reveal the owner of the domain.

Remember, the human firewall is typically the best/fastest place to attack when looking for information. All it takes is a phone call.

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worldclassmail.com is a linkfarm :[ –  Joe Jul 9 '09 at 18:52
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Thanks. I'm going to tell the client that nothing is guaranteed. I think it's safest to assume that if anyone really wants to know, they'll find out. –  Nosredna Jul 9 '09 at 19:16
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Oops! I meant to say earthclassmail.com Thanks for the heads up Joe! –  KPWINC Jul 9 '09 at 19:19

Many registrars will offer a free or paid option where they blank out your contact information (address and phone and email), but it keep your legal name listed as the owner.

If you're looking for complete privacy, look into a domain name proxy registrar, which will use their information for the owner name and all contact information. If you go this route, just read the contract carefully, as some companies may retain more rights to the domain name than you may be happy with.

Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domain_privacy for a little more information.

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Exactly, set it up with private registration. Everything is hidden, it shows the domain being registered to the registrar. From Network Solutions its an additional $9 per year, per domain, totally reasonable.

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You can register the domain name as private. This is where the register will hold your contact information and contact you. Anyone contacting the domain will go through the register of the domain.

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A number of registrars now provide an additional paid-for service by acting as a proxy for all domain contact information. The whois record gets filled with their details and anyone wishing to contact you go through them. They are unable to see the real details.

Ask your favoured registrar if they provide such a service.

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Have the client pay someone else to register the domain. Private registration still has your name somewhere that it can be found, paying someone $40 cash every year doesn't.

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Putting it under someone else's name means they are the owner of the domain. Not a good idea for a commercial site you wouldn't want to lose. –  ceejayoz Jul 9 '09 at 17:32
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That's what contracts are for. –  Bill Weiss Jul 9 '09 at 17:37

Your anonyminity is not guaranteed with a PO Box or PMB (Personal Mail Box via a private company). Under 39 CFR 265.6(d), a person can request the name and address of the owner of a PO BOX or PMB for the purposes of legal action. I have heard of (but do not know if its common) people and groups abusing the Small Claims Court process to gain access to this information and then using it for purposes other the process of service (which is illegal).

Further, if the client uses a Fictitious Business Name or sets up a Corporation, most states will freely provide owner information over the internet or telephone.

If your client lives in a litigious area (i.e. lots of crazy activist groups who like to litigate these kinds of businesses out of existance by way of lawyer fees), the legal system will cause a lot of headaches.

But even ignoring the lawsuit avenue, there are plenty of Public Records that are available on the internet. Be careful about what information is filed and whether they can cross-reference data to back out information. It's pretty easy to track down affiliated parties if a public record uses a similar address or phone number to a domain name, etc.

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As far as the domain name goes, GoDaddy offers a "Domains by Proxy" service that hides your personal information from whois queries. I recently had to go through this while setting up the website for my company, which happens to be a bill collection agency. Surprisingly enough, not everyone likes us. Shocking, right?

I don't recall the price exactly but it wasn't significant at all. I recall something like $1 per month.

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