A year and a half ago I took a BIN of $15,000 on this listing in Flippa (Sitepoint then) for a PR7, csstopsites.com, from an Ahmed Farooq, owner of webmaster.org and CEO of local search company Enthropia Inc (not exactly a n00b).
We went to escrow.com but the deal went sour, I handed the domain back and got a full refund from escrow.com.
Today I get an email from a registrar I use asking me to renew the domain. Huh, why me? Maybe they've made a mistake.
I do a bit of digging around and find that, yes, I "own" the domain and I've "owned" it all this time!
The DNS is his. It points to his server. The contact name, address and phone number are his. But I have control of the domain and can change all that at my whim.
This wasn't intentional and I'm going to return the domain to its rightful owner, but I learnt an important lesson: A cunning buyer can screw you even if you're an experienced, savvy operator like the csstopsites.com owner undoubtedly was.
How did it happen?
When he transfered the domain to me, I kept all the WHOIS details unchanged for SEO purposes and changed only the contact email address. Escrow.com accepted that as proof the domain changed hands. When I wanted out of the transaction the seller initially refused and there were a few emails back and forth. In the end the three parties agreed I'd return the domain, the seller would cancel the transaction and escrow.com would give me a refund. I don't remember the exact details but the way I recall it, that's exactly what happened, I returned the domain and I got a refund.
Something obviously got lost in translation. Today the contact email address is firstname.lastname@example.org (my registrar who forwards mail to me). I logged into Westhost and the domain is there in my account. Perhaps it's just a ghost of the real listing. I made a small change and checked WHOIS a few minutes later. Bingo! I do have control.
16 months ago the very bright seller, escrow.com, and the not inexperienced me thought the domain had transferred when it hadn't. $15,000 rested on it and all three of us got it wrong. If it could happen to the bunch of us it could happen to you.
Take care out there.