I suppose this is a call for advice and a warning for a lot of us in the industry.
A few years ago a friend of mine acquired a domain name for her business through NameCheap. Because she was new to this and wanted to 'do everything herself', I gave her some guidance but allowed her to make the decisions and enjoy the thrill of building a online venture. I also asked her to make me the technical contact so that I could keep an eye on things for her. She found a domain name through NameCheap, one of the few registrars that provide AU domain names. Everything went well, I was getting notifications when she logged in to the DNS CP, changed her IP address etc. She was also getting those notifications, too. All looked settled.
Monday, the domain stops working and I log in to find it has expired and is no longer in NameCheap's system. When I follow this up, I am told that expiry notification were sent, but since there was no answer, they have suspended the domain and handed it over to their partner for an auction of expired domains as is automatic procedure.
In both our email inboxes, we have notifications for everything else, but renewal warnings. The call center told us there was nothing we could do but wait for the domain to come out of the auction process, as long as nobody else bought it. I followed the auction process and it seems that they have a blind bidding only, starting at $200 and only email notifications if you've 'won' your domain back or wait for it to become available, again. Nobody can tell me how long this will take, there is no way of knowing if there is any auction competition, they have indicated verbally this process could take anywhere between 2 days or a month.
Better yet, she was talked into buying domain protection when she signed up and this is exactly the kind of thing that is supposed to protect her against this kind of piracy.
I was sure AU domains were so heavily regulated to prevent this kind of thing.
TL;DR - AU domain provider appears to be a professional squatter, is holding domain name to ransom. What now?
I know there are official paths to follow but I also know those lines of inquiry will take some time to get through...I have told her not to give them any money at all and not to concede as I am confident the blind bidding process will attract other mystery bidders....I have bought her a non-AU domain to get her going in the meantime. I guess she'll be in for a few hundred $$$s to change signs and business cards, luckily she is only a start up so it's not too much of a knock to change now and hopefully we can get the domain name back later if it ever expires.