If you're on the lookout for a new domain name, here's a trap to look out for. When checking domain availability via a registrar, ensure you're using a site you trust. Most domain registrars have a tool on their website which lets you search for available domain names (for example, Network Solutions WHOIS Search).
But you may want to careful when you use WHOIS services - and here's why. Some domain registrars have been known to immediately register a site (for a period of a few days) when you query a .com domain for availability through their website - thus preventing you from registering it via any other registrar.
While operators doing this may claim they are doing it to stop someone else grabbing the domain while you're completing the shopping cart process, it's effectively a lockin, and it looks like it's against ICANN's registrar agreement too.
ICANN's registrar agreement says:
3.7.4 Registrar shall not activate any Registered Name unless and
until it is satisfied that it has received a reasonable assurance
of payment of its registration fee. For this purpose, a charge to
a credit card, general commercial terms extended to creditworthy
customers, or other mechanism providing a similar level of assurance
of payment shall be sufficient, provided that the obligation to pay
becomes final and non-revocable by the Registered Name Holder upon
activation of the registration.
Thanks for the tip, Andrew!