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DownDiver
09-05-2002, 09:05 PM
I thought I'd like to share my little list of links that I follow to research online "companies." If anyone has any suggestions to add to this list, please post.

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-Learn as much as you can about the company through their about page, contact page, etc. If you can find a phone number and/or an address, that's a plus.

-Go do a "whois" search on the company's domain name. You can go to Better Whois (http://www.betterwhois.com). Make a note of the information you see there. Does it at least correspond with the info on the about or contact pages? Is it registered to some guy or the company? When was it registered?

-Go to the Better Business Bureau (http://search.bbb.org/search.html) and run a search there. You can scroll down to "web address" and enter a keyword like "yahoo". If the company in question has an unsatisfactory record, thats BAD! You'd have to accumulate a lot of complaints in order to get an unsatisfactory rating. But chances are, that the company that you're looking for isn't even in there.

-If the company claims to be an LLC or Incorporated (ie. they have an ", inc.", "corp", or another variation in their title), and they are US based, you can look them up online. California Businesses (http://kepler.ss.ca.gov/list.html). (See LaNMan's post below for information about searching other states) I've noticed that a lot of startups are using "Inc." in their names nowadays. Thats not good if they're claiming to be something they're not.

-Go to the Archive.org (http://www.archive.org) to see previous versions of the company's site. Did they go through an evolution? Or are they using the same design as always? Or do they not have a record all together?

-Go to Alexa.com (http://www.alexa.com) to see what their traffic ranking is. Are they ranked?

-What is their Link Popularity (http://www.marketleap.com/publinkpop/)? Is it almost zero?

-And last but not least run a search on Google (http://www.google.com). You never know what you'll find.

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Edit 9/6/2002:
Corrected statement about business entities...Thanks LaNMaN

OC
09-05-2002, 11:01 PM
More points:
-Search the affiliate forums for the company. I'd do this first.

-Start a thread about the company when no information comes up or all information is very outdated.

-About the Corp./LLC/Fictitious Name search: I'm not completely sure that site searches information from all states (Florida corporations weren't coming up, for example), but most states have online searches. Just go to the state's official website and look for Department of Corporations information.

-Google every single little detail about the company. The company's address, owners' names, everything. Organize all details in a text file, Google everything, and put the puzzle together. Don't forget to check Usenet/Groups archives on Google as well. Find they owned another company in 1999? Put that company through the **** check. You'll be surprise at what an online paper trail most people have 30 minutes away. This is VERY helpful when you've already been ****med (more on this later).

-Map the company's address. Some time's it's clear that "50-employee mega-conglomerate" is based inside some one's home office.


You've been ****med:
1. Try to work it out with the company.
2. File complaints on affiliate forum(s). If it isn't solved, don't give up.
3. Start writing letters. Don't stop. Record everything.
4. Contact the company's state's division of consumer services or attorney general (almost all states have a BBB-type program). The state-run BBBish programs tend to work on companies better, since these complaint form letters are sent from the state's attorney general office.
5. BBB
6. Significant amount of money? Start a website detailing your story. Every one who searches will find your exposť.
7. Really significant amount of money? Consider legal action or a collection service.

The above are to be used VERY responsibly. Do not abuse power.

DownDiver
09-05-2002, 11:28 PM
I just noticed this link in a popup right now. Its an article that steve wrote going in depth about most everything that was discussed above...

http://www.geekvillage.com/webmaster_tips_articles/step_1_examine_the_site.html

Czar
09-06-2002, 12:36 AM
Brilliant work, guys. :)

It also pays to Google some stand-out pieces of content on occasion. You'd be surprised how often that '50-person mega-conglomerate with its own legal department' turns out to have 'borrowed' their own legal documents, website copy or represented site list from the websites of their competitors.

When doing a Whois search, also check the whois records on the nameservers and the domain names used as email contacts. If a free email address is used (Hotmail, Yahoo, etc), and/or other contact details seem to have been deliberately fudged, falsified or excluded, the alarm bells should start to ring. (Note that some legit operations do use Hotmail contacts within their Whois record, but this practice is uncommon given the importance of maintaining reliable and up-to-date Whois contact data)

Keep in mind also that if the company's only contacts are overseas, it could be more difficult and expensive to enact legal proceedings or collections against them should things turn particularly ugly.

Sometimes, judging a company by the manner in which they were brought to your attention is valuable. If the company reached you via an unsolicited commercial mailing, whose "To" field or sig line suggests a mailing list was used, or where the sender didn't recognize your or your property by name, chances are they employ unethical marketing practices, and are thus unfit to represent your marketing or sales needs.

Has the company worked with scumware players, banner blockers or other entities that are clearly detrimental to the industry that they now claim to serve?

Check whether the website has been created from a default Frontpage/Dreamweaver template, and whether spelling mistakes, broken links or inconsistent claims reside within the site's body of copy. While design isn't everything, if the corporate site of a web-centric firm has clearly been put together carelessly, it may suggest that the company is sloppy in other aspects of their operation.

shockdoc
09-06-2002, 01:22 AM
One warning sign I find that there may be potential problems is seeing who is linking to their company via a Google reverse lookup. A more than glowing recommendation of the company by another site, may often be the company itself creating a fake website. I did a search for my wife for an offline business, and after a quick whois, I found out that the same person was responsible for both sites! Very sneaky and someone we stayed away from...

Jack
09-06-2002, 02:03 AM
A tool I use is www.ipdetective.com Since it displays all domains hosted on an IP address, you can put in the IP of one of a company's domains and see if they have any others on that same IP. Of course it only works in certain circumstances (all sites on the same IP, not hosted with a company that puts everyone on the same IP, etc.) but I have used it countless times to find domains someone else owns that I would have never found without it.

brunnock
09-06-2002, 06:00 AM
Dun & Bradstreet (http://sbs.dnb.com/credServ.asp) is the largest credit reporting agency for businesses in the US. Reports cost $20 each. Less if you subscribe to an annual plan. It's a good idea to run a report on your own business and inform D&B of any mistakes.

We've used D&B to collect 3 bad accounts. They were successful with one.

loanuniverse
09-06-2002, 07:03 AM
A couple of observations regarding Dun & Bradstreet:


1) If you own a business, you should get yourself a D&B D-U-N-S Number (it is a free service and you can apply via the internet). The D&B D-U-N-S Number is a unique nine-digit identification sequence, which provides unique identifiers of single business entities, while linking corporate family structures together.

2) If you run a report on someone it will cost you money, but you should take into account that the financial information in the report has been provided directly by the owner of the company you are researching so take that information with a grain of salt. On the other hand portions of the report such as the "PAYDEX" score, which reflects the payment history of the company as reported by other D&B members and the lien information are very valuable if you can't research them directly from vendors or a state's UCC lien site.

OC
09-06-2002, 08:27 AM
Originally posted by Jack
A tool I use is www.ipdetective.com... [shortened] ...I have used it countless times to find domains someone else owns that I would have never found without it.

Thanks for posting this. Just what I've been looking for ever since NetSol changed their whois.

LaNMaN
09-06-2002, 10:46 AM
Originally posted by DownDiver
If the company claims to be an LLC or Incorporated (ie. they have an ", inc.", "corp", or another variation in their title), and they are US based, you can look them up online. Corporation/LLC/LP Search. (http://kepler.ss.ca.gov/list.html) Even though it says california, it searches the entire US.
Excellent advice, but I believe that the above information is incorrect. Each state is responsible for compiling and indexing its records independently. Consequently, you can viewNew Media Properties' COA (http://sdatcert3.resiusa.org/ucc-charter/ViewDoc.asp?Film=B00350&Folio=1618&Pages=0002&Date=02/19/2002&Ack=1000361986713042&Domain=Charter&ID=W06684583&Name=NEW+MEDIA+PROPERTIES+LLC&source=1) as a link from the MD Department of Assessments and Taxation (http://www.dat.state.md.us/sdatweb/charter.html) even though it is not visible from the California site you provided.

As far as I know, there is no site that automatically searches corporate records in all 50 states (at least not any free ones). For best results, go to the Secretary of State's webpage for whatever state that a company claims to be registered in. If, as in the case of MD, corporate records are handled by a separate office (i.e. a Department of Assessments and Taxation), there should be a link on the Secretary of State's webpage to the other site. Most states have their own free coroporate records searches available and you should be able not only to see any filings, but also have an indication of whether the company is active and that all tax filings, etc. are up to date.

Lenny Grover
New Media Properties, LLC

zboca
09-06-2002, 02:04 PM
Microsoft hosts some really strange domains..
poopsalad.com that redirects to RIAA homepage
ibuyspices.com redirects to ibm.com
and more..

Rhea
09-07-2002, 06:25 AM
Also, I check Google's deja.com for net-abuse postings and boardreader.com for discussions.

In addition to checking Google for reverse links, check Altavista (AV has far more links listed). And just for good measure, I do a metasearch on Ixquick.