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 Checking Out a Business -  Be Your Own Detective
 
Step 1 - Discover and Confirm Company and Principle Information

Local & County Resources
Very valuable information is contained in records maintained at local and county levels. Every business (except those owned by overseas interests), has community roots and must conform to local laws and codes. The locale in which the business was organized or is based may be the only source of information about many businesses.

Community-spirited, business-orientated groups like the Chamber of Commerce and Better Business Bureau will likely have information about the enterprise you are investigating. If they don't, ask, "why not?"  Have any complaints been registered?How To Investigate

Published Articles Broaden your research to include published articles about the company and it's principles. Search on-line for articles in industry-specific publications. Research local newspaper articles.

Step 2 - Check the Company's Reputation and References

Whether you will be doing business with a company or hiring a company, ask for references. Call them. Ask specific questions, chat them up and they will give you a really good sense how happy or dissatisfied they are with your proposed company. Clients and former clients will give you the best picture of a company.

In some instances it might be appropriate to contact the company's vendors or suppliers, especially if you are  extending credit. Ask for vender references to be included in the companies references.

Partners, vendors, creditors, and employees are a valuable sources of information.

Business and Professional Licensing
Is the business or professional entity licensed? Most every company and individual doing business is required to be licensed to do business in most communities. If you intend to contract for services, ask for a business card. Is their license number on the card? You should get the names of owners and principles, plus contact information. The county courthouse has "Doing Business As" (DBA) applications on file that contain information about the people who filed the application. Verify any required state license with the appropriate licensing entity, usually the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State's Department of Professional Regulation keeps records about licensed professionals and the Accountancy Board reports on those licenses. Corporations, partnerships, and sole proprietorships are all registered. Their filings are public record. Much information about business enterprises, corporations, and the people involved in these various entities is available from state repositories generally located in or near each state's capital.

Federal Employer Identification Number, FEIN
A corporation is an entity with a Federal Government assigned number, just like a person, except it's called 'FEIN,' or Federal Employer Identification Number. It can be easily traced. Start at the local company level; large corporations are a vast storehouse of public information. our Sample Report

Step 3 - Delve into the Background of Company and Principles

You may decide to conduct an even more in-depth investigation by checking the background activities of partners and owners. You want to know if there is any litigation against the company that you are investigating. Have they been sued and do records exist of resulting judgments and liens. An isolated instance or two may not indicate much but a pattern of reoccurring litigation should be taken into serious consideration.

Court Records

Law Suites, Liens, Judgments, Bankruptcy Filings and Tax Liens
These records contain information pertaining to adjudication, assets, liens against business owners and principals. And tax liens. These records are mostly stored at the County Court, where the business is located. State Records contain UCC filings, information about liens, collateral, litigation, and judgments. Litigation instated by the government such as bankruptcy filings and tax liens are within the Federal Court System.

Criminal Records
It is important to conduct a criminal history search on all principles. Records are kept on several levels and each entity and jurisdiction is unique as to access or availability, how the records are indexed, and coverage. County court records are the most in-depth of all criminal records. State Department of Corrections (DOC) provide information on inmates both current and past. The Federal Prison System has information on those who have committed a federal crime. Include a search of  offender databases.

Important: criminal records are indexed by name and date of birth. This information is often misrepresented by people who are attempting to make it difficult to connect them to a record. Search databases inputting all variations and aliases.

The OFAC's Patriot Act Search Database, made available a watch list, a compilation database of national and international databases.

Criminal Databases There is no national government criminal database available to the public. Proprietary criminal databases are assembled and owned by Information Brokers. Records are obtained from a variety of sources.

Step 4 - Search for Company and Principles Assets

There are three main venues available pertaining to assists of an individual or company. Do they own any real estate, automobiles or other valuable property? Is the value of that property sufficient to minimize your risk?

Property Records
Every county assessor's office in the US maintains property records. Much information can be gleaned from these records, including owners, assessed value of the property and lien holder or lending institution.

Motor Vehicles
An individual's and company's vehicles including automobiles, boats and planes are registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).  Lien holders are often listed.

Universal Commercial Code (UCC) filings
A Uniform Commercial Code filing is a practice adopted by all states to govern commercial transactions. The UCC filings search results are usually loan between individuals and businesses. Property, equipment and vehicles are put up as collateral. Debtor parties and their addresses, secured parties and their addresses, plus the collateral are often included in the filing.

Step 5 - Acquire Company's Business Credit Report

Learn the company credit rating, before doing business with them. Know what liabilities you could face should the company not fulfill its part of a business commitment. Make sure that a company's credit status in the industry is up to par. Make sure the company is legitimate, has a solid foundation, has been in business for several years, and is strong.

There's a big difference between pulling an individual's and a company's credit report. For instance, an individual's credit report cannot be pulled for any reason other than as stated in the Fair Credit Reporting Act: You must have a signed release and a permissible purpose.

Business Credit reports are open to any company accessing another company's ability to pay.

The three credit bureaus and Dun & Bradstreet offer Business Credit Reports. As a business, you can establish an account with one or more of the large credit reporting companies and have access to millions of corporate credit and financial reports. These records are purchased and distributed by other information brokers as well.

Corporate credit reports can sometimes be obtained by calling the corporation and requesting their annual report, which is sent out in book form to show their assets and liabilities

Summary - Business Dossier Check List
A complete business background investigation includes:
  • Business name
  • Business address
  • Telephone numbers
  • Names of business owners
  • Names of key officers, managers, and employees
  • Professional and Business Licenses
  • Litigation, Bankruptcies, Liens and Judgments
  • Criminal Records
  • List of products or services
  • Names of suppliers, buyers, and competitors
  • Business Credit Ratings
  • Profit and loss statement
  • Assets
Publicly Held National Companies.

The primary US Government source of information about publicly-held companies is the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The Department of Transportation and the Federal Communications Commission also keeps track of information contained in their respective records repositories. The Federal Bankruptcy Court and Federal District Courts maintain records about all personal and business bankruptcies.

Securities &Exchange Commission records contain:
  • 10-K's Annual Business & Financial Reports
  • 10-Q's Quarterly Financial Reports
  • 8-K's Unscheduled Material Events
  • Annual Reports to Shareholders
  • President's Letter to Shareholders
  • Proxy Statements: directors, titles, ages and remuneration
  • Registration statements; financial information
  • Prospectus: If a public offering of stock is to be made, a prospectus will be prepared.
  • Williams Act filings; corporate mergers and acquisitions 20 F Annual & Financial Report filed by non-US registrants
  • Federal Bankruptcy Court and Federal District Court maintain records on all personal and company bankruptcy filings
     
Public Records
Records can be searched either by accessing free public records online via the record holders database (when available) or by requesting a copy from the agency holding the record, usually for a small fee.  

Information Providers
An astonishing amount of information is available from Information Providers and others who specialize in collecting and distributing data pertaining to businesses. Most of the information required for a business background check can be obtained with the services of one of these companies, quickly and economically saving your company both time and money.
 
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