Whether you're buying from them, doing business with them, hiring them or thinking of working for them, it always pays to check a business's reputation. The easiest way to check a company's business reputation is to visit any number of free online sites. In a matter of moments, you can find out everything from who established the company's online presence to what local customers think of the business. There are plenty of great online tools – all free – to do just that.
Visit the Better Business Bureau
There are two Better Business Bureau sites for checking a company's track record with customer complaints – the national BBB database as well as the state (or regional) BBB that covers the particular company. You can search by inputting the firm's name, address, phone, website or email. If you can't find the business you're looking for at the BBB, this may or may not be a red flag. Many internet-based businesses are outside the scope of the BBB so it may be the company just doesn't have an entry. Run the other searches to find out if the business is a scam.
Search Reviews on Yelp
Yelp is the modern equivalent of the Yellow Pages, except it is entirely online. You can search for reputable businesses in any state with a simple Yelp search. Reviews are written by real-life visitors, often with pictures and detailed commentary about the reliability and reputation of the business. Take overly negative reviews with a grain of salt, as some customers may have a personal ax to grind or may have experienced a single unfortunate episode.
Run a Whois Search
Take a good look at a company's Whois record. Whois is the official registration record of a organization's website. If the website is brand new or set to expire soon, you may be looking at a fly-by-night company. If there is no company address or contact information for a person at the company, it means the domain name is not registered, or the owner has omitted their details to protect a domain name's identity. Ask yourself – why would a business choose to hide such information? While there may be some legitimate reasons, scam companies frequently hide their Whois information.
Check the "V"
Do a Web search on the letter V and the company name, like this: "v companyname"...include the quotation marks in the search. This brings up any records of lawsuits, which are typically of the form "Party A -v- Party B." If a company has variations on their name (e.g., DuPont or Du Pont), search on these as well. While a lawsuit is not, in itself, proof of any shady business dealings, the case files can be a rich source of information on how a company conducts itself.
Ask Who? EDGAR stands for Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval and it is the SEC's database of millions of company reports. It keeps records for any company that's required by law to file forms with the SEC. best of all, it is a public access website which means that anyone can search it. Even companies that don't report themselves are often mentioned in other company reports, and you can find information about them using EDGAR's full-text search features. You can also search EDGAR for names of individuals to learn more about company executives.