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. Here are some great online tools -- all free -- to do just that.
Visit the Better Business Bureau
Check two Better Business Bureau sites for 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 on a firm's name, address, phone, website or email.
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, ask yourself why a business would 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 is the SEC's database of millions of company reports. 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.