Magazine article Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal

Backgrounding a Business: Quick Tips on Finding Public Records and More

Magazine article Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal

Backgrounding a Business: Quick Tips on Finding Public Records and More

Article excerpt

Unlike government agencies, businesses don't have to respond directly to open records requests. But that doesn't mean you can't find plenty of information about them.

Remember this: Any time a business interacts with the government, public records are created. Track down those records and you can start unraveling the mysteries of the business-reporting world.

If you're having difficulties finding information on a particular business, locate another company in the same line of work and ask someone there to tell you what documents the business has to file, how its facilities are inspected, what regulations it has to abide and other relevant questions.

In addition, here are some tips for backgrounding businesses on the Web and elsewhere:

* For publicly traded companies, check out Securities and Exchange Commission filings with EDGAR. The filings can help you uncover the directors of the company, salaries of executives, lawsuits and more: http://1 .usa.gov/2ieQbU. Tipsheets 2495 and 2386, downloadable at IRE.org in the Resource Center, offer a guide to the different SEC filings and what you can discover within each.

* Property records can offer a wealth of information. Some county assessor offices allow online search by address or owner name. Use these searches to track down company property and more. Portico offers a list of online real estate assessors here: http://bit.ly/HSVwyn.

* Portico offers links to state lookups of business incorporation records: http://bit.ly/HsnZRK

* Get local with planning and zoning departments. Routinely inspect their records to find out what businesses are hoping to expand in your community.

* Locally, businesses also have to file for a city license. Request an electronic list that you can keep at hand from the city or county business office.

* Search the Federal Procurement Data System to see if a company has received contracts from federal agencies: http://bit. …

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