Earlier this month I wrote about five different free resources for validating the information on credit applications. Those same resources can be used during the skip-tracing process. We also use subscription services for skip-tracing and they keep getting better — particularly like the phone numbers that skip-tracers pick up from when people sign up for utilities. But sometimes we are given claims against small businesses where we are not even sure who we should be contacting or can’t find a good phone number to reach a live person. Fortunately, there is a great, free resource that often yields exactly the information we are seeking.
At our commercial collection agency, we always visit a company’s website to try to learn more about its operations and the people running the business; however, too often there is no additional information available. But the fact that they have a website means they had to register the domain with ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) which controls website domain names for the Internet. ICANN needs to know who owns each website domain in the same way the county recorder needs to know who owns each piece of real estate. Fortunately, ICANN requires that this registration information is available to the public.
This information can be found by doing a WHOIS search (e.g. who is behind that domain). Most companies that sell domain names, such as ubiquitous advertiser GoDaddy and industry pioneer Network Solutions, allow you to do a Whois search for free via links at the bottom of their pages. Once you are at the Whois search page, just type in the website address of the target company and you will instantly see the information that has been submitted to ICANN.
For example, when I did a Whois search for insidearm.com, it revealed the following information:
Registrant: insideARM LLC
Administrative Contact: Stephanie Eidelman (who happens to be the Publisher)
Stephanie’s direct phone number, direct email address, and the company address
Technical Contact: Jeff Hearn
Jeff’s direct phone number and email address
The name of the servers that the site is hosted on.
You can expect the information submitted to ICANN is truthful, except in cases of outright fraud, since it records ownership. Most small business owners will want the domain registered in their name so that they maintain control of this valuable company asset. In the vast majority of cases, the name that appears in a Whois search is either the owner or a key employee and the contact information is valid.
If the Whois phone number and email address are no longer working, that is a bad sign. That may be an indication that the owner no longer sees value in the business, perhaps because it has stopped operating. In other cases, the information that appears may belong to the company that registered the domain for the business rather than the business itself. In that case, the registration company is not obligated to reveal the contact information except by court order – but it never hurts to ask.
This Whois information can also be valuable if you are dealing with a change of ownership at a business. Since websites are valuable business property, you can expect that the new owner would go through the strict process of getting the domain ownership transferred into their name. When this occurs, we are typically able to get the official name of the new business entity and the owner of that entity. We may also get information on the date of transfer which can be helpful in determining if an invoice is owed by the original owner or the new owner.