Digging dirt, Internet style - by Deb Radcliff

Part II

To search on reputation, use keywords at Yahoo Groups, Google Groups and other large community places. By keying in the business and registrant’s names on these groups, I was able to find complaints on the person who registered the personal wealth generation site, the many aliases he uses, confirmation of his ownership of other questionable online ‘businesses,’ and a warning posted at Complaints.com (Consumer advocacy groups are also good places to search, as well as the area chamber of commerce where the business is supposed to be operating).

There are quite a few free ways to background individuals and entities on the Web. But a deeper search that aggregates business and personal information may cost you a few dollars. Tools such as USA People Search , peoplefinders and Intelius can provide a nationwide background checks that includes criminal records, property owned, businesses owned, and potential associates. But it can cost you as much as $100 before you’re done.

In a recent probate abuse case investigated by Mark Kadrich, my business partner at The Security Consortium, these paid-for reports helped track down a person who’d absconded with the estate of an elderly woman on behalf of the victim family. After purchasing a couple of reports, they’d discovered enough information that enabled local law enforcement to identify her location and to carry out the decision of the court.

Had this search been done in advance, the family would have discovered past legal actions were taken against her in the past, not hired her, and avoided a whole heap of hurt.

In my sister’s case, the evidence while not convicting, smelled enough like a Ponzi scheme to dissuade 50 of my sisters’ fellow investors to pull the plug. But that wasn’t enough. The thought of unregulated gangs of relatives in Utah possibly defrauding people out of their entire savings and home equity for shaky, offshore investments made me mad enough to call the police. Unfortunately, I forgot the rule wherein $10,000 loss must be proved before law enforcement would touch it, and I was unable to turn up loss.

Daniel Schott, resident agent in charge, San Jose, Calif. branch of the U.S. Secret Service (which, under DHS, is responsible for financial crimes), was apologetic when he reminded me of this, adding that all agencies are in this bind. They have their hands full with organized crime rings doing phishing and pharming and other forms of financial account and identity theft, he says.

“We are seeing a huge spike in home mortgage, lending and investment frauds. The FBI, Customs, Postal Service and the Secret Service are all getting involved in these types of investigations and we expect to see more,” he offers. “So do warn your readers to be wary, especially of anything that goes offshore.”

Also, when it comes to handling your money, stay with brands you’re aware of and have worked with in the past, not these fly by nights offering good deals, he adds. The safe way, sure. But not nearly as much fun as putting on your investigator hat and tracking down the bad guys all on your own.

Click Here for Part I

Deb Radcliff is a veteran, award-winning security writer and vp of publishing for the information security think tank, the Security Consortium, in San Jose, Calif.