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Here are some basic checks and suggestions that can help you from being ‘conned’ or ‘mugged’ by that unexpected email from an unknown company that just arrived.

Basic checks on a company on the Net

Created/Updated: by Graham Street

I’ve been approached by a company, but is it legitimate?

OK, so, like me you’re getting emails from companies offering a variety of business services and comparisons? An the email layouts are all somewhat similar too. I started writing this article when I was getting a lot of these from October to December 2014. They seem to have eased off for the moment, but I still thought it was worth publishing my approach to these – in case it can help you.

How to choose the best photocopier? Reduce your postage rates? Do you need any debt collection services? Do these sound familiar to you? I almost always just delete them but I’was concerned that some people follow these up and could get conned. So here’s some ideas for handling these emails and checking these companies out.

Don’t reply or unsubscribe! Maybe even avoid the images in the emails

First of all, some real basics. You didn’t ask for this contact and offer of services. It might be a legitimate ‘cold call’ where they’ve picked up your contact details from a listing somewhere or from your website. Equally, it might not be. So, always start by being wary.

If your email system (on your computer, phone or tablet) can display the email without images, make that change now. You can always switch on the images in that email later. Often images have unique values coded into them in the email. I won’t explain the detail, but the bottom line is that you can be tracked when you open an email and display its images.

If you don’t want further emails, think vary carefully before replying or unsubscribing. If you determine the company is real and legitimate, or a known brand, then a reply or unsubscribe is fine. If its any other company or person, your response will just tell them your email address is a good one – and then you’ll just get more emails and go onto a mailing list of valid email targets.

Check out the domain name

Each email comes from an email address and may be pointing to a website. The domain name is the bit after the @ sign or after http:// or ‘www’. Check out those domain names. Here’s how …

Go to a site like www.domaintools.com or www.checkdomain.com. If the domain is a ‘co.uk’ (or ‘uk’ or ‘org.ok’) you can also go to www.nominet.org.uk. Use these ‘whois’ services to find out something about the domain name and the registrant/owner. You should be able to see their name and maybe even an address and phone number.

If the registrant info is anonymous, the first alarm bell should be ringing in your head. Would you want to deal with an anonymous owner? No legitimate company would be hiding their details. If the domain is a ‘co.uk’ and the the domain record is marked as ‘The registrant is a non-trading individual’ but you know differently, report this to Nominet. Trading companies or individuals are required to show their details in the domain record for ‘co.uk’ (etc) UK domain names.

Check their website

If you’re comfortable you’re not about to be sent to an undesirable site, take a close look at their site. You’ll find info about their services and probably a contact form and a generic 0345 (or similar) phone number. But can you see a contact name, or a company name and address, or a company registration number? If not, those alarm bells should now be ringing louder.

If a company is UK registered it is required by law to display the company number and registered address. If its VAT registered, it should show the VAT number too. If a company is selling something online (so its a shop, perhaps), contact info for the company or person is also required to be displayed.

Think about it … Would you buy something from someone and not know anything about them? So why should you even deal with a company who seems to be hiding their details from you?

Check the contact details

If you can see an address or postcode, check it. Go to maps.google.co.uk and see if it exists and maybe even take a ‘street view’. One of the emails I got recently pointed to a domain name that had a vague and incorrect UK address. I reported it to Nominet. Another postcode pointed to a generic office block but a search of the phone number gave me 10 different and unrelated companies (and websites) were using it.

These are all basic common sense checks that are very easy to do and may save you a lot of time and money!


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