A report on National Public Radio written up here outlines the problem: legitimate businesses are increasingly subject to identity theft. Businesses find imposters are misusing their credit ratings, while there’s serious risk that people are using exterminators, contractors and other businesses being run by those same imposters.

While businesses guarding against ID theft are in the same position as people afraid of having their credit ratings ruined, there is an extra consumer angle to business ID theft: How can you be sure you’re dealing with the company you think you are?

a) Check the Secretary of State on line for the company you’re dealing with. We don’t mean Hillary Clinton. Companies in the U.S. are formed at the state level, and the government department that regulates corporate formation is usually headed up by the the Secretary of State.

 At the Secretary of State, check the following:

  • Is the corporation in good standing? If not, back off. Even if it is, was it recently revived after a long period of inactivity? If so, beware and look elsewhere because scammers sometimes slip into the shoes of long-dormant companies in order to give themselves a cloak of legitimacy.
  • Who is the owner of the corporation? Ask on the phone when you’re making your deal, and then check to see if the records match. If not, ask why not.
  • Is the address for the company one where you would expect to see this kind of business? Does it operate out of a vacant lot or a gas station? Google the address and see what pops up. If your business doesn’t, you may have an ID theft.

b) Google the telephone number you’re calling. Even businesses without a website tend to be listed by other services. If you’re calling someone’s throwaway cell phone, that number probably won’t come up on the web as being associated with the business.

c) If the business you’re dealing with is subject to a professional or occupational license, you’ll usually be able to look that up too.

How would all of this work with the business that was impersonated in the NPR story, AAA Termite and Pest Control in Memphis, Tennessee?

There is only one such business listed on the Tennessee government site here. You find that it’s based at an address on Macon Road and that it was established in 1975. Except for a four-year hiatus in the 1980s, it has been in business ever since. Someone from the Burnett family at the registered address is the company’s registered agent.

What about licenses? While license checks are possible on line in some states, rules vary by state and even within states. Sometimes licenses are handed out at the municipal level. You can look up nurses and chiropractors in Tennessee, but not licensed pesticide dispensers. To check on AAA Termite’s license status, you have to use a telephone.

That may seem labor intensive, but if you’re not hiring new contractors every day, taking a few minutes out to make sure you’re dealing with the right person can save you a world of trouble.