Credit guru Thea Dudley has spent more than 30 years in LBM credit management. Now she's here to answer your credit and collection questions. Got a question for her mailbag? Contact Thea at firstname.lastname@example.org
In some of your columns you mention researching information like property ownership or assets before you file a lawsuit. How do you do that? I have no idea how to go about it.
Signed, Wanna Be Snoop Dog in Washington
Dear Wanna Be,
Glad you asked. You just have to get in touch with your inner Gladys Kravitz. Lots of you should totally get that. For those of you who are too young to know who Gladys is, Google it. (Hint: Start with the TV show “Bewitched.”) And while we are talking about Google, that is a great place to start your own research.
You are looking for a couple of different animals: asset searching and property ownership information. For property ownership (as in researching a job sheet) start with the job address. Go to the county assessor or tax assessor website and look up the address. It will tell you the owner’s name, who owned it before, if the taxes are current, what they paid for it, and a few other assorted details. So if the information on your job sheet doesn't match what you find, you have some questions for your customer.
If the property is owned by a company, then do some digging on the company. Go to the Secretary of State website to check them out. The site should tell you if they are registered, when the corporation was formed, and more.
Pull a business credit report on them. Sometimes a company will set up a new entity for each property address and/or project they are doing. If that is the case, check how the other projects have gone by looking for liens that may have been filed or pulling a credit report on those addresses. Keep digging, if there is something, it will pop up. Remember, Gladys had to spend a lot of time at that window to try connect the dots, so don't give up.
Cover Those Assets
Asset searching is a little different animal but follows the same theory. It is one of my favorite parts of works. I have theme music in my head while searching and compare myself to James Bond-style sleuthing, only without the cool gadgets and questionable ethics.
You have many options for asset searching. You go all DIY on it and visit various free websites to search for property, liens, boats, cars, anything with a registration, additional businesses, and such. The challenge with all the free websites is that they can be extremely daunting. Take property searches: you have to go to each county's website to search for property ownership information. Each county may call that site by a different name: country recorder’s office, county assessor’s office, county clerk’s office, and the list goes on. You would also have to search every county in which you believed the debtor had property.
It’s the same with finding mechanics liens, judgment liens, and federal or state tax liens. You have to search each county clerk’s website.
I started out that way, spending hours chasing down various websites and following every little nugget of information. I thought myself Superwoman and I was too cheap to pay for the information. Well, I am happy to say I am older (but not much) and way wiser, and realize the value of time (that happens when you get older). So I moved on utilizing "pay for data" information sites. This got complicated and expensive very quickly as they are not all created equal. Not even close. However armed with a few tips and tricks garnered from my mistakes, mishaps and company's cash, you can determine which sites are worth your time and money.
“Bargain” Services Are No Bargain
There are a lot of sites that claim to provide the information you are looking for but don't deliver. Once you plunk down your credit card number and hit "payment authorized" you wait for the information to present itself. Drum roll please: The data is old, out of date, or not there at all. If you really want to test a site, run a report on someone you know really well, like yourself. Or your Mom. Moms really like it when you tell them random things about from their past. Like what her first car was or how much they paid for their first house. Hanging out with me comes with untold benefits.
If you have ever tried to use the white pages on the Internet and found yourself redirected to a site that gave you a various options for amount of information for a price. Usually you have several choices: $9.95 gets you the full name, address, phone, maybe cell, email address. $19.95 gets you those items and few more nuggets. For $39.95, you can get limited for the day.
The problem with this site and many others is the data. How often is it refreshed? How accurate is it? Is there a way to confirm this is the correct person or entity? Old, out of date data can cost you money. By using my name on any new site, I encountered I was able to determine for myself how fresh and accurate the data was. One site I tried showed my address as somewhere I had lived 25 years ago. How exactly is that helping me with asset searching? I haven't lived there for over two decades, It didn’t show cars, boats, if I had liens, judgments, foreclosures, felonies (for the record, I have a clean bill of financial health). How does this help a creditor decide if I have something of value to attach if the data is old?
My Current Favorites
I am always trying new sites that I read about or someone recommended for new sources of information, but I find myself consistently going back to rely on my tried and true sites. There are a few that are staples in my toolbox. My go to favorites: TLO and Accurint. TLO is a TransUnion product, Accurint is a LexusNexus product. Both cost money. Both have requirements that you have to meet before you are able to access this sites (you can't use it to stalk celebrities, dig dirt on your company president, or your daughter's boyfriend. They frown on that). They are completely worth the effort if you plan on using them consistently.
Any data collection provider report will take a little time to learn to decipher what is important and relevant to you and what you are looking for. I like to run it before I decide if legal pursuit will yield anything other then paper for my wall. Then again after I obtain the judgment and see what, if anything, has "gone missing".
So Snoopy, check out the sites that match what you are searching for and be a "wanna be" no more.
* Readers: Do you have sites that you use to look up property information, credit information or other data? Let me know. I would love to hear from you.