By Rachel Kronenfeld, Hg’s Manager of Investigations

In business, one often hears the classic query: “How did you hear about us?”  The ways in which people find a business have expanded over time, from word of mouth, the media, company websites, social media, or a phishing email. While all these forms of advertisement can be used to market a legitimate business, they can just as easily be used to market fraudulent businesses, even shell companies.

When a client comes to you wanting to know whether a business is legitimate, they may have an abundance of identifiers to provide you or maybe just a parcel of information, such as a friend’s recommendation, or a business card swapped on a flight between two seat mates. To help answer the questions about a real, or not real, enterprise, the investigative instinct is to gather more identifiers, ask more questions, and understand the purpose of the company for their investigation. Yet, sometimes that ready data isn’t available. To solve for lacking given information—and to stretch our critical research ability—we offer a fresh approach.

This approach reviews a variety of ways in which, despite being given limited information, you may be able to quickly determine if a company is a truly established business. Granted, when going into an investigation, the more information had ahead of time will allow for quicker fact checking. However, researchers are accustomed to working with little information, smaller budgets, and impossible deadlines.

In this 4-part series, we present four research routes when conducting due diligence investigations with little data on hand: Email, company website, social media, and business name. The following vet-by-data approach, handled by professionals, will give you an advantage to researching your client’s potential new lead. Last week we offered an Email checklist. This week, we provide the Company Website checklist to help you determine the possible legitimacy of a correspondence.

Company Website

What if your starting point is a company website? There are several common anomalies which can suggest the website is not legitimate. Let’s start with those that can be pointed out the fastest. Determine if the company has a physical address listed, a phone number, a privacy policy, a secure form of payment (should they accept payment), and a substantial amount of content. If they are lacking several of these check marks, this can be an immediate red flag.

If they do pass this quick inspection, you can then search the identifiers you have. For starters, check the physical address using online tools such as Google Maps or Bing Maps to see if a business can be located there. Search the phone number to determine any immediate connections. It would be concerning if the business is located at an empty lot or the phone number is not connecting to the business. Next, lookup the domain information to determine who registered the website and when, which may lead to some quick answers. Domain information can be determined using free online resources such as or

Also search the content such as the company logo and any photographs of their employees or products using reverse image search tools such as Google reverse image tool or If reverse image searches of the company logo return no results, this can be a flag. On the other hand, if reverse image searches of the employees and products turn out to be stock photos used across several websites, this is another red flag.

Are you an analyst or investigator looking for advanced training on due diligence? If so, check out Hg’s webinar series, where you can attend live sessions and receive CEUs or watch previously recorded sessions to beef up your OSINT skills.


Are you interested in working with a company but unsure if it’s legitimate? As veteran investigators in due diligence, Hg understands the business world and the legal and regulatory frameworks in which corporations and privately held companies operate. Our skilled analysts excel at exposing financial risks, reputational issues, criminal activity, and legal actions detrimental to your personal and business stability. Learn how our team can arm you with the data you need.


Rachel Kronenfeld joined Hetherington Group in 2016 and is Hg’s Manager of Investigations and lead investigator. As a skilled and diverse analyst, she monitors current events and information on the Internet, identifies security threats, and conducts online risk assessment analyses for Hg’s clients. Ms. Kronenfeld conducts trainings for investigators and is a contributing writer to Hg’s newsletter, Data2Know. Her professional research specialty is Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) techniques.