How to check if a company is legitimate

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The world is a more connected place than ever before, opening up a whole network of services and products. How can you check that any company that offers to do business with you is the real deal?

Step one: check the basics

If a business is legitimate then there will be evidence that you can verify. Look at the basic details and make sure that all the obvious facts add up. Whilst most of these checks won’t give you a definitive answer, they can help raise your suspicions and keep you on your guard. Some of the simplest and easiest checks to perform include the following:

Address details – if the business is local, drive round to its premises and confirm there is a sign or some indication of its presence in an office or a building. Most businesses are located in city centres, business parks or shared office space.

If a business or a company is working out of a home this is not uncommon, but you should only be expecting to be dealing with a one to three man band or a small trades company. Most serious businesses soon outgrow the domestic setting.

Phone number – you really want to see a landline number here. If a business only has a mobile number this isn’t a red flag, but it does certainly mean you should have your guard up. Call the number, check you’re talking to an employee or the business owner and ask a few standard questions.

You’re looking for a professional greeting with the company name at the start of the call and a competent and helpful attitude throughout. All genuine companies are usually happy to get sales enquiries and will even help you check any details over the phone.

Website and social media presence – does the business have a strong web presence? Most businesses these days will have a site and presence on a few social media channels. If you are dealing with someone out of area, then their website can be a key signal.

Confirm that your contact is working in the company with a quick look on LinkedIn. Whilst not appearing on the web doesn’t mean the company is not legitimate, it may help guide your investigations.

Check their ISO certification — Most companies will display the logo of the certification body who issued their ISO certification. It is then a case of then searching for the Certification Body and contacting them to verify. You can search for Certification Bodies by visiting the UKAS website, who are appointed by the government to oversee Certification Bodies in the UK. To check if a company is certified with us, input their certificate number here.

Step two: reviews and feedback

Most businesses that do have a web presence collect feedback from customers, both good and bad. Google reviews, Facebook reviews and other testimonial tools on the web will help you get an immediate picture of the company you’re investigating.

Additionally, a good company will also have a bit of activity on its website. If all the blogs were posted in a single week a couple of years ago this can be suspicious. However, performing a Google search of the company’s name is one of the best web checks, as a real business will get mentioned by other organisations or on referrer websites.

And don’t solely rely on the digital world either. Get out there and ask people you know at your networking group or friends you have who might work in a similar sector. The most powerful form of verification is taking the word of a trusted friend, which can help you out on the local scene.

Step three: official check

If you are still doubtful about the legitimacy of a business then it’s time to start putting some more powerful checks in place. Companies are required by law to register with certain agencies and credit organisations. Consider making enquiries with:

Companies House – if you are dealing with a limited company then they will be required to list quite a substantial amount of information on Companies House, where you can see names of the directors and the accounts. You can also look at individual directors profiles to see previous companies they have owned and companies they currently own.

The Financial Services Register – if a company offers financial services or associated products then you should be able to find them through a quick search on this site. If they do not appear on this site, then they are definitely not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and we would advise you to avoid working with this business.

Experian Business Credit Reports – if you are unsure as to the solvency of a business or want to know if they have the funds or credibility to meet your fees then it may be worth running a credit check. Experian is amongst the most popular of all tools and they give you 30 days free allowing you to check those big contracts and agreements to make sure you do not walk into any trouble.

Step four: trust your judgement

If you are suspicious about a business then it’s always best to err on the side of caution. One of the maxims many business owners work to is: “if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.” Offers of goods at hugely reduced rates, cheap services and golden opportunities rarely come without strings attached and should start warning bells ringing.

Ultimately, you should feel 100% comfortable before entering into a business arrangement with anyone. There could be a range of implications that could damage your credibility and reputation if you rely on the wrong people to deliver a service in your company name.

If you’d like to check if a company is certified with us, you can do so by inputting their certificate number here.

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Written by Mark Nutburn

CTO - technology professional with over 20 years of IT experience building bespoke CRM systems and designing customised software solutions. A key part of the management team at The British Assessment Bureau for many years and a part of AMTIVO’s management team.