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Using Whois as a Skip-tracing Tool

posted on 2012-12-28 by Dean Kaplan

Recently we published a pamphlet about free internet resources which can be used to verify credit applications and prevent fraudulent purchases.  These same resources can be helpful when trying to locate a debtor and collect the monies owed.  Skip-tracing is the detective work that is done to locate and contact debtors.  There are some excellent skip-tracing subscription services available, and these services are becoming more and more powerful.  Our business to business collection agency can be especially challenged when looking for small business debtors.  It is not uncommon for us to be unable to locate a valid phone number to reach a live person or even to know who to contact.  Fortunately, there is one free internet resource which often yields the exact information we are looking for.

Prior to picking up the phone to make a debt collection call, our collectors go online and visit the debtor’s website.  The goal of the collector is to learn about the company and about the people who run the company.  Unfortunately, many small business websites tell us very little beyond the basics.  The fact that the debtor has a website is good news because that means that the debtor had to register the domain with ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) which keeps track of website domain names for the internet.    Just like the county recorder keeping track of who owns each piece of real estate in the county, ICANN keeps track of what company owns each domain on the internet, and ICANN makes this domain registration data available to the public.

A Whois search is the easiest way to obtain domain registration information.  Free Whois searches are available from most companies who sell domain names such as GoDaddy and Network Solutions via links located at the bottom of their web pages.  Click on the link to get to the Whois search page.  Once there, enter the website address of the debtor in the appropriate field.  This will bring up the page showing the information that was submitted by the debtor to ICANN.  This information usually includes the company name, the company address, the administrative contact, the administrative contact’s direct telephone number and email, other submitted contact names, telephone numbers and emails, and the names of the servers that host the site.

Of key importance is that ICANN information is truthful except in the cases of outright fraud because it records ownership.  Website domains are valuable company assets.  Therefore, most small business owners will want to register their domains in their names, and the information will usually be valid and up to date with the business owner or a key employee name listed.

If the contact information listed in the Whois search is not valid, this is a red flag.  It may indicate that the business owner no longer sees value in the business because it is no longer in operation.  Another possibility is that the business hired a registration company to register their domain, and the information listed belongs to the registration company.  In this case, the registration company only has to reveal the company’s contact information if a court order is issued; however, it never hurts to ask.

When a company has changed ownership, a Whois search can provide valuable information.  Due to the value of a company’s website, it is highly likely that the new owner would go through the strict process of transferring domain ownership to his or her name.  When this transfer takes place, the Whois search will usually reveal the official name of the new business entity as well as the name of the new owner of the business.  The search may also yield the date of the transfer which can be helpful in determining who owes the debt, the new or the original owner of the business.

Using a Whois search to locate and contact a debtor is one of several free internet resources available.  Visit our website to access more ideas to help in your debt collection efforts including infographics, videos, ebooks, articles, and more.