By Sharon Hassler—One of our members called about an email she received to “get paid $600 a day for photos.” It was one of those messages that links to a website with one long sales pitch. I have to admit this site was impressive! It contained related statistics that would make you think this should be a thriving business, lots of testimonials—even a video of a happy customer, a Better Business Bureau screenshot from the BBB website, copies of checks from a major title company showing supposed payment for phtotos, a money-back guarantee, and a toll-free number to call the course author for more info. Wow! Where do I send my money? Not so fast…there’s a course you have to pay for to learn how to get that $600 a day and you don’t yet know who you’re dealing with.

First, don’t believe everything you read, and second, do your research before you pay for anything. (If you just can’t stop yourself, always use your credit card—not your debit card—so you at least have a chance of getting your money back.) How do you begin to research the company or individual behind the offer?

How to gather basic information:

  1. Start with the “About Us” page on the website. This should give you some idea of who’s behind the company though it may contain only a mission statement. If there is a profile for one or more individuals involved, that’s a positive sign. (On the “get paid for photos” site, there was no “About Us” page but there was an individual’s name; however, I needed more info to narrow the search.)
  2. Visit the “Contact Us” page. You’re looking for a company or individual’s name, address and/or phone number. (No contact page on the “get paid for photos” site, but a month earlier, there was a partial screenshot from the Better Business Bureau’s site; however, it wasn’t a positive report from the BBB as it appeared to be!)
  3. Check out the domain name. Even if you got complete contact info in step 2 above, you may be interested in when the website was launched. Visit GoGetName.com and select “Whois” in the menu at the very bottom of the page. Enter the domain name fo the company you’re researching. Then enter the access code (this screens out robot searches to cut down on spam). You should find registration info including the date the domain name was first created. OR you may find the owner has hidden their info behind a proxy. There will be an email address so messages can be forwarded, but no direct contact info is available. (The “get paid for photos” information was hidden behind a proxy.)
  4. Look for testimonials. Of course, anyone can fake a testimonial, but those with contact info or a full name, city and state are more likely to be real. If you can contact the person providing the comments, the testimonial may be more trustworthy. (In the “get paid for photos” case, only one person had a full name, city and state, and that person didn’t return my call.)

How to use the information you gathered:

Now that you have more information like a company name, individual’s name, address and phone number, you may find a treasure trove of info about the company and/or owners.

  1. Check with the Better Business Bureau. The BBB keeps records on companies even if they aren’t members, but you do need a business name and state to search. Visit BBB.org and select “Business” under “Check It Out.” Enter the company name and the state and select Search. Then click on the company name in the list that appears. You’ll get info on the local BBB branch and the company you’re looking for. Scroll down to look for complaints and resolutions. (The report on the “get paid for photos” company is being updated so nothing was available at this time. That wasn’t the case when I checked it earlier. There was a complaint from the BBB about the company illegally using the BBB as a reference in their marketing. Also a customer complaint about the quality of the course and not refunding money.)
  2. Do several Google searches. Narrow your search by including more terms. Do a search for the owner’s name with quotation marks and the company or website (domain) name: “john doe” company name or “john doe” domainname.com. If the individual’s name is common, you might need to add another term such as the type of industry or training, i.e., “john doe” domainname.com photos. When the search results appear, don’t click on the primary link above the description of each site. Instead click on that little gray arrow at the end of the first sentence so show the “cached” page. This will give you a Google file with your search terms highlighted on that page. This quickly pinpoints what you’re looking for. Repeat the same name search but add: complaint. Do another name search but add: ripoff. Try the name search again but add: forum. This seems like a lot of work but once you get the idea, you can quickly accomplish these searches and gather enough info to make a more informed decision. (The “cached” searches for the “get paid for photos” owner and website turned up a complaint not currently showing on the BBB site. )
  3. Search the state government’s website for business licenses/company names. I’m including this because it would seem like a good source. However, I’ve found most government sites are not user friendly and it takes too much time digging for the same info you’ll find through steps 1 and 2 above.

So what did we learn checking out this “get paid for photos” offer? They didn’t return two phone calls. The top testimonial provider didn’t return my phone call, and incidentally, a check on her showed she shares the same hobby as the website owner she’s praising. Close friends, maybe? There was at least one complaint from a new customer who had a long list of problems with the course and couldn’t get his money back. (Guarantees aren’t much good if the company doesn’t stand behind them.) The BBB themselves had filed a complaint with the company for inferring they had BBB endorsement. The domain name info is hidden by proxy. In addition, the copies of checks showing big payments from the title company showed the payee as a property management company so were the payments for photos or property management? And, a search for this type of work in general indicates it’s not a money maker. Enough red flags for you? So, is the offer in question a valid business opportunity? I can’t say for sure, but I’d have to see enough positives to outweigh the negatives before forking over any money for this course!

If you’ve found this type of work or a particular course to be profitable, please contact us so we can share your success story.