OSINT Research Basics for US Companies & Nonprofits
There is lots of information that U.S. companies & nonprofits can't hide from the public, learn how to find it.
There is a lot of information that U.S. organizations like companies and nonprofit can't hide from the public. This article will show you some easy steps for finding that information. You should note that I will avoid looking the organizations' websites or googling their names. We will ignore the information that the organizations choose to show the public and focus instead on the registrations and filings that do not appear in any Google search.
Official Records in Deep Web Databases
There are several publicly accessible "deep web" databases with records on U.S. companies. The records are generally verified, legitimate information, which is of course not always true of things on the Internet.
Recall that there is the "Open Web" that is everything that appears in your Google search. Then there is the "Deep Web" (which is NOT the "Dark Web", a topic for another day) which you can only access via specific websites. It is easier to think of the Deep Web as under the ground and therefore out of sight. When you bring things above ground you can make connections (like you find a name in the deep web and then you google it and find press reporting on them).
SIDENOTE: The "Dark Web" refers to websites that are not indexed by Google, their URLs end in .onion, and you can only access them with The Onion Router (or its equivalents). This is what is often associated in popular media with criminal marketplaces.
US companies register with the state government and this registration is most easily discovered by using Open Corporates. The individual states maintain deep web databases that are full of company registrations. To avoid the trouble of finding all of the databases, you can use Open Corporates. This site allows one to search the name of a person or a company and then Open Corporates searches the various state registries at a once. Open Corporates also searches for other registrations, including trademarks.
When you find the registration, then you can finally try Googling something and do a quick search on any of the names or addresses listed. If there is something interesting to be found (i.e. the owner was charged with something or there is a blatant conflict of interest) then you will usually find it here.
Publicly traded companies must file additional records on a regular basis. This is topic too extensive for this post, but the basic information is that the US Securities and Exchange Commission maintains a public database called EDGAR (the Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval system).
If one is interested in a publicly traded company/corporation, you can start by searching for its name in EDGAR and looking at the most recent document titled "Annual Review."
This document includes several pages of information largely in financial-speak, but for the amateurs it includes names and senior company officials and recent company developments such as court cases.
If you want to be an "expert" then I humbly recommend my article on researching corporate leadership (though that relies heavily on a different document, it is close enough to the subject at hand).
Past Illegal Activity
A good way to evaluate a company is to see if it has conducted any actions violating laws or regulations. The Violations Tracker is a single source that queries a plethora of US government databases identifying companies that violated local or national regulations. All you need to do is search the org's name, and the tool will find any violation, the basic information related to it, and it will give you the source so you can do more in-depth research on what actually happened.
Nonprofit organizations register with the state government and this registration, similar to companies' registrations, is most easily discovered by using Open Corporates. Alternatively one can find this information on the individual state government website. State databases for nonprofits are listed on Open Corporates' list of registers.
In a nonprofit's registration record, one can expect to find the names of directors/officers, a postal address, and the lawyer that was hired to register the nonprofit. Various other information may also be included in the record depending on the state where it was registered.
The tax filings for most nonprofit organizations are publicly available at IRS.gov, but one is better off using Propublica's Nonproft Explorer or Guidestar. The tax forms include the names of board members, key employees, their compensation, services rendered, and contractors used by the nonprofit.
This screenshot is an example of how Propublica's Nonprofit Explorer displays tax information for one organization . This record is partially obscured for privacy.
This information is a summary of the tax record. To read all of the data (including the names of people involved in the nonprofit) one can click on the "990-T" button on the left.
See my other article for more in-depth research on non-profit tax filings and fraud.
Okay, now you are ready to go. Unless you are a due diligence officer, I can promise that with these steps will be more successful than most of your friends that ever try to research a company or nonprofit that they stumble on.
Learn More About The Images We Choose
Today we are celebrating the work of artist Zaki Abdelmounim and joining him in his hunt for what's left of Hong Kong's iconic neon signs, an essential element of this cityscape's visual culture, covering HK's streets for years with glow. We will roam the dazzling roads aimlessly reminiscing about a dystopian past that only existed in neo-noire cult fiction movies like Blade Runner, trying to burn these lively picturesque streets into our memories before they vanish, all while figuring out how to thrive creatively in this organized chaos. Hopefully this vaporwave stylized series of street photography will bring as much joy as it did to us.
The beautiful image used in this article was created by Zaki Abdelmounim.