Anyone have a recommendation for a PI that specializes in internet business
We are looking to do some research into a few competitors to find out whether or not they are connected in some way (financially, creatively, etc.). Since these are etailers, I was wondering if anyone knew of any PIs that specialize in web-related businesses? Probably a long shot--but I thought I'd ask!
Do a local search in your area.
I can definitely do that, but since the request is for an online competitor and they're sites are all registered out of state--I don't think the location really matters.
If the domains are done through a proxy I am not sure how you can get the proxy to cough up the owners name without some type of lawsuit or police action. I am guessing they wouldn't just hand that info over to a P.I. with no questions asked.
Second, even if you find out the owner it could be in the name of a corporation. Off hand I can think of about 2-3 ways to obscure corporation ownership records so nobody can track it to the owner or at least not without a great deal of effort and probably expense.
Now maybe these guys are that sophisticated and a simple records search and some basic research will turn up the evidence if it exists.
If they are e-tailers you might have an easy route...customer service reps. Working with a wholesaler, I talk to CS Reps constantly; it doesn't take much for them to divulge information they probably should not share. You probably wouldn't need to be very subtle with your questioning, either.
Also, I might look for a good IT lawyer. Or, more to the point, a sleazy Tech Lawyer. I'm sure those guys know a PI or two...
best way to see if e-tailers are linked... make a small purchase at each store.
Then ask your credit card company about the charges and the company behind them one at a time. I use the guise of not remembering using my card that day and if they could tell me more about the company it might help to remember... they always have some info on the company.
Tip for finding a good PI... maybe not internet PI but if you have company names that might be all he needs... but, Bail Bond places almost always have good PIs working for them on contract or staff.... asking them for a recommendation might be good.
Other clues to tie them together would be similar themed sites... recycled code, like CSS or JS, are they using the same checkout methods? Just by studying the websites themselves you should be able to see some trends that you can weigh in with.
[edited by: Demaestro at 4:54 pm (utc) on July 10, 2008]
Thank you all! Really helpful info.
I second Demaestro's suggestions at attempting to make logical deductions from clues within the websites or company operations.
|best way to see if e-tailers are linked... make a small purchase at each store. |
This is definitely one of the first moves. Depending upon how these companies are set up (are locations and management diversified) they may be shipping from one location, using the same boxes and/or packaging materials, identical invoice/receipt setups, identical shipping label software... Even stealth shipping can leave a trail, typically ship from zip code.
Definitely the code itself could provide clues. They might be smart enough to vary the image packages, mix up the presentation, but unless they had different developers do each site, the coding could be as good as a fingerprint. Have the shuffled the deck on hosting? If not, another clue.
Been on both sides of this with the same company. One of our competitors in Niche A is well 'diversified'. They have six sites that I know of - all selling almost the exact same mix of products. They all are very different in appearance, and it looks like they had different designers do the work, but I have still been able to make definitive connections. Smart on their part - and on any owner's part. All of the sites rank pretty well, so they are protected from a big hit against any one site - always a smart play. Plus, they do a lot of black hat SEO and are very good at it, so need extra protection when a site blows up. (Wish I knew a fraction of the tricks that they know.)
On the other side, in Niche B, I am doing work for an owner that wants to hide the relationship between a wholesale operation and a retail operation. It's an open secret so a complete waste of time IMO. They take the easy wholesale cash, provide absolute minimal support to distributors and then use the funds to compete all out with their own retail operation; undercutting their own MSRP, offering 'exclusive' products that distributors can't have - real scumbag type operation but that's the SOP there. A shame. More upside in building the brand and distributor base than in gutting a 'capped' market. Any fool could connect the dots it is so pitiful, but that's not my call.
Google TouchGraph Browser
The topic is in Supporters but if you search your favorite SE, you'll easily find it. ;)
It's a great start at getting "overall pictures" and then drilling down to other levels. It may provide some clues as to whether or not your suspicions are accurate.
|On the other side, in Niche B, I am doing work for an owner that wants to hide the relationship between a wholesale operation and a retail operation. It's an open secret so a complete waste of time IMO. They take the easy wholesale cash, provide absolute minimal support to distributors and then use the funds to compete all out with their own retail operation; undercutting their own MSRP, offering 'exclusive' products that distributors can't have - real scumbag type operation but that's the SOP there. A shame. More upside in building the brand and distributor base than in gutting a 'capped' market. Any fool could connect the dots it is so pitiful, but that's not my call. |
This is what "we" are doing almost to a "T." Different company registration, phone lines, site designers, DNS, IP, ...pick a detail and it differs...except that the retail sites' ship tickets have the same address as the wholesale business. Same warehouse... Different UPS accounts and all, but anyone missing the connection simply isn't looking.
|they always have some info on the company. |
This is not always true. I bought a book or something online from a web site I hadn't ever been to before, but came up in the search results. I should have known better, but bought the item anyway. Unfortunately the owner of the site was a dirt bag and sold or stole my credit card number and starting racking up charges at other online companies. I tried to call my credit card company to track down the problem, but these small e-tailers were using all kinds of proxies and third party agents to process transactions and do order fulfillment that it was impossible to find the actual company behind the mess. I ended up telling my credit card company that the card had been stolen and the account compromised. Once they closed the account and issued me a new card and new number the problem went away.
Now admittedly this happened almost 11 years ago so things may be a lot different now in terms of the credit card companies having more info on each company, but back then they didn't and I am not sure if that has changed today.