QUESTION: How can I tell whether a business is legitimate?
ANSWER: There are a variety of ways to check up on a business by looking at public records.
In many cities, businesses need to register for a business license. The city of Bellingham's Web site has a search engine to find a business license. To get started go to this City of Bellingham web page.
If you're thinking about hiring a contractor, a quick look at the Washington state Department of Labor & Industries can give you information about whether the contractor is registered, what kind of insurance the company has and who runs the company. To get started, go to this L&I web page.
One other way to check the status of a company is through the Better Business Bureau through its reliability reports. Go to bbb.org, click the "Check it out: Business" link, and type in the company you are looking for.
QUESTION: How do I check the financial stability of a company?
ANSWER: It is difficult to find out about what's happening with private companies unless they are experiencing financial difficulties.
To find out whether a regional company has filed for bankruptcy, go to this web page for U.S. District Bankruptcy Court for Western Washington. You will need to sign up for a PACER account, which will charge 8 cents for each page you look at (no charge for simply looking up whether a company has filed for bankruptcy).
To find out if a company has a state or federal tax lien, go to the Whatcom County Courthouse or search for it online. At the courthouse, the public research area is on the first floor where people can get vehicle license tabs and plates. Staff members can help with navigating the computer system.
You also can find the documents online. Go to this Whatcom County web page and click the "Recorded Documents Online" link. After you get past the disclaimer page, click the "Document Search" link.
This is one in a series of stories publishing during Sunshine Week, March 13-19, on accessing public documents or meetings in Whatcom County. For more, go to out Open Government web page.
Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2269. Visit his business blog online at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or get updates on Twitter at twitter.com/BhamHeraldBiz.