Research companies and organizations, research individuals
Some Simple Ways to Research a Company
Are they claiming that they are an IRS 501(3)c non-profit organization?
All non-profit organizations are required to register with the IRS and file certain financial records that become "public record." The easiest way to verify if a organization is truly a non-profit is to go to Guidestar and look them up.
You can also call your state's Secretary of State office and ask if the organization is a registered non-profit organizations. All states require non-profits to register with them.
Worst case - call the IRS directly. You'll sit on hold forever, but you will get an answer!
Is their address a "real" address, or simply a PO box or paid mail drop? Is the address a BUSINESS address, or a RESIDENTIAL address?
Do a reverse-address lookup on their address. If the address turns out to be a "Mail-Box Etc." type of company, be cautious.
The best places to do reverse address and phone number look-ups are Infospace and the GTE SuperPages
If their address is a Post Office Box, call the Post Office that the box is located at. Ask the clerk for the "street address of the business using P.O. Box number (whatever the PO box number is.)
The Post Office is REQUIRED to release, upon request, the REAL street address of any *BUSINESS* that is using a post office box. If the post office box is registered to an INDIVIDUAL, they are FORBIDEN from releasing that same real street address information.
What this means is this: If the Post Office won't or can't release the street address information, then the box is not registered to a business. You are probably dealing with an individual, and I would suggest extreme caution.
If the box is actually listed to a Business and the street address is in a different state, especially if it's in Nevada, I would also suggest exercising caution.
Is the phone number a BUSINESS phone number, or a RESIDENTIAL phone number?
Call Information (411 or 1-(area code)-555-1212) and see if there is a listing available under the business name.
If there is no listing, do a Reverse Phone Number lookup. The best place to do this is at Infospace and the GTE SuperPages
If the phone number turns out to be listed to an individual or a residential address, I suggest caution.
Is there an open investigation on this company at the Attorney General's office? Call the state Attorney General's office to find out if there is currently any open investigations, a history of complaints, or a history of actions against the company in the past.
Check and see who their web site, if any, is really registered to. Be wary if the billing/administrative addresses and names are someone other than they claim to be. You can do this at Internic.
Contact the Better Business Bureau in the area that the organization/company is located and see if there are any complaints about the organization.
National Better Business Bureau Reliability Reports Search Form allows you to search online for reliability reports in about 20 different states.
You can also search for "Better Business Bureau" on Yahoo! to find the home pages of individual Better Business Bureaus.
Contact the local authorities (varies from city/state to city/state) to find out if they have a business license.
While it is true that in this day and age, many people ARE running legitimate businesses out of their home, any legitimate company of any size will have at least registered as a LLC, a Coporation, or a Non-Profit with their Secretary of State.
Remember: Think Logically. Most companies will have a phone number listed in the company name - otherwise how else will potential customers find them?