Now on to today's main topic: Investigating Someone!
Use Wisconsin Circuit Court Access to see someone's criminal records. You'll be able to see everything from speeding tickets to felonies, as long as the crime took place after the person was 18. You should be able to see anything anyone was even officially charged with, even if those charges were dismissed. Other states have similar websites (though many aren't as user-friendly as Wisconsin's).
Check to see if they own property, and if they've been paying their taxes by using county databases like Access Dane for Dane County WI. This website also works if you want to check out who owns a chunk of land, but you don't have a name or address. Again, other states and counties have similar websites.
Want to know if someone is broke? Get your subject to give you a voided check, a deposit check, or their bank name, account number and the check's routing number. Then call the bank and ask, "Will a check for ______ (amount) clear from this account?" This is totally legal. Landlords do it all the time to make sure their tenants will actually be able to pay rent. Here's why it's legal: banks will charge the check writer and you if you deposit a check that bounces. The bank's position is that you touched the bad check last-- so you're responsible. You should have asked if it would clear. It's one of those nasty little ways banks make money, but you can use it to get an idea about your subject's wealth-- or lack thereof.
Are you dealing with a business? Websites like the Better Business Bureau, Angie's List and Rate My Horse Pro will give you reviews and ratings...but you have to pay. Plus, there's some evidence that they're tainted-- check out this 20/20 documentary about the very real possibility that the BBC is just a sleazy protection racket. Instead, I like free and more unbiased reviews from Yelp, Yahoo reviews, Google reviews and other sites. Actually, just searching those standard websites, plus Facebook, Myspace, etc, will give you a lot. And of course, don't forget to actually check out a person's personal or business website, if they have one.
Now that we've got our tools, let's find an example. Since part of my self-appointed job is to scrutinize Wisconsin horse trainers, rescues and breeders for bad behavior, we'll start with a horse rescue I've never heard about before: Sunre'h Ranch in Hazelhurst, WI. First, we start with the obvious...
Sunre'h's website is pretty sketchy. There are tons of spelling, grammar and capitalization mistakes. My favorite statement is the first one on the front page: "We take in rescues & people who need to find a loving home..." Hah hah, I didn't know Sunre'h was an orphanage as well as a rescue! This by itself isn't a huge deal, but it's starting to trigger warnings of unprofessional behavior (or lack of intelligence). A quick skim through the rest of the website gives me other bad, neutral and good signs:
They're a business, not a charity, so when they tell you you'll be able to get tax deductions for your donations to Sunre'h, they're either lying or ignorant about tax law.
Nowhere are there are descriptions of adoption requirements, safety policies, no-breeding contracts, buy-back clauses, etc. These things are the difference between a horse dealer and a horse rescuer.
They stand a stallion at stud. I'm always suspicious of "rescues" who are pumping out more babies into an already overcrowded horse market. I'm also wary that there are no conformation photos of the stallion. However, the stallion is registered, the rescue doesn't appear to be breeding its own mares, and the owners are sophisticated enough to offer AI, a decent stud fee, mare care, live foal guarantee and foaling cameras.
They're a boarding, training and breeding business as well as a rescue...so how do I know that my money will be spent only on rescue animals, not on new fencing that benefits the owners as well? Many good people rescue on a part-time basis, or can't meet 501(c)(3) requirements because of technicalities...but still...
The few pictures on the website show green pastures, safe fencing, nice stalls and healthy horses.
Colts over one year old won't be accepted at the rescue unless they're gelded. Yay responsibility!
Their descriptions of the two rescue mares they have right now are fairly thorough, honest about the horses' flaws, and include pictures. They state vet care is up to date on both. Prices for the mares are reasonable.
Now a little time on Google gets me an address (it wasn't on their website):
6050 County Road Y
Hazelhurst , WI 54531715-358-3198
Using this address, more time on Google gets me Scott and Renee's last name, "Krosschell," also not listed on the rescue website. From there, I can find Renee's Facebook profile and both Renee and Scotts' criminal records.
Renee's Facebook profile shows pictures of happy, well-fed horses. The only possibly warning sign I saw was the awful death of her son's mare from some sort of internal bleeding-- and that's the kind of thing that does just plain happen once in a while. Renee's criminal record includes being taken to court for $1,500 in debt and being charged with selling tobacco to a minor, a charge that was dismissed. Scott has one seat belt violation and some sort of involvement in a personal injury/car accident lawsuit.
The Oneida County tax records database is refusing to cooperate, so I can't check on their property tax status or ownership.
With the evidence I have, I personally can't really recommend or condemn this rescue. What do you think about Sunre'h Rescue and its owners, based on the evidence? How do you usually decide whether someone is trustworthy enough to date/adopt from/donate to, etc?