How can I find out the owners of a corporation/ business that closed?
September 7, 2016 1:39 PM   Subscribe

Some guy who used to own a sandwich place in Queens, NY stole $1000 from me and I can prove it.... if I can just find out his name.

Purchased a money order (western union) of $1000.00 to pay for a class I attended. Upon purchasing it, I filled in the pay to line with the name of the school. But when I got home I realized I didn't have the money order anymore. Luckily though I still had the numbers of the money order because I had the receipt. So I called Western Union so that they could put a stop payment on it... only to find out that they have a horrific rule that you cannot report a money order lost or stolen for at least 30 days! "But by then whoever took it will have gotten the money!" I said. But the reps said this was their rule and no way to get around it.

Went to the police station and they said there wasn't anything they could do either. To be honest the officer I spoke to at the precinct seemed like he was too busy dealing with bigger and violent stuff to really give a crap about my stolen money anyway- which maybe is understandable. But to my surprise the detective was 100% aware of Western Union's - no reporting of lost checks for 30 days rule so I guess he's had to deal with the problem before. He tells me it's Western Union's way of passing the responsiblity of stolen checks to other parties so that they don't have to deal with it.

Once 30 days passed I reported them lost to Western Union again and they informed me that yes someone cashed it and they mailed me a photocopy of the now cashed money order. On the photocopy I see that they made the check out to some business which they apparently owned (a sandwich place). You can see clearly that they wrote the name of their business OVER the school's name that I wrote. They used a marker so what I wrote was mostly covered but on the photocopy you can still see some of the letters I wrote underneath their marker and I couldn't believe the bank still accepted this and deposited it for the person despite this! But at least I now had the company name and address of the company it was made out to as well as the bank it was deposited it in.

Western Union tells me that I have to go to the bank that accepted the deposit with the photocopies and deal with said bank. So I do. The bank manager seems to genuinely want to help me and tells me that upon looking at the photocopies he can see that they used a marker to write over something else. He informs me that once he finds the account the bank will be able to give me back the money via Western Union. However once he finds the account he regrets to inform me that it seems the business owner closed their account and therefore there is nothing they can do to refund me the money. Great. So I say to him, "Ok then at least tell me this thief's name so I can take him to small claims court and get the money back." He says they can't even tell me the person's name because of their privacy laws.

The bank manager also tells me that not only is the account closed, but the business in question has since closed as well. Indeed he is right. I walked over to the address they wrote on my money order and there's another store there now. But the business WAS there. Not only did the manager confirm this, but even now I can see pictures of the store and reviews online that were written of said Deli before it was closed. He says he's sorry that he can't tell me the name, but he does use the pronoun "he" when referring to the business account holder so it has to be a guy. Bank manager suggests to me that I can still find the information out if I look up the owner by finding out who incorporated the business.

I've got the receipt and the photocopy so it's a sure win for me in small claims court as I see it. I just need to know who to sue. The business doesn't exist anymore so I have to go after the person who deposited it in their now closed business account. I can't make out the name from their scribbly signature on my money order. (My own signature is also a bunch of scribbles so it's possible they altered my signature also, but not sure). How do I find these records?
posted by olivetree to Law & Government (14 answers total)
Any business that deals with food would need some certifications. Maybe the Department of Health has some records that might help?
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:45 PM on September 7, 2016

If the sandwich shop had a website, you could try looking it up on whois and see if you can glean any more info.

Look at the reviews website to see if anyone from the shop responded to negative reviews. Might get a first name and last initial that way. Check facebook, too.
posted by phunniemee at 1:48 PM on September 7, 2016

I was just coming in to suggest health department records, I've had success finding otherwise unfindable business owners that way.

Also maybe building permits, if they put up a sign for the store they probably had to get a permit for it.

The NY Secretary of State has a database with basic info on all businesses registered in the state. It usually provides a disappointing level of detail, but that's another option.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 1:50 PM on September 7, 2016

Do you know if the sandwich place was a corporation or LLC? If it's an LLC, you're screwed w/r/t corporate records, but if it is a corporation you may be able to get the CEO's name from the NYS database.
posted by griphus at 1:51 PM on September 7, 2016

Actually, I take that back: you're not necessarily screwed, but you'd need to pull copies of their corporate filings and hope that the owner's name appears somewhere (it isn't required to, but it often does.) This would also work if it is a corporation as they're not required to reveal the CEO's name until two years after its existence (and even then the state doesn't particularly care if it isn't recorded.)
posted by griphus at 1:53 PM on September 7, 2016

It's an INC. but I tried that database and no name comes up. It has their filing date and when they shut down but under "Registered Agent" it says "None". :(
posted by olivetree at 1:56 PM on September 7, 2016

In that case, I'd try pulling the corporate documents like the bank manager said. It should have the name of an incorporator and a filer. Neither of these are necessarily the person who owned the entity, but it could be, or it could lead to another place to investigate (although you may run into privacy policies when you call that place up, of course.)
posted by griphus at 2:00 PM on September 7, 2016

Before you order corporate docs, here are some other places to search:

Since it was a food establishment, here is where you can look up licensing (or maybe it's just violators?). The records list an "operator" name though.

Your city/county might have additional health regulations and their own database that you can search as well.

The same goes for business licensing--sometimes a city or county requires a business license as well. I'd search for something like "name of city business license database" and see what pops up.

One other whacky idea is to google the name of the business along with "corporation" or something. There are tons of sites that scrape corporate records and sometimes they have outdated information. You might get a lucky and find an older version of a corporation record where they actually did list a registered agent or owner.
posted by purple_bird at 2:18 PM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yes. Check the WhoIs for the website ownership. I can't tell you how many times I've used that trick - easy peasy.
posted by jbenben at 2:18 PM on September 7, 2016

If it was a corner store/deli operation they may be licensed under New York State Ag and Markets rather than NYC DOH.
posted by clockwork at 3:20 PM on September 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

You should be able to obtain a copy of the certificate of dissolution for the corporation from NYS for $10 ($5 for non-certified copy). This should list the name and address of each officer and director of the corporation.
posted by melissasaurus at 3:36 PM on September 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

There's a lot of stuff here to help you *find* the guy who stole your money, but I find it hard to believe that you have no recourse from the bank that it was deposited in, since you can show from the photocopy that they deposited what was basically a phony check. Is the bank a chain? I would also try to escalate there. $1000 will be small potatoes to a bank chain.

Even if you find the guy and win in small claims court, it's not guaranteed that you will actually get your money back - there is a whole process for doing that as well that seems to be a huge pain.
posted by permiechickie at 4:01 PM on September 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

I don't have time to look into the technicalities right now, but you should file a complaint against the bank with the CFPB. A failure to exercise ordinary care would leave the bank on the hook for a forged check under the UCC. I just don't know if money orders are the same. The CFPB will know your precise rights and getting a call from them tends to motivate a company to deal with the problem.
posted by praemunire at 4:54 PM on September 7, 2016 [12 favorites]

Do you have access to Lexis Advance? There's a public records search function that allows you to search for businesses and people, among other things, and it turns up an almost creepy amount of information. Under the business search, you'll have access to all of the corporate entity's source documents, which will reveal the name of the registered agent and names of officers. Lexis results are typically exhaustive, so I would be surprised if you didn't get some answers through that search. Once you get a name, you could run a people search, which would turn up all of the person's old addresses, emails, and other random bits of information--including whether they've been taken to court, etc.

Use with caution, but putting it out there since it would be a free resource for you if you already have access through your school.
posted by melancholyplay at 12:06 AM on September 8, 2016

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