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Features - Digging for Clues About Public Companies

By Carole Levitt, Published on August 15, 2000

Carole Levitt has twenty years of extensive and diversified experience in the legal field as a Law Librarian, Legal Research and Writing Professor (Pepperdine University School of Law), California Attorney and Internet Trainer. She is a skilled online searcher, focusing on legal, public record, investigative and business research. As President and founder of Internet For Lawyers (www.netforlawyers.com), she provides customized Internet legal research training to legal professionals.

While Company Sleuth's (http://www.companysleuth.com/) description of itself as "the Internet's top covert information specialist providing free, legal, inside information on publicly traded companies" may be a bit of an overstatement, it does provide a very useful service to those who need information about a specific company on either a one-time-only basis (type the ticker symbol into the "GO" box) or on an ongoing basis (fill out a "Stakeout" list). Although much of the Company Sleuth information is publicly available, some information it provides is indeed "covert".

Examples of covert information range from "insider scoops" to inferences that Company Sleuth draws from information it gathers from the Internet. If a flood of resumes is posted on the Internet from employees of a particular company, Company Sleuth infers that a company lay-off has just occurred and will post this information before the company issues a press release or any journalist publishes an article about the lay-off.

What Information is Available?

Besides linking to each company's website, the Company Sleuth site monitors, collects and charts company information into twenty-seven categories (which they call "reports") and links to the primary source. Some of the "reports" consist of recent news, pending litigation, recent patent or trademark registrations, rumors, insider stock trading, and SEC filings. Some of the more unusual information collected ranges from "earnings whispers" to alerts of upcoming conference calls and video conference events on your stakeout companies. In some instances, you may even be able to actively participate in select events or listen in.

With this information, CompanySleuth can help you put together a comprehensive dossier on publicly traded companies listed on the AMEX, NASDAQ and NYSE boards. Better yet, CompanySleuth provides the information free, after an easy registration process. Most information provided by Company Sleuth comes from established sources such as, Reuters News Service, Edgar Online, and Zack's Investment Research. Other information comes from less established (or newer) sources, like EarningsWhispers.com, InsiderTrade.com and financial message boards like Yahoo and Motley Fool.

Even if you already know where to find a lot of this information, Company Sleuth can save you research time by doing some of the searching for you and delivering the results via e-mail after you complete a "stakeout" list to monitor up to ten companies. You can select any combination of the twenty-seven "reports" to be included in each of your stake-out companies complete report.

Registration

The first step in using Company Sleuth is registration. It's free, easy and you only have to do it once. This is how the site keeps track of the companies you are interested in receiving information about. On your first visit to Company Sleuth, a "Sign Me Up Now!" button (located toward the bottom of the page), will greet you. Clicking on it takes you to the site's three-step registration page.

In "Step One" of the registration process, you enter the stock ticker symbols for up to ten companies that you want to track. (Note that the tenth box is filled in with the ticker symbol "INFO" which is the company that owns Company Sleuth. Delete this if you do not wish to receive information on this company.) If you do not know the ticker symbol for a company, Company Sleuth provides a link to look up ticker symbols. The companies you select are added to your "Stakeout List." You also have the option of finding out which Company Sleuth users are watching your company (or any company for that matter). To do so, enter the ticker symbol or the company name, if a private company, in the box provided.

In "Step Two", enter your pertinent contact information (name, e-mail address, etc) and select a user name. Some fields are required while others are optional.

In "Step Three", choose the format in which you wish to receive your information: (1) "HTML e-mail" (in which the e-mail would resemble a web page); (2) "TEXT e-mail" (which is what we're most used to receiving) and (3) "NO e-mail"(if you select this option, you need to return to the Company Sleuth website to retrieve your information).

If you accept the site's "Terms and Conditions" for use, check the appropriate box (you cannot register if you do not accept their terms). Then click the "Register" button, and you're registered. The next time you visit the site, you will automatically enter without having to sign in.

Using Your Stakeout List
How to View New Information

At the end of the registration, you are taken to your "What's New Company Summary" page (a display format recommend for new users, in contrast to the "Power Page" to be discussed later). At the top of the page is your "Stakeout List, " showing the ticker symbols for all the companies you selected during the registration process, with their recent stock price (note: stock quotes listed on Company Sleuth are delayed by at least 20 minutes) and a "NEW" indicator displayed below the ticker, if there is any new "report" in any of your selected stakeout companies.

Beneath that, you will find the "Company Summary" listing your selected companies' names alphabetically, with links to their stock performance charts, news and domains and a list of new "reports" (this can vary from one to twenty-seven reports"), along with the corresponding number of new items in that "report" category. Clicking on any of these entries links you to the specific information.

Near the top of the "What's New" page, are six tabs; "What's New", "Reports", "Scoop Center", "Alerts", "Customize" and "Help".

The "Reports" Page
Viewing the Most Current Information

When you first click on the "Reports" tab, you will be taken to a "complete report" (links to 27 Company Sleuth "report" categories) for the first company listed on your "Stakeout List." Here you can choose to see information in any of the 27 Company Sleuth "report" categories for your selected companies. Categories containing new information are marked with the word "New" (in red). All other categories link to the most current information available. Some categories, such as "Patents" and "Trademarks" may contain no information at all because only the previous 6 months worth are reported. Your full "stakeout list" is at the top of the page. You can choose reports for another company by clicking on that company's ticker symbol in this "stakeout List."

The "Customize Page
How to Manage Your Stakeout List

You can manage your Company Sleuth account from the "Customize" page. Here you can add or delete companies from your "Stakeout List," or change your password or any of your personal information you entered during registration. You can also elect to stop receiving your e-mail reports (handy if you're going on vacation), add or delete any of the 27 categories of information that are included in your e-mail alerts, or change between TEXT and HTML e-mail formats.

Another customization feature is the "Change The Format Of My What's New Page" option. This give you the choice of retaining the "Company Summary What's New" page format described above or the switching to the "Power Page" format. The main difference in the two formats is where the "Company Summary" format lists only those "report" categories where there is new information on your companies, the "Power Page" format lists all 27 of the categories.

I am not certain what function the "Power Page" format serves, however. Even though all 27 "report" categories are listed, you cannot link to any of them from the "Power Page" unless there is "New" information, just as in the "Company Summary" format. If anyone has found the "Power Page" format especially beneficial, please e-mail me.

Additionally, on this "Customize" page, you can choose to receive your updates from Company Sleuth formatted for your Palm Pilot or other PDA using the Windows CE operating system. Also, you can select "Turn On or Turn Off Reports in my E-mail" which in turn takes you to the "Alerts" page.

The Alerts Page
How to Limit Your Takeout List to Certain "Report" Categories

This page allows you to add or delete any of the 27 "report" categories to be included in your e-mail updates stakeout list. Wonder what the "report" category labeled "earnings whispers" means? At the "Alerts" page, you can obtain explanations of each "report" category by clicking "click here".

The Scoop Center Page
How to Win $500

The "Scoops" page includes information that may not yet be common knowledge, but has been submitted by Company Sleuth users as a "Scoop". Part of the lure of submitting a "Scoop" to Company Sleuth is, no doubt, the $500 "Reward" that the site pays the submitter if the information is used. So, I recommend taking information on this page with a grain of salt. On the other hand, you never know who's willing to spill the beans for $500.

A Word of Caution
Don't Believe Everything You Read

In its FAQ, Company Sleuth cautions, "Like any good detective, Company Sleuth will uncover a lot of clues as it conducts its stakeouts. Some of these clues may be "pure gold" and provide you with genuine insight into a company's operations and others may be "fools gold" and lead to a dead-end." It further cautions "that since Company Sleuth is pulling information from all over the Internet, it is impossible to determine the validity of every piece of information - that's your job. We provide you with the clues and it's up to you to draw the conclusions."