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Whom can you trust in the business world? It’s no idle question. Rather, it may very well determine whether you stay in business.

By nature, I’m a trusting sort, but I’ve learned over the years not to trust my gut reaction.

For example, if you’re thinking about signing up for Oracle 8i or 9i training from OraSecure Inc., you might be interested in knowing that its teacher, Oracle security consultant Robert Allen, doesn’t exist.

Instead, Edward Haskins, with multiple complaints on his last business’s Better Business Bureau record, is behind it.

Maybe you’re willing to trust him. I’m not.

It’s not just training, though. Your business “partners” also may be out to hose you.

For instance, take the illegal trade in Microsoft counterfeit and misused COAs (Certificates of Authenticity).

Thanks to software authentication key hacks and the misuse of volume and MSDN (Microsoft Software Development Network) licenses, you might buy PCs that appear to have working Microsoft operating systems—right up until your customer needs to reinstall Windows and then they discover that their fake COA key doesn’t work.

Don’t think it doesn’t happen. According to Bonnie MacNaughton, senior attorney for Microsoft’s law and corporate affairs office, and several Microsoft resellers I’ve spoken with in the past few days, both things do happen. Resellers as well as customers buy bogus COAs and software, and then when they reinstall their software, they discover that they’re hosed.

And let’s not forget that some of our “customers” aren’t exactly trustworthy. I’m not talking about slow-payers or the odd bounced check. I’m talking about deliberate attempts to defraud you.

Several months ago, I was contacted by a component distributor who had been contacted via e-mail by a would-be customer out of the blue who said he wanted something like 250 sticks of 512MB RAM and 60 AMD CPUs for a total of about $15,000 worth of stuff. The guy wanted the stuff immediately—by overnight Saturday delivery. My friend runs a very small shop, and for him that was a major deal.

Except that the prospective customer said he had tried to call multiple times to place an order and couldn’t get through. And that was a little odd, since my friend had been going through a cold spell and his phone lines were sitting idle most of the time.

It was also strange because my pal runs his small business in western North Carolina and doesn’t even advertise regionally, much less nationally.

So, I did a little basic checking for my friend. First, I found that the IP address for the Missouri-based customer was actually from mainland China. We then found out that the customer’s phone number forwarded to a voice-mail box. My buddy called and got a voice-mail system. He finally got a return call from a cell phone with a California area code.

My friend then requested that payment be made upfront with certified funds. And that was the last he heard from that customer. This was a very good thing since the credit card number he had given my pal for the purchase turned up as stolen the next day.

So, what can you do about this kind of stuff?

The bottom line is that you can’t take anyone at their word or rely on your first impressions. You must follow up with the Better Business Bureau, your vendors, your partners and your paranoia to make sure that whoever you’re dealing with is on the up and up.

I wish we lived in a world where we didn’t have to double-check both the people and the goods we work with on a daily basis, but unfortunately, we do.