Periodically throughout my career I’ve been pestered with anonymous phone calls or letters spreading dirt about certain companies or individuals. (E-mails usually reveal the sender, so they almost never come in that format.) Rarely have I bothered to follow up on these leads that almost certainly come from business competitors or people with a personal ax to grind.

For one thing, the mudslinging often deals with unverifiable generalities, i.e., “so-and-so cheats his customers.” Yet even when the accusation can be substantiated, it usually concerns something not relevant to the mission of our trade publications. I remember one phone call years ago telling me lurid details of an industry VIP’s divorce proceedings, including a court docket number so I could follow up. No doubt this story would’ve titillated many readers, but in that our trade publications don’t compete against the National Enquirer or look to it for inspiration, I took a pass.

At other times anonymous sources have pointed me toward business-related litigation against companies in our industry. Well, lawsuits are ubiquitous in the business world. In that anyone can sue anyone for anything, and that being sued casts suspicion whether deserved or not, our corporate parent, BNP Media Co., has established a policy for its publications of not reporting on litigation until it is resolved via settlement or judgment. This sits fine with me.

I mention all this because while these anonymous calls and letters have been relatively infrequent over the years, suddenly I’ve been hit with three of them in the last month or so. The latest was a voice message telling me of an industry firm’s warehouse worker being arrested for child molesting. My opinion of child molesters is unprintable, but what does this have to do with the employer? The alleged crimes no doubt took place away from the business, I doubt the owners were aware of the employee’s proclivity and it’s even more doubtful they were complicit.

The bigger issue spinning in my head is why this sudden spate of anonymous tattling? The conclusion I draw is it’s a sign of desperation in these troubled economic times. Many businesses are in trouble, and a few owners think the best way to survive is to drag down a competitor. Or maybe the calls came from laid off or disgruntled employees.

It’s been said that character is defined by how you behave when nobody is watching. These anonymous sources reveal more about themselves than the targets of their snitching.