Welcome to the Lafayette Process Servers LLC podcast. Happy belated 4th of July to all our listeners!I’m your host Scott Frank, and in today’s episode, we are going to talk about Skip Tracing; what it is, why it is important and needed, how it works, and various other finer details pertaining to it.
So, let’s begin by addressing the most obvious question: what is skip tracing?
Let’s look at it this way, Assume you are a process server. You are required to serve a person with a legal document. So, the first thing that you do is try to reach out to them. But, what can be done if the person vanishes or just refuses to pick up your calls and just ignore you? You are still tasked with figuring out where they are located and how to contact them. So, this is where skip tracing comes into play.
Skip tracing is a legal action that involves assessing information on the subject and uncovering facts in order to locate someone and serve them with legal documents. In general, the process of skip tracing involves utilizing databases, understanding where and how to search for information, and following up on leads to find a hard-to-find person of interest. Skip tracing professionals conduct interviews and assess information about their subjects.
A common mistake that people make is to mistake skip tracing as some sort of illegal or shady activity that involves invading others’ privacy. But in reality, it is quite the opposite. In the case of skip tracing, the aim is as the name suggests. The “skip” part refers to someone intentionally disappearing or skipping town, while the “trace” part is about tracking down or tracing someone’s location. Hence, the main goal of skip tracing is to only locate someone who is hard to find.
But, what exactly is the need for skip tracing?
Skip tracing becomes necessary whenever you have a court case in which the other party cannot be located. In most instances, court cases cannot move forward until the other party has been served with legal documents. Like we’ve mentioned before, there are cases where people go to extreme lengths to avoid due process. In their effort to avoid service, they might even change addresses or jobs which would make them hard to find. Or sometimes you just might need to serve someone whose information you don’t have. In such cases, a process server can utilize skip tracing techniques to find the respective people and serve them on time.
Now that we have covered the basics of skip tracing and what it entails, let’s move on and understand all that goes into the process of skip tracing.
First, let’s talk about the people involved. Skip tracing cases can involve any person whose whereabouts are not known. However, some common types appear in these cases. Some of the most common types of people involved in skip tracing cases include:
- Witnesses for lawsuits
- Those accused of fraud
- Debtors who are in default
- Estate heirs who are missing and don’t know about their inheritance
- Defendants who are evading being located
Process servers will use skip tracing to track down any person who can’t be found, but these are some of the people commonly involved in these types of cases.
In a quest to find the individual, skip tracers usually retrieve the following kinds of information about the target:
- Phone number
- Current address
- Place of work
- ID or driver’s license number
- Social Security Number
These pieces of information can help the skip tracers to locate the person and deliver necessary legal documents for the case.
Moving on, let us now talk about the various methods that are utilized by skip tracers in their cases. A lot of skip tracing is understanding where and how to gather relevant information. Skip tracers will often conduct interviews with people who are close to their subject and engage in surveillance. They will also use the internet, searching for a subject’s online presence as well as using skip tracing software and extensive subscription-based databases not available to the general public. Another common technique that’s used is social engineering. It’s the art of cold-calling individuals who may possess information on the subject.
To understand how the various sources acquired by skip tracers are utilized and the information they provide, let’s delve into deeper detail about how they are utilized.
Databases revolutionized the skip tracing industry and are a must-have tool in one’s toolbox. Full versions of databases are often available only to attorneys. However, most databases will also have versions available to process servers that contain much of the same information. Databases will often search for information from billions of public and private records and combine them into one spot. Records will typically include information from phone companies, credit bureaus, county property records, and many other sources. There have been many debates about which databases are “best” but the truth is that all databases have their own sets of strengths and weaknesses.
While databases are great, the most common mistake in skip tracing amongst attorneys, and process servers alike is the tendency to rely too much on them. As great as they are, it’s important to recognize that computers are the ones pushing out the information and they do not have the same ability to interpret data as a live person does. Databases can sometimes provide outdated or inaccurate information, so it’s important to try and verify the information you get from a database with as many other sources as you can, before acting on it.
Any real property bought or sold in the United States must be documented at the recorder’s office in the county where the property is located. These records are usually free to view and oftentimes can be accessed online. These records typically contain very useful information including the name of the owner, when they bought or sold the property, an indication if the property is listed as owner-occupied or not, and the address where the tax bill is being sent. This is all invaluable information to the skip tracer, especially when you’re dealing with a subject who owns multiple properties because oftentimes, the address where all of the various tax bills are being sent, is where they actually live.
In this day and age, people put their entire lives on their internet, it’s actually quite ridiculous- but it can be a gold mine for skip tracers. In the process of skip tracing, there exist cases that were blown wide open all the time by information that the subject, or the subject’s family and friends post on social media. Invest some time in setting up some decoy accounts and keep in mind that you will usually be able to see more of a subject’s information if you are already connected with one of their existing connections. So, a defendant might not accept your friend request, but some of their other friends might. If their information wasn’t already public, then the second-level connection may open up access to recent places or events that they may be attending, or you may be able to locate work information. There also exist apps that help pull metadata out of photos so one can derive valuable information such as where and when the photo was taken, which may help find further leads for the skip tracer.
Post Master Locates
The idea behind post master locates is that there exists a form a person, in our case the skip tracer, can fill out and submit to the post office wherein the post office is required to tell you if a person is receiving mail at an address, if they are having their mail forwarded, or if they are not at the address provided. Usually, they would need to fax or mail the form in, but some post offices will allow people to walk it in and handle it the same day. In addition, that same form can be used to obtain the physical address the post office has on file for a P.O. box holder.
Usually, after a person has moved, the new occupants or neighbors will have some kind of information about where the person went. The question is, how do you get it? The key is in asking good questions through interrogation. More often than not, people will give up all kinds of information upon interrogation. Sure, some people won’t be interested in helping and won’t provide any information, but with diligent questioning, one can retrieve a substantial amount of information that can be used to help locate your subject.
The purpose of pretexting is to get someone to divulge information to you that they wouldn’t otherwise provide. More than one unsuspecting defendant has unknowingly provided a skip tracer with their own address. We know of drug dealers that have given up their home addresses, children who have sold out their parents with the hope of getting something for free, and neighbors that have dished details on each other thinking they were helping their friend get a new job. There are many different pretexts that can be quite effective. A skip tracer may even try doing the pretext on a random phone number just to work the bugs out. A good pretexter many times can also obtain information from businesses who may have information about your subject.
Now, upon utilizing all the aforementioned resources, the skip tracer will then be able to deduce other valuable information that might help locate the target such as:
- Driver’s license
- Credit reports
- Credit card applications
- Loan applications
- Vehicle registration departments
- Job applications
- Phone number databases
- Utility bills
- Flight records
- Department store/customer loyalty card
- Consumer fraud
- Public tax information
- Public records databases
- Air travel records
- Criminal background checks
- Courthouse records
In addition to professional process servers, there are whole companies that are dedicated to performing skip tracing. Although these companies have access to a wide variety of resources, it is not always possible to locate a person. If the subject cannot be found, then the skip tracing company will create an affidavit of diligence. This affidavit is legally admissible in a court of law and will explain to the court why the individual in question cannot be located.
On the surface, skip tracing may seem like something you can do yourself but it will cost you time, money, and energy that could be saved by working with a professional. Free internet search services can occasionally be helpful, but the best services will cost you a fee. An experienced process server and skip tracer have access to high-tech methodologies, insider information, and cutting-edge techniques. Plus, they can call upon colleagues for assistance. Perhaps most importantly, a professional skip tracer will the while abide by federal, state, and local laws, such as trespass laws and privacy laws.
Skip tracing isn’t just used for the legal process of service. People can hire a process server to conduct skip tracing for other reasons. One of the most common reasons people invest in skip tracing is to find missing relatives, such as those who have fallen out of touch or those who are suffering mental issues and have gone missing.
When you are trying to bring legal action against someone and it seems like they just disappeared – either intentionally or through circumstance – it can be frustrating. You may feel that justice is being denied to you. By hiring an experienced process server, you can find the person through skip tracing. You’ll be able to serve the legal documents necessary to continue with the case, and you can begin seeking the redress you feel you deserve.
If you are ever in need of experienced skip tracing services and process servers, then Lafayette is your answer! Contact us at 1-866-237-2853 or send us an email inquiry at [email protected]
And that wraps up our episode for today. Thank you for listening and we’ll see you next time!
The foregoing Podcast has simply been presented for informational purposes only. He or those at Lafayette Process Servers LLC, are not attorneys. If you seek further information about this topic, contact an attorney in your local area.