An Overview of the Skip Tracing Industry
Updated: Oct 31, 2019
Merriam-Webster defines a skip tracer as, “a person employed (as by an insurance company) to locate persons who disappear leaving unpaid bills.” On the surface, it’s a straight-forward definition that encapsulates everything about the skip tracing industry as well as the profession. The words have a modern connotation that most associate with computerized tracking and database searches, but it’s an industry that’s been around for centuries – and it’s never stopped evolving.
While skip tracing isn’t the world’s oldest profession, there’s no question of its longevity, or the industry’s earliest form – tax collectors. Oftentimes, it was one duty among several for a public official. The Romans called them publicans, the medieval English, reeves, and the Swedish kings, fogde. Whatever they were called, all performed the same function, and all grappled with a universal truth: nobody likes paying taxes.
The same is often true when repaying any form of debt, and the tax collectors and money lenders found that turning to an outside source to locate vanishing debtors was their only recourse.
Professional Skip Tracers
In the modern world, skip tracers often work for industries outside of the taxation and financial sectors. Debt collectors and collection agencies remain the leader, of course, but repossession agents, private investigators, process servers, bail bondsman, and bounty hunters all use similar tactics when locating an individual.
Oftentimes, the person being traced is avoiding discovery, but this isn’t always the case. Skip tracing methods also play a role in locating missing estate heirs or absent court defendants and witnesses. Curiously, the real estate market has made use of skip tracing methodologies to locate property holders that agents believe are motivated sellers.
The Basics of Skip Tracing
Skip tracing hinges on one word, information, and its relationship to three key concepts: gathering, analysis, and verification.
Skip tracers derive information from numerous sources. Initially, the data is likely received from a client, but a professional skip tracer typically uses a number of sources. This includes searching information both publicly and privately available, such as phone directories, or massive, and exceptionally detailed, databases they’ve purchased access to. Depending on the context of the search, a skip tracer’s investigation can require delving into marriage and business licenses, permits, such as hunting or building, or property records – all of them can play a role in the location of an individual, and a determined professional builds their informational profile piece by piece.
Recently, social media has become one of the most powerful tools available. Smartphones and ease of access made virtual personas part of our daily routine, and many people, even those who wish to avoid being found, post personal information or fail to make the best use their privacy settings.
Typically, skip tracers check the information provided by the client to confirm the subject’s identity, and to determine its accuracy. This is one of the most painstaking steps of the skip tracing process. Every piece of gathered information must be examined, and skip tracers do this through numerous ways, comparing databases and addresses indices, for example, or by the most old-fashioned of methods: on-site, personal investigation.
Private detectives, bail bondsman, and bounty hunters may visit a location or address, knocking on doors, speaking with neighbors, friends, or relatives.
The goal of every skip trace is the same: locating an individual. Once a skip tracer has gathered and verified their information, they have to rationalize their work or assemble it in a fashion they can submit to a client. This, hopefully, includes an up to date, verified address, name, phone number, and place of employment.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible. Perhaps the person was located, but deceased, or worse, the investigation used all available resources only to meet the proverbial dead end. Provided they performed their due diligence, the client may not be at a total loss. If the information has been thoroughly verified, the client now possesses a report that can be used in the future. Should anything new regarding the case surface, the client can fit the information into known, verified facts, and a picture could emerge that leads to an individual’s location.