Skip tracing (also known as debtor and fugitive recovery or skiptrace) is the act of pinpointing a person’s whereabouts. Skip refers to the person who is being located, derived from the phrase “to skip town.” Tracing (used as a verb) is the act of locating the person who “skipped.”
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Who Uses Skip Tracing?
Skip tracers can be any of the following kinds of people:
- Private investigators
- Debt collectors
- Bail bondsmen
- Collection agencies
- Bounty hunters
- Repossession agents
- Process servers
- Most importantly, real estate agents!
Other professions can also use skip tracing techniques, like law enforcement and journalists. These techniques can also be used in illegal ways—by a stalker, for example. Similar methods are employed in criminal cases to locate witnesses.
Real estate investors can even use some of these techniques in finding motivated sellers for direct mail. Skip tracing techniques are used in any case when someone is trying to locate a person whose contact is not readily available.
Note: Skip tracing and bounty hunting are often mistaken as one in the same. Although a bounty hunter in the field of bail bonds uses skip tracing techniques, a skip tracer is not necessarily working to locate fugitives. Bounty hunters are paid to locate individuals who have skipped bail. Skip tracers can be hired by any number of clients looking to locate an individual who cannot be found.
Skip Tracing, Broken Down
The first step in skip tracing is to check the information given by the client to confirm who the subject is and that the information provided is accurate. Then, the skip tracer will collect as much information as possible on the subject.
The information is then verified and analyzed, and reduced to helpful facts. This means, the tracer must weed out all of the irrelevant and false information. No alternative facts here!
Much of this job is done at a computer, but there is a lot of social engineering required as well. Acting like a private investigator, one must visit former neighbors, employers and associates to gain more information.
Since the “skip” is evading being found for a reason, this must usually be done under disguise or misleading pretenses.
The skip tracer must use any and all of the following records to gather contact information:
- Phone number databases
- Credit reports
- Credit card applications
- Loan applications
- Debt collection databases
- Criminal background checks
- Utility bills (cable, electricity, gas, water, sewage, phone and internet)
- Social security number
- Public records such as tax information
- Job applications
- Courthouse records
- Department store loyalty cards
- Travel records and plane tickets
- Driver’s license
- Vehicle registrations
Turning Over Rocks
The days of dumpster diving are over. Today, most skip tracers employ paid search sites to access these records. While some are public record, some are considered private information and can only be accessed with a search warrant (typically only available to law enforcement).
Licensed private investigators can garner search warrants, as well. So, the level of certification can affect the level of information available. Generally, information available via public databases is as follows:
- Employment departments (provides recent name, address, and salary)
- Department of Motor Vehicles (provides name and address)
- The IRS (provides name, address, and assets)
- Utility records
- Licenses (such as marriage or business)
- Building Permits
Another tool for savvy skip tracers today is social media. They can use a skip’s Facebook and Instagram page to locate check-ins and identify common friends and associates.
For professionals, paid sites are the way to go, and they can range from $5 per month to $70 per month based on the power of the program and the number of reports needed. Here are some popular paid databases:
Of course, there are many, many more online services available at the click of a mouse. While most of them require a subscription or a per-search fee, some do let you search limited search results for free.
How to Become a Skip Tracer
So, you want to be a skip tracer? Well, just send your application in to Skip University and wait for your acceptance letter. Just kidding…There is no formal training requirements for skip tracers. That said, you should still do some research.
Know Your Laws
First, those who want to practice skip tracing professionally should study state and federal laws concerning surveillance and privacy. You don’t want to violate someones rights in the process and become the person skipping bail yourself.
Where To Work
There are lots of industries who employ skip tracers: debt collection agencies, investigative firms and law enforcement agencies, to name a few. That said, it is wise to become specialized in one area of skip tracing, like bounty hunting or debt collection, at least at first.
Most skip tracers hone their skills on the job working for private investigation firms or collection agencies.
Be Well Rounded
Skip tracers need to have a little bit of everything, skill wise. You must be computer savvy and talented in research. Meanwhile, you must be able to work with others and communicate with people. Good investigative intuition and interview skills are a must.
If you prefer formal training to reading up on your own or learning on the job, there are some professional associations that offer training. The National Association of Fugitive Recovery Agents and the American Recovery Association Inc. are two examples.
Why Companies Use Skip Tracers
With the internet, there is a lot of public information available via a quick search. There are several ways companies can use paid automated skip tracing databases without involving a collection. They can use batch interfacing to process debtors information.
In this method, a debt collector would compile the information of several debtors and match it up against their database to yield any information readily available. A database provider can also process requests through real-time interfacing. The database provider, in this case, will do a search for you.
That said, pre-paid databases can only go so far, and a person is required to do the research. Some companies, in this case, will hire skip tracers on a freelance basis. Some, like debt collectors and bail bonds agencies will hire workers on a salaried or hourly basis.
How Much Do Skip Tracers Make?
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, skip tracers are organized as bill and account collectors. In 2010, the median salary was about $31,000, with top earners making up to $50,000.
Because the type of skip tracing can vary widely, the salary features a wide range, as well. You can work for $10 per hour for a debt collector, while an experienced private investigator can make up to $90,000. Overall, the average skip tracer can expect to make about $35,000, per year.
There’s a lot more to skip tracing than bounty hunting. When a “skip” evades payment, the tracer helps track his/her whereabouts by enlisting investigative techniques. If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a skip tracer, brush up on your knowledge of local privacy law.
Alternatively, you can use these resources to further your real estate investment goals. Just be careful that you stay within the law, and that you fully understand what you are getting yourself into.