What is Skip Tracing and How Does it Work?

Skip tracing is an essential practice in a wide range of professional fields. From debt collection and legal proceedings to private investigations and missing persons cases, skip tracing is an invaluable tool.

The term itself might evoke intrigue, but it’s a straightforward (although often complex) field. In most cases, skip tracing is performed using a variety of research methods, but some matters require surveillance, international tracking and work in the field.

In this article, we’ll learn more about skip tracing, how it works and why you would need to engage a third party skip tracing service.

What is Skip Tracing?

Skip tracing is the process of locating a person’s whereabouts for various purposes. It‘s a technique that’s often used by private investigators, debt collectors, law enforcement and other professionals to find individuals who have moved or gone “off the grid.”

The term “skip” refers to the person being sought. That person has “skipped” town. This is often intentional (i.e. someone avoiding being found), but it can also be accidental. For instance, if you move home and forget to inform a local company you do business with, they may need to use skip tracing to find you.

Skip tracing requires a combination of investigative skills, knowledge of available resources and sometimes even advanced technology. It’s important to note that skip tracing should be conducted within the bounds of the law and with respect for individuals’ privacy rights. Various legal and ethical considerations come into play when attempting to locate someone.

How Does Skip Tracing Work?

Skip tracing involves gathering information from various sources to track down the individual. The way this is done varies widely between jurisdictions and depends largely on the resources and local legalities of skip tracing.

Depending on where you are, tracing someone who has skipped town may involve:

  • Public records – Accessing public records such as property records, court records, and marriage or divorce records to gather information about the person.
  • Social media – Checking social media platforms for any information or updates the person may have posted.
  • Utility records – Examining utility bills, phone records, or other similar documents that might contain contact information.
  • Credit reports – Reviewing credit reports to find recent addresses or other relevant details.
  • Interviews and surveillance – Speaking to friends, family members, neighbours, or colleagues who may have information about the person’s whereabouts. Surveillance may also be employed in some cases.
  • Online databases – Using specialised databases and online search tools to collect information.

Skip tracing services often have access to specialised software that contains information about individuals. These databases blend public and private information, so they aren’t available to unlicensed practitioners.

The Legalities of Skip Tracing

Skip tracing itself is a legal practice when conducted within the bounds of the law and with respect for individuals’ privacy rights. It is a common tool used by various professionals, including private investigators, debt collectors, law enforcement, and legal professionals, to locate individuals for legitimate purposes.

However, the legality of skip tracing depends on how it is carried out and whether it adheres to applicable laws and regulations. Some key considerations include:

  • Privacy laws – Skip tracers must comply with privacy laws that protect individuals from unwarranted intrusion into their personal lives. These vary from one jurisdiction to the next, so it’s up to skip tracing providers in your area to understand their local laws.
  • Debt collection practices – Debt collectors must adhere to local regulations about how, when and why debtors can be contacted or pursued. Since skip tracing is often used by creditors seeking satisfaction, the skip tracing needs to be conducted in line with debt collection laws.
  • Consent – In some cases, obtaining the consent of the individual being traced is required. However, this may not always be practical or possible, especially if the person is intentionally evading detection.
  • Harassment laws – Skip tracers must avoid engaging in any behaviour that could be construed as harassment or stalking. Laws vary, but generally, individuals have a right to be free from undue harassment.

When Would You Utilise Skip Tracing Services?

Skip tracing services may be required in various situations where locating an individual is challenging or necessary for legitimate purposes. Here are some common scenarios in which skip tracing services might be needed:

  • Debt collection – Debt collectors may use skip tracing to locate individuals who have moved or changed their contact information to recover outstanding debts.
  • Legal proceedings – Attorneys and legal professionals may need to locate individuals for legal proceedings, such as serving legal documents, court summons, or subpoenas.
  • Missing persons – Skip tracing is often employed to find missing persons, whether they are runaways, estranged family members, or individuals involved in custody disputes.
  • Insurance – Insurance companies may use skip tracing to locate policyholders or individuals involved in insurance claims investigations.
  • Bail recovery – Skip tracing is commonly used by bail bondsmen to locate individuals who have skipped bail and failed to appear in court.
  • Asset repossession – Skip tracing can be essential in the process of recovering assets, especially when dealing with individuals who may have concealed their financial information.
  • Document serving – Skip tracers may be employed to locate individuals who need to be served with legal documents, such as divorce papers or restraining orders.
  • Employment screening – Employers may use skip tracing to verify the accuracy of information provided by job applicants, especially when discrepancies or concerns arise during the hiring process.
  • Private investigations – Private investigators may use skip tracing as part of broader investigations, including those related to fraud, infidelity, or other personal matters.

There are dozens of reasons why you may contract a skip tracing service. When engaging a third party, make sure to explain the nature of complaint legally so that they can conduct their business fairly, ethically and legally.