Skip tracing is a process used to find someone who is missing. It generally requires gathering, organizing and analyzing large amounts of data on an individual to make a conclusion about where he might be. Professionals typically carry out these activities, although anyone technically can do it to some degree. Done most commonly to find people to rekindle relationships or handle legal and financial situations, it usually involves a fee, but improvements in technology have made it easier to do, reducing costs.
During this process, a person typically looks for information through common resources such as telephone books. If these don't show where the missing individual is, the investigator usually tries to access documents that might take a little extra work or money to get to, such as court files, property and motor vehicle records or electronic databases, such as those held by law enforcement or government agencies. Throughout the data collection, he generally tries to verify everything he finds before deciding what to do next, because looking into false leads can waste time and money or give an inaccurate picture of someone's location. He might travel to where he thinks the missing person is living to make sure he is right. Throughout these steps, he may give updates to the people who want or need to know how the case is going.
With a lot of information available to people through public records, the average person can do amateur skip tracing on his own. People often do this when they want to find long-lost relatives, for example. In some cases, however, such as if a person is purposely trying not to be found for some reason, or if someone simply does not have a lot of time to give to the search, it is better to hire a professional to do the investigating. These workers typically are more efficient because they have more experience, and they often have good relationships with police or other civil officers. They sometimes have jobs with government agencies, which often can help get the skip tracer through legal obstacles or provide additional resources to move the case forward.
Reasons for Performance
Amateur and professional investigators often turn to these methods when friends or family have lost touch and are having trouble reconnecting. They also use them when trying to find someone who owes a debt of some kind, or when a person needs to provide court testimony or is avoiding legal charges or trials. Sometimes, people need to be found because they are beneficiaries to an estate or other property and aren't aware of their inheritance.
Role of Technology
In the past, skip tracing required people to do much of their records searching manually, with investigators frequently having to go in person to get what they needed. As technology has changed, however, this has shifted drastically, making the process less expensive and more efficient. In some cases, for example, instead of going to a court office, a person can get documents by filing an electronic request from the comfort of his own office or home. Additionally, computer databases, combined with high-tech forensic techniques and tools, make accurately confirming an identity much easier.
Expense and Payment Options
Even when an amateur does it, skip tracing can run up a pretty big bill, as many information websites or services charge a fee to look up or deliver documents or electronic records. Having someone else do the work usually produces results faster and can prevent some stress, but it means that a person has to pay the investigator's fees on top of any records service charges, making this option more expensive. Someone who is considering hiring a professional has to think about the value associated with finding the person who has gone missing to figure out whether paying the fees is worth it.
Those who use skip tracing techniques usually offer three ways to pay: flat, budgeted and any expense. The first choice usually means that the person doing the work will charge a single rate that doesn't vary over time. Sometimes, individuals in this line of business will provide a reduced flat fee, or not charge at all, if they cannot find the missing person. Services included under this type of billing typically include checking CD-ROMs and online routes such as credit card bureaus.
In a budgeted fee payment, a client states the amount he is willing to pay. He then pays by the hour until he reaches the spending limit he's set. As with a flat fee, the advantage of this option is that the buyer knows from the start how much money will be involved, but in many cases, a person runs out of cash before the investigator can pursue all the available leads.
Individuals use the any expense option, also known as find them no matter what the cost, when time and money is not a concern when locating the missing person. The investigator uses every technique he knows to get a good result, halting efforts only when he has exhausted all search avenues. Large businesses often pick this choice when someone has skipped out on debts, but wealthy individuals sometimes use it, as well.
The amount of time that passes before a missing person is found with these techniques varies quite a bit. If the case is relatively uncomplicated and involves someone who isn't trying to hide, it can take just a few days to wrap things up. In other instances, though, investigators can work on finding someone for years, especially when trying to find wanted fugitives. When the person is finally discovered after this amount of time, it is usually a surprise to him and to the community in which he's established himself.
Someone who wants to do skip tracing needs excellent research, organization and analytical skills in order to get and sort through all the data involved in a case. Much of the information these workers use comes from speaking or interacting with others, so typically, social skills also are also important. It is also sometimes necessary for a person doing a search to "keep cover" or not reveal his real identity, so the ability to act, blend in and create initial trust within the limits of pretexting laws matters, as well.