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What is Skip Tracing?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 23, 2024
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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.

General Process

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.

Time Commitment

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.

Skills Required

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.

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Discussion Comments
By anon316868 — On Jan 30, 2013

How long do skip tracers usually search? I know someone who skipped out on bond from a DUI charge. This person supposedly has no bank account, doesn't drive, and uses prepaid phones. How long does a bondsman search before it just becomes more expensive than the bond?

By anon290029 — On Sep 07, 2012

You should just leave people alone, they, like you, are going to die. "Responsibility" seems to be the big thing here; people are not holding up their responsibilities, but it's not always black and white.

For example, my friend is on the run from the IRS and other government departments. Why? Because he met a girl, who said she was on the pill to not get pregnant, and he had protection also, but his failed, and she obviously didn't have protection. That's right: she deliberately wanted to get pregnant, to get the benefits. So she apologizes and my friend gives this girl another chance, with one condition: that she doesn't ever do it again. But guess what? She did it again and rubbed it in his face. Now my friend, who cannot work and cannot make a proper living, is on the run.

I agree that he should not pay. I am a woman, and I think that I do not have sole right to dictate to whether to bring a child into the world. The kicker is that this woman and my friend made an agreement on his terms, that if she did get pregnant for what ever reason, she was to have an abortion, or take full responsibility. Guess what? She changed her mind! She got lawyers and her bitter, divorced mother involved and they tracked him down using the law.

Now my friend, who was a really hard worker, saver and going to university, has limited choices because of the selfishness of one stupid woman's choice to have babies to get the benefit. She tried to trap him, and it worked. My friend has no choice but to run. Why should he pay for kids he didn't want? You cannot say that it is his fault because it takes two to tango. He knew this, and prepared a verbal contract, but she broke it. He has talked to the politicians, and they know its an issue, but my friend only fits into a small percentage. The emotional guilt he also has to bear knowing those kids are out there was not his choice, and you can't force someone to be responsible for something he didn't want, emotionally and/or financially.

His life now is ruined, unless he wins the lotto, or something like that, or he meets a partner who has a huge salary. I love this guy, but he won't be with me because he'd rather I have a brighter future with someone else. He literally feels raped by everyone. Things could happen, but it seems everyone just complains about money.

We do live in a money-based world, but one should never live a life at the expense of another. Give fathers more rights, I say. My friend deserves to have the right to have further offspring with a woman like me whom he can be happy providing for, not forced to pay for kids he didn't want and will never have anything to ever do with, because working for children that you didn't want is entrapment. It is clearly not his fault, and there is nothing he can do about it. I know when I work a 60 hour week, I do not want to see transactions for something I was trapped into buying.

So, when hunting people down who honestly skip paying for their cars, stereos, rent and things of that nature, fine, (but don't forget the social issues along with that) but when it comes to people like my friend, who is a really good person, not just because I love him, but because he is, he should be left alone, because now he is just in a financial jail of debt forced on him by all those stupid women out there who have sad, soppy stories, (even though some are really legitimate) who are just really out to get the money, and their children's human development is ruined because all they got pregnant for was to receive free money from the taxpayers. It makes me sick! My friend might as well be dead. If we do nothing to stop this type of thing, then we are part of the problem also!

We need to change the laws. Everybody needs to have a good quality of life, "even the "so called" "deadbeat dad"!

By anon232130 — On Nov 29, 2011

@Anon30833: I was behind on my car payment - moved from NY to TX and drove my car just fine with out of state registration and drivers license for one year. At which point I'd found a job, permanent place to live, etc. Traded my car in with Nissan - they handled everything with the previous finance company and life is good.

By psalgado — On Jul 22, 2011

Where can I find a job as a skip tracer? I'm very interested in working from home, I love working on the internet, I'm naturally inquisitive and find this job very interesting. I have a University degree but I'm new to this particular field. Any thoughts on the kind of person it takes to do this job well?

By anon125565 — On Nov 09, 2010

Yes people can be found, and with the internet and its resources people are easier to find than ever before. I run a small repo business and I do three to five a week. Usually one or two of those I have to track down through various means. If you do anything at all using electronic means, you can be found.

By anon103059 — On Aug 10, 2010

Skip Tracers should know the law. It is still illegal to call people and defraud them into thinking that they have a fraud case with their county. It's amazing that people still don't know the law. LOL!

My advice: Just tell them to put it on your credit because if you take the collateral then you're not getting paid anyway. Does anyone else see the logic in that?

If they aren't paying you when they have it, what makes you think they'll pay the collector after you take it. Just get the property, call it a loss, and put it on a credit report. Case closed, end of story.

And here's a word of advice: depending on what state you live in, the debtor can actually file charges against the skip tracer and the collector for harassment, regardless of the reasons behind it. At least in my state. I know because I've won two suits and have another pending. Know your rights, people. Know your rights.

By anon91700 — On Jun 23, 2010

anon55770, a skip tracing list isn't like a marketing list. If you're on a skip tracing list, then they are trying to find you for a reason (outstanding fines, repayments etc).

By anon86687 — On May 26, 2010

i do skip tracing for a living. anyone can be located with the right information. anon 30833 you're better off trying to work with the finance company. The repo man will find you, believe me.

By anon73357 — On Mar 26, 2010

There is just 1 question I'd love to see answered on here! How does one learn the art of skip tracing? And where does one apply for work as such? Thank you.

By anon70664 — On Mar 15, 2010

anon30833: you will be found. don't try to run- just give it up and get a new car.

By anon57903 — On Dec 28, 2009

help! I have hit a dead end on this skip trace.

My dead beat ex is on the run. He has a post office box and the server wants $60 an hour to wait till he shows to serve him.

There is nothing else on him. They have a social, relatives' addresses, and he's even on face book.

I'm running out of money trying to get this guy.

By anon55770 — On Dec 09, 2009

Can you get yourself taken off a skip tracing list?

By anon50987 — On Nov 02, 2009

yes, if you get an apartment in your name it will nick your credit as well as getting utilities in your name. i can find you if i had your name and social if you do all that. get the apartment in someone else's name and put the utilities in a business name. make sure someone else purchases the business license in their name and make sure you don't i repeat don't, use any credit cards or cell phones unless they are prepaid. that should throw them off for a while but they will soon find out who you are working for.

By anon48119 — On Oct 09, 2009

I am divorced and the court order awarded me a portion of my ex-husband's earnings as well as a flat amount each month. I know where he lives but I can't find out if he is working. I know his social security number. Can skip tracing help me find out where he is working?

By anon30833 — On Apr 25, 2009

I am behind on my car payment and they are trying to repo the vehicle. I need to relocate to be able to earn the money to pay them. How long after moving into a new apartment in a different city do I have before they once again find me?

By anon24807 — On Jan 18, 2009


the answer to your questions is yes, skiptracers will locate information for you if you ask them to. there are people who will help you collect your money for a fee also.

By anon22309 — On Dec 01, 2008

Can skip tracing locate assets such as open bank accounts, vehicles, boats, etc?

I have a judgment, know where they live, but am trying to collect on the judgment.

By anon12526 — On May 08, 2008

Can a skip tracer use this to find people who has unclaimed money?

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