Judgment Recovery Case Study: The “Eyes” Have It

Have you ever found yourself wondering what sort of issues bring people to court? There’s the usual run of the mill stuff… unpaid loans, property disputes, evictions – and all that. But every now and then a case comes along that just goes to show that sometimes there’s nothing mundane about civil disputes.

Consider the following case, where Janet Lawrence responded to an advertisement at a local tattoo parlor for a cosmetic procedure. Ms. Lawrence had long been thinking about permanent eyebrow application, which is generally done via tattoo. Initially, all went well and Ms. Lawrence was very satisfied with the results. A few days later told a different story, however, as an infection had set in. The consequences were, let us say… less than attractive. It also caused permanent disfigurement and scarring. According to Janet’s doctor, this type of infection was usually caused from exposure to dirty or poorly sterilized equipment.

After unsuccessfully seeking reimbursement from the tattoo parlor for the cost of the initial procedure and her medical bills, Ms. Lawrence took the tattoo parlor to court and was awarded a $2,400.00 judgment.

Some general statistics about this case: By the time it had been assigned to me, the judgment was 8 years old. In this state, judgments are enforceable for a period of 10 years, and can be renewed indefinitely. Interest was also accruing at the legal rate of 10%, so by this time the actual amount due was approximately $3,600 (and change), and accruing interest at the rate of $0.65 per day.

The first order of business was to find out if the tattoo parlor was still up and running. After a quick check with the city’s business licensing department, it was no surprise to learn that the business had gone under years ago. Not too shocking, considering their methods of operation left a lot to be desired. It wasn’t a total loss, though, because I was able to determine that the business was structured as a sole proprietorship – or ‘D/B/A’ – rather than an LLC, a corporation, or other separately structured entity.

A little background information will help you understand the critical differences when it comes to how businesses are structured. A sole proprietorship (D/B/A) is simply an individual person operating under an assumed business name – legally it’s just an extension of the person. This is important because it means that even if the business is not still operating, the individual person is still responsible for the debts incurred under the business name. The same is not true of an LLC or other incorporated entity. That type of business is considered a completely separate entity – like a whole other ‘person’ – in which case, the officer(s) of the LLC or corporation would not be responsible for the debts incurred by the business.

Why is this important? It means that even though the business failed, I can still enforce the judgment against the owner, Jake Morris. And that’s exactly what I proceeded to do. But wait – it gets better!

I started with my usual due diligence, which is generally always the same. If you missed that in last week’s case study, you can read about it here: http://www.recoverycourse.com/blog/?p=94

While researching the debtor, Jake Morris, I learned that he’d set up shop again a couple of years ago, across town in a new location. Again I checked on the business status, and yes – another sole proprietorship. This was excellent news, because it meant that now I could not only proceed with the seizure of any assets owned by Jake Morris, but also his new tattoo parlor.

There are many ways I could have gone with this case. I could have spent time and resources finding property, bank account(s), and other personal assets belonging to Morris, but rather than waste valuable time and expense, I decided to go right for the jugular: the new business.

Surely having had to cope with a lingering bad rap from his last tattoo parlor, I anticipated the fastest way to make Morris pay would be to use some heavy-duty legal intimidation. I could have seized business equipment or bank accounts – because technically they all were Jake Morris’ property – but instead I went for the most sure-fire way to make him pay.

After having the court issue a writ of execution, I delivered my specific instructions to the County Sheriff’s levying officer. The County Sheriff’s office has a civil department that is dedicated specifically to acting on the instructions of judgment creditors to seize assets.

On Friday (which I assumed would be one of the tattoo parlor’s busier days), soon after opening, a Sheriff’s Deputy strolled through the door in full uniform. He served Morris with a copy of his official paperwork, notifying him that anything in his cash register was being taken to satisfy the judgment. Then the Deputy proceeded to take up station behind the register, and prepared to remain there for the next eight hours, intercepting any payments that customers would be making that day. This is referred to as a ‘Keeper.’

Although I wasn’t there to personally witness, I’m told by the deputy that Morris had a check in hand for the full amount of the judgment in less than five minutes. Have a nice day, sir.

Next week I’ll send the third installment of this series; a case study involving a company that sued another company, and the details that led to not only a great resolution, but an ongoing business relationship that’s still active today.

As usual, I welcome any comments or questions.

Warm Regards,


Christina Smiley
Sierra Judgment Recovery
SJR Strategic Research

Please note: I am not an attorney, nor do I aspire to be one. If you need legal advice, please consult qualified legal counsel.

Judgment Recovery Case Study: Hot Diggity Dog

People ask me what my day-to-day routine is like running my business – to which my response is always, “No two days are ever the same!” But I also know that wrapping your head around a new concept like judgment recovery can be a little mysterious to anyone who isn’t actually in the field.

For me, personally, real-life examples have always been the best way to grasp what something’s all about – so following is the first of three case studies that I’ll be sending you. These are actual judgment recovery cases, though I’ve changed the names for privacy purposes. This first case involves a judgment that was awarded to an individual person, against another individual.

To summarize the events leading up to the judgment, John Bennett’s Saint Bernard dug out from under his fence and proceeded to completely destroy his neighbor, Tom Campbell’s flower beds. Did someone bury a bone under there? Maybe it was the fertilizer… we’ll just never know. Unfortunately, Mr. Campbell had just spent thousands of dollars for professional landscaping and design. Needless to say,  when Mr. Bennett made it clear that he wasn’t inclined to pay for his dog’s tip-toe through the tulips, Mr. Campbell took Mr. Bennett to court to sue for compensation. A judgment was awarded to Mr. Campbell for $6,000.00.


To get right to the heart of the matter, we’ll pick this up from the point where the judgment has already been assigned, which was six years after it was awarded. We negotiated that I would enforce the judgment, keeping half of what I collected, and send the other half to Mr. Campbell as payment for the judgment. If you’re interested in the marketing process, you can read my article about that here: Marketing a Judgment Recovery Business

These cases all start out in much the same way. When the documents to assign the judgment were mailed to Mr. Campbell for a signature, I included a ‘Debtor Profile Worksheet’ – which is a tool I use to find out any and all information Mr. Campbell may have about Mr. Bennett (the judgment debtor). In this particular case, I received nothing more from Mr. Campbell other than Mr. Bennett’s name and old mailing address. That’s okay. That’s enough to start the pre-screening process.

Before I really got the ball rolling, I had to be sure I was pursuing the correct person and that I was aware of any potential aliases John Bennett was using. I also needed to get an idea about where I should start looking, so my first step was to use a credit header report to locate Bennett’s social security number, date of birth, and a reasonably current address. Seriously – with the right tools and resources all you need is a name and address to nail down this information.

Next, as part of my due diligence, I checked to make sure that the judgment hadn’t been included in any bankruptcy discharge. This, too, is a very basic and simple search. Bankruptcy filings can be a goldmine of information – so long as the actual debt wasn’t included in the discharge of debts. Bennett hadn’t filed any bankruptcy proceedings, so after that, I was good to go.

Since I always try to start with resources that are free – because let’s face it, free is good – I ‘Googled’ John Bennett to see if I could dig up anything floating around the Internet. You’d really be surprised at what’s out there… Newspaper articles, genealogies, LinkedIn, FaceBook profiles – just to name a few.

Unfortunately, this time I didn’t hit pay dirt. So next I turned to free public records to see if Bennett currently owned any real estate or businesses. Nada. I wasn’t discouraged, though, it’s all just part of the process. It was time to pull out the big guns, which in this case, was a full consumer credit report. This isn’t the same thing as a credit header report… It reveals much more information about the debtor, including credit history, any collections, and often employment information.

The consumer credit report revealed that Bennett was working at the local power plant. I called the plant’s Human Resource Department to make sure Mr. Bennett was still gainfully employed. Happily, he was still there. In which case I decided my best option was a wage garnishment. In my state, I am entitled to 25% of his paycheck.

To get it all started, I had the court issue a writ of execution. This is basically a document from the court that verifies facts about the case (how much the judgment is and when it was awarded, how much interest has accrued, who the parties are, etc.). It serves as my ‘permission’ from the court to garnish Bennett’s wages or to seize any other asset I can find. I completed and delivered all the paperwork for my garnishment and paid my filing and levying fees.

If you’re wondering about the costs I incurred in this case, they are as follows:

Credit Header Report:  $1.50
Bankruptcy Check:  $0.15
Consumer Credit Report: $15.00
Writ of Execution: $15.00
Wage Garnishment Fee: $25.00

TOTAL:  $56.65

My wage garnishment went off without a hitch. Every time Bennett was paid by his employer, I was also mailed a check for 25% of his disposable income. Because I was receiving checks every week (and these tend to pile up when you have 15 or 20 garnishments from different cases going at one time), I opted to send Mr. Campbell, the original judgment holder, quarterly payments – simply to avoid any unnecessary bookkeeping gymnastics.

At this point, I could have invested a little more elbow grease to locate Mr. Bennett’s bank account and taken that too, but steady payments from garnishments are a great source of residual income. Now that I had that going, it was pretty much on auto-pilot, so I could free up my time and attention for other cases.

Next week I’ll send the second installment of this series; a case study involving an individual person that sued a company, and the details that led to that particular happy ending.

As usual, I welcome any comments or questions.

Warm Regards,


Christina Smiley
Sierra Judgment Recovery
SJR Strategic Research

Please note: I am not an attorney, nor do I aspire to be one. If you need legal advice, please consult qualified legal counsel.

9 Free Online Public Record Resources

These days, nearly anything you want or need to know can be found online through public records research. While these records have always been made available to the public, with the evolution of the Internet we can now simply log on to a website to conduct research that used to take hours and hours of legwork.

Now admit it – you’ve probably tried to find someone online before… perhaps an old friend or a lost relative (hopefully you’re not stalking – because I would NEVER condone that). Usually what happens is some website pops up telling you that you can “Click Here” to find out everything you want to know about your subject. For a fee.

Don’t get suckered into paying a fee! Why pay for information that you can get free of charge, if you know where to look? Here are just some of the resources at your disposal that don’t cost a dime.

1. Business Records

To look up information about a corporation, an LLC, or other business entity, most states offer searches through the Secretary of State’s Office. You can find out what the business structure is, the status (active, suspended or dissolved), the name and address of the registered agent for service of process, the name of the primary officer(s) and the address of the business. Many databases will also show any UCC liens filed against the company. For sole proprietorships or standard partnerships (DBA – or “Doing Business As”) try searching in a specific county. These records are typically maintained by the County Clerk.

2. Court Records

Many states offer online access to all manner of court records. Civil cases, traffic records (even parking tickets), family court records and bankruptcy filings are all public record. Some states offer statewide access, while others only offer access in specific counties. Bankruptcy filings are searchable through US District courts.

3. Criminal Records, Inmates and Arrest Warrants

If you’ve ever wondered or worried if someone has a criminal record, is in jail, is a registered sex offender or has outstanding warrants – there are many databases that allow you to investigate this for yourself. Most of these databases are state specific and searchable either by county or statewide. Federal inmates are searchable through the Federal Bureau of Prisons. You can also search databases to find immigration detainees and interstate probationers and parolees.

4. Property Records

Property records are searchable by the county the property is located in. You can usually conduct a search by the owner’s name or the property address. Information about properties will typically include current and previous owners, real estate transactions, the assessed value of the property, the parcel number and any existing liens on the property. These records are made available through the county tax assessor and/or the county recorder’s office.

5. Professional Licenses

There are hundreds of professions and occupations which require licensing through the state. Among these are accountants, doctors, barbers and cosmetologists, child care providers, auto repair facilities, pharmacists, nurses, contractors – and many, many more. You can search for information about a person or company through the states’ Department of Consumer Affairs or State Licensing Board.

6. Voter Registrations

Voter registration records can help you to identify the whereabouts of anyone who routinely votes. You can even search to identify federal campaign contributors. Some counties keep independent voter registration databases, but most states keep these records through the Secretary of State. If you’re starting to feel a little paranoid – don’t worry! These databases typically only give the voter’s polling place – not the voter’s home address.

7. Death Records

Death records are tracked by the Social Security Administration’s death index, although some counties will offer records specific to a certain county, which are maintained by the county coroner. There are even databases listing deceased persons who are ‘unclaimed’ for whom a next of kin could not be found, as well as those that list cold case homicides.

8. Aviation Records

If the subject of your search is a pilot, or owns an aircraft, you can use the Federal Aviation Administration’s database to search by the owner or pilot’s name or aircraft “N” number.

9. Other Federal Records

FDIC Bank Locator; Active Duty Military Personnel; Ham Radio licenses; Banks Mega Search (information on active/extinct banks due to merger, acquisition, name change or failure); Cults; Federal employees; Interstate truckers/companies; IRS recognized charities; Nursing homes; Unclaimed/lost US savings bonds.

Okay, so that’s a lot of information, and it’s really just the tip of the iceberg! You could spend hours searching for all of these independently, but I recommend using a public records “portal,” such as Black Book Online. It’s FREE. Remember, if a site wants you to pay for this information – click away.

Happy researching!


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Skip Tracing Online: 7 Basic Steps

When I actually started writing this final installment of the Skip Tracing Series, it soon became apparent that there is – by far – too much material to cover in a blog post. This is the “meaty” part, and it quickly went from being a 10 ounce New York Strip to a hefty 5 pound hunk of steaming beef. That being the case, I made an effort to whittle it down to methods using free online resources to conduct a simple skip trace. Still, I apologize in advance for the length of the article.

To re-cap, you should by now understand what a ‘skip trace’ is, as well as how to build a profile of your subject. If you missed those earlier articles, you’ll find them here: www.recoverycourse.com/blog.

When trying to find most targets, these basic techniques will locate the average person 90% of the time. By ‘average person’ I mean someone who isn’t necessarily trying to remain unfound. For those who are intentionally hiding, it can sometimes be a bit more complicated.

If I were actually discussing the hard-core skip tracing methods used to locate a judgment debtor who doesn’t want to be found, these techniques would be much more in-depth, and involve a number of private information sources (like credit reports and banking detail reports). Even so, the following steps are still used as a jumping-off point when enforcing judgments to locate the basic whereabouts of the judgment debtor… and they are absolutely free.

At the start, you’ll want to begin with the most obvious way to locate your target, moving progressively forward using more involved processes. Be forewarned however, sometimes following a lead can be just like Alice chasing the White Rabbit down a hole into Wonderland… Don’t be afraid to follow, but try to keep your head.

Basic Skip Tracing Steps

Diving right in – these are the basic (and sometimes obvious) methods used to locate your subject. These methods should be used in conjunction with the profile you’ve already assembled, and remember to fill in or update any of the information about your subject in your worksheet as you go along.

Step 1 – Build a Profile

As discussed in my previous article, your profile should be completed with as much information about your subject as possible. Now it’s time to get busy filling in some of the blanks.

Step 2 – Is your subject living?

I know it’s a little morbid, but this is the first step to take in any skip trace. You can determine whether or not your target is still alive using the Social Security Death Records database (or SSDI). While you would think that you should be able to access the index from the Social Security Administration’s website, you cannot – though you will find free access here: http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=3693

Since search results include the date of birth, city and state of last residence and the state the social security number was issued in, this should be enough to identify whether or not it pertains to your subject.

Step 3 – Telephone Directories

This is obvious – I’m aware – but not to be overlooked. It only takes a couple of minutes to search using online directories. Be sure to search multiple areas and states, if your profile includes that information – such as places where your subject previously lived or may have moved to. Admittedly, with the introduction of the cell phone revolution, many people no longer subscribe to a ‘land line,’ but it’s still worth a shot – you might get lucky, or you might find a relative.

While there are literally thousands of online telephone directories, here are some of the more popular ones:

AnyWho: www.anywho.com
AT&T Directory Assistance: www.corp.att.com/directory/
SuperPages: www.superpages.com
SwitchBoard: www.switchboard.com
White Pages: www.whitepages.com
Yahoo! People Search: people.yahoo.com

Step 4 – Internet Search Engines

There’s a reason it’s called the ‘Information Age.’ Any and all information ever recorded or archived about you on a website is likely to be found online. If that doesn’t make you a little nervous, it should. In capable hands, the Internet can reveal all manner of statistical and personal data about you.

My husband is more than a little paranoid about posting anything online – and for good reason.  Posts you’ve made in discussion groups; reviews you’ve provided online; resumes posted to job or career sites; ads on Craig’s List; newspaper articles; PTA
meeting minutes – it’s all out there.

I’ll refer specifically to Google here, but generally the same principals apply to other search engines like Bing and Yahoo!. If Google is not the largest conglomeration of websites and information on the Internet, then it’s close. I always start here.

To get the most out of this search tool, you need to be aware of what’s in the toolbox… I’m sure there is not one person among you that hasn’t at some time searched for something on Google, but I’m wondering how many of you have used the Advanced Search feature? After you perform a basic search, scroll down to the bottom of the page and you’ll see the link for ‘Advanced Search.’

Like most search engines, Google’s queries are based on ‘Boolean logic’ (if you’re not sure what that is, you can Google it). The Advanced Search feature lets you enter data into a form that makes it easier to narrow down the focus of your search to a defined set of parameters. You can specify a search for specific words or phrases, and exclude others.

Other nifty tools that Google provides are separate search engines for different types of information. Assuming you’re using a reasonably current web browser, you’ll find several links displayed in a menu across the top of the Google’s search page. You can search specifically in the ‘Images’ section for snapshots of your subject that may be displayed on other websites. By clicking on that image, you’ll be taken to the website where the image is originally displayed. You can also use the ‘YouTube’ search engine, which has become very popular.

Step 5 – Social Websites

Lately there are more social sites cropping up than I can (or care to) keep up with. By ‘social sites’ I’m referring to websites like MySpace, FaceBook, etc., where people have made an astonishing amount of information about themselves available to anyone who’d care to ‘Friend’ them. I’ll use FaceBook as our example.

You can conduct a simple search for anyone you wish on FaceBook, but unless you have a ‘page’ of your own, you’re not going to be able to see very much in your results – so if you don’t have one, get one. It’s a fairly simple process to set up, and you can set your ‘Profile’ to private so others can’t snoop.

Once you have created your own page (make sure you’re logged in before searching) your search results will return information about anyone you search for by name – that’s pretty basic stuff. You can also search by name and city or state. What you may not know is that if you search with a subject’s email address you will have a much better chance of positively identifying your subject. You would think that most people post a picture of themselves for a profile, but you’ll soon learn that puppies, kittens, caricatures and photos of other people are just as common – so a valid email address is a better way to search, if you have it.

If you aren’t able to locate your subject’s ‘page,’ try looking for a page belonging to a relative or friend of your subject. If you scroll through other people’s ‘Friend’ list (if their profile is not set to ‘Private’) you just may find your subject, or another lead to your subject. I especially look for ‘Happy Birthday’ posts in a person’s history, since most people tend to chime in around that time.

I feel an ethical responsibility to note that when enforcing a judgment or other debt, it is in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to mislead (or lie) about your intentions when communicating with debtors, so it would be a big no-no to pose as someone else to gain information about a judgment debtor you’re trying to collect from (even on FaceBook). Neither am I condoning any of this information to ever be used for stalking purposes.

Step 6 – Professional Websites:

LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) is another great online source for skip tracing, particularly if you have a rough idea about where your subject may be located and previous professions, careers or employers. Because this is a site designed for interaction between certain types of professionals, it is also likely to be reasonably up to date. Similar to LinkedIn are Plaxo (www.plaxo.com) and Ecademy (ecademy.com).

Another place to look is CorporationWiki (www.corporationwiki.com). A unique feature of this site is that the information is gathered from sources like Dun and Bradstreet and the Secretary of States’ corporate filings. If your subject owns a business, the information is likely catalogued here. Even if they don’t own the business, often if they are a manager or primary officer of a business or company, you’ll find their information here.

Step 7 – Other Online Resources

Still hitting a wall? Here are some other online resources that may provide what you’re looking for:

WordPress and other blogging (web log) sites. Google even provides a search engine specifically for blogs.

Alumni or Reunion sites. If you know where your subject went to high school or college, you may be able to find information about them from a site like Reunions.com or Classmates.com. Remember, if you know who else may have gone to school with your subject – you can look for them too.

Public records are becoming more and more available online. Many states and/or counties simply don’t have the manpower to attend to manual requests for records, so they’ve simply made the information available on the Internet. There are many sites that may charge a fee for this information, but don’t be fooled – much of it can be found free if you go directly to the source. A good starting point would be a public records portal, like SearchSystems.net (http://publicrecords.searchsystems.net/) or BRBpub.com (http://www.brbpub.com/free-public-records/).

Don’t overlook court records – including civil, criminal divorce, bankruptcy and traffic violation records. Many states offer access to these databases online.

Inmate locaters, where available, can be an excellent tool if your subject has dropped off the grid. For state inmates try InmatesPlus (www.inmatesplus.com). For Federal prison inmates try the Bureau of Prisons website (www.bop.gov/iloc2/LocateInmate.jsp).

Black Book Online has an excellent U.S. Active Duty Military locator (www.blackbookonline.info), as well as many other public record resources.

Genealogy record sites, like RootsWeb (www.rootsweb.ancestry.com) or Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com) have put a great deal of effort into keeping track of the family trees of millions of ancestors.

At the End of the Road?

Make certain that while conducting your searches you’ve used any and all possible variations of your subject’s name or aliases like a maiden name or nick name – that goes for possible friends or relatives of your subject too. If you still haven’t managed to locate your subject after exhausting all of these skip tracing methods, it may be that your subject has gone to great lengths not to be found. If that’s the case, then it’s time to break out the big guns. By that I’m referring to private records, like consumer credit
reports and other sources of fee-based data that the general public doesn’t have access to. You won’t be able to gain access to it, either, unless you have a legitimate and legal purpose for doing so, such as a civil judgment, litigation, licensed private investigation, or other debt collection purpose. If you still decide to pursue it, you may want to consider paying a professional to handle it for you.

As always, I welcome your questions or comments. You can email me directly, or feel free to post a reply in the comments section. If there are any topics you’d like to see discussed on this blog, please let me know and I’ll do my best to oblige!

For more information about the professional judgment recovery training my company provides, please use the link above, or the one below in my signature line to visit my website.

Warm Regards,


Christina Smiley
Sierra Judgment Recovery

Skip Tracing: Building a Profile

Last week, in the first part of this series, I focused on providing you with an accurate description of “skip tracing,” as well as what types – or categories – of missing persons we generally deal with. In the second installment of this three-part series we’re discussing the importance of building a “profile” of your target, and what steps should be taken to build that profile. Your profile is like a road map that will lead you to your subject.

Building a Profile

Any nugget of information that you can gather about your subject will put you one step closer to finding their current whereabouts. Keeping all of this data organized is very important as you are collecting and compiling your clues.

Think of it like a jigsaw puzzle. At first, there’s nothing but disjointed bits of color that don’t seem to look like much of anything. Later, as those bits are added to other bits, a bigger picture begins to emerge. A skip trace profile can accomplish the same thing.

For those of us who skip trace for our daily bread, a profile worksheet is the key to keeping all this compiled information readily available in a format that makes it easier to both draw conclusions and tie bits of data together.

A simple profile worksheet can easily be created using a spreadsheet program such as Microsoft Excel – it doesn’t need to be complicated. In this profile worksheet you’ll add any and all details that you already know about your subject, as well as any new information that you obtain during the course of your skip trace. Don’t be discouraged if a lot of information is missing when you start… by the time you’re able to fill in most of the blanks you’ll most likely have found your subject.

Assemble All Known Data

You may already know more than you think you do, once you start putting all of your known information together. Sometimes this may be all you need to find the person you’re looking for – but it’s more likely that what you already know may point you to another piece of information that will eventually lead you to your subject. It’s important to list every detail you can think of, because you just can’t tell when or if that little fact will bridge to another little fact that ties it all together.

Spending a couple of minutes to make sure your facts are accurate from the very beginning will save you hours of frustration and wild goose chases down the road. You’ll want to make sure that you have the correct spelling of your subject’s name and as much other information as possible. For example: is your subject’s last name Johnson – or Johnston? Is your subject’s first name Deborah – or Debra? If you’re not entirely certain, you’ll want to keep an eye out for possible variations of both first and last names as you’re conducting your skip trace. This includes nicknames, like Tom, Tommy, Thom, TJ, etc. Also remember, if your subject is female, she may have married or divorced.

Try to remember that you’re solving a puzzle and be certain that you always fill in a blank when the information becomes available. For instance, suppose your search leads you to someone who used to know where your subject lived, but may have lost touch with that person? That person may know more about your subject than they realize, and may be able to help you fill in more of the blanks in your profile.

Known data consists of hard facts such as:

  • First, Middle and Last Name
  • Aliases and Nicknames
  • Date of Birth
  • Social Security Number
  • Email Addresses
  • Telephone Numbers (land line and/or cell)
  • High School Attended
  • College Attended
  • Known Previous Addresses
  • Military Service
  • Employment History
  • Names and Addresses of Relatives
  • Known Friends and Associates
  • Ex-spouses or Significant Others
  • Previous Professions or Occupations
  • Business Associations or Affiliations

Assemble Any Assumed Data

Information that is already known to you will be comprised of hard facts. Assumed data can be a little more elusive and subtle. Let’s lump into this category things your subject may have said (or indicated to you or someone else) about what sort of career they’d like to be in, or a particular area of the country where they wanted to live – or anything else you can think of. These are not “hard” facts, but it may give you ideas about other places to look for your subject.

This is all conjecture, of course. There’s no way to know if any of this stuff will pan out, but you should still make note of it in case you hit a brick wall and you need a new direction to go in. Also, something else could pop up as a result of your other search efforts that may tie in with something you’ve assumed about your subject.

Create a Plan of Action

By now you should have gathered as much information – both hard facts and assumed – as possible. This is your “jumping off” point. Now it’s time to get busy and build on what you’ve already accumulated to find your subject. To do this you’ll need to create a plan of action.

Your plan of action will help you add clues and information to your profile in a structured and efficient manner. A lot of it will hinge on what category your subject falls under (I discussed categories of missing persons in Part One of this series). If you’re just trying to track down an old friend or a relative you lost touch with, it should be fairly straightforward and simple. However, if your subject is among those who are intentionally hiding, like debtors or deadbeat parents, it will probably take a little more elbow grease on your part. Some of these skips will also use tactics to avoid being found.

Deciding on your plan of action and implementing that plan are one of the things the next installment of this series will go over in more detail – so you’ll definitely want to tune in, because that’s when it starts to get interesting (at least for me, personally).

As always please don’t hesitate to ask or post any questions. You can either post them as a reply to this blog or Contact Me.

Warm Regards,


Christina Smiley
Sierra Judgment Recovery
Professional Judgment Recovery Training

Skip Tracing: A Three Part Series

This is the first of a three-part series. Think of it as a basic Skip Tracing Primer. If you’re unfamiliar with the term ‘skip trace,’ a ‘skip’ refers to someone who has ‘skipped’ town, or has either intentionally (or unintentionally) fallen off the grid. A ‘skip trace’ is simply language we use in our industry to describe the process of tracing a person’s past to locate their current whereabouts.

Why is skip tracing such an important component to a judgment recovery business, you may ask? Because for the most part, by the time we take on these judgments to collect, the debtor has moved at least two or three times, and may also have taken steps to hide any assets that could be seized to collect the judgment.

The first part of this series is written to provide you with a clear description of what skip tracing is all about. Second in this series I’ll discuss how to build a profile of a skip tracing subject, which is a critical first step in the process. In the third installment I’ll go over some skip tracing basics.

Some people ask me if I’m anything like Dog the Bounty Hunter – which would be a laughable suggestion to those who know me personally. I’m 5’ 3” tall, petite, going a little gray around the edges – and the only weapon I’m packing is my keyboard and Internet access. Try to put those Hollywood fairy tales out of your head… It makes for good television, but it’s really nothing like real life.

People have ‘gone missing’ pretty much since the dawn of time. These days there are such large numbers of people searching for other people that entire industries have been founded on these skill sets. Some of these industries may surprise you. The obvious ones that come to mind are private investigators, law enforcement agencies and debt collectors. Also included in that list should be:

  • Missing children organizations
  • Genealogists
  • Unclaimed funds locators
  • Registered process servers
  • Insurance fraud investigators
  • Auto repossession companies
  • Bail bondsmen
  • School alumni reunion organizations
  • Employment / Tenant verification companies
  • And probably a few others that I haven’t though to include in this article

There are generally three main types of missing persons. The first are those who aren’t really missing at all. They’re just living their lives as normal and not really hiding from you. Everyone else knows where they are, just not you. These would include old roommates or school buddies, ex-lovers and other old acquaintances and relatives you’ve lost touch with.

The second type may not actually be missing either, but they might be making a concentrated effort to avoid you. Lump all of the first type into this description and then also add debtors, deadbeat parents who don’t want to pay child support, ex-spouses trying to get out of paying alimony or others avoiding financial or family obligations. In
the judgment recovery industry, this is the type of missing person we are mostly dealing with.

The remaining type of missing persons is comprised of runaways and abductees, or other people who are going to extreme lengths not to be found. This type also includes people living under the radar due to criminal activity. These would be categorized as hard-core ‘skips’ who will use all manner of creative methods to disguise their true identity and location.

Some of the reasons that people go missing:

  • They owe large amounts of money.
  • They are avoiding criminal prosecution.
  • They are avoiding family or relationship responsibilities and obligations.
  • They may be committing life insurance fraud.
  • They are avoiding litigation.
  • They are hiding from a stalker.
  • They have run away from home.
  • They are mentally ill.
  • They are incarcerated.
  • They are deceased.

There are entire libraries full of books outlining skip tracing methods. Some of those methods are downright illegal, or in a ‘gray area’ at best. I do not condone using any illegal or unethical techniques to perform a skip trace, so I will not be discussing any of those methods in this series.

Skip tracing can be described as a blend of both art and logic. The ‘art’ is more intuition-based – like trying to put yourself in your subject’s shoes and thinking as they might think… imagining what you would do in their situation. The ‘logic’ is what comes from following a specific series of steps in a set routine. A + B = C. The combination of the
two is usually the key to finding your subject.

What does it take to be a good skip tracer? Think of it like this: if you enjoy a good mystery novel then you’ll probably excel as a skip tracer. If you’re more the romance novel-type then this probably won’t be your cup of tea.

Every scrap of information or fact that you can learn about someone who you’re looking for leads you just a little closer to locating your subject. Being organized and methodical is critical when you are gathering your details and data. The best way to accomplish that is to start with by building a profile of the subject you are seeking.

This will be the topic of the next installment of this three part series. Meanwhile, I welcome your comments or questions. You can post them to this blog, or you can contact me directly using the ‘Contact’ link above.

Warm Regards,


Christina Smiley
Sierra Judgment Recovery

Is Judgment Recovery Legal? Yes! And here’s why…

I am often asked if judgment recovery is truly a legal business. I guess some folks just worry that if you’re not an attorney, using the courts to enforce a judgment that was awarded to someone else is somehow breaking the law. It’s also a common misperception that collecting any money judgment (even your own) through the court system without hiring an attorney can somehow land you in legal hot water.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is no court in the land that will not allow you to use the court system to collect your civil money judgment on your own behalf. Certainly, if you attempt to collect a judgment for someone else, and you are not an attorney, you are going to get yourself into trouble. So let me stress the most important term, and key point of this article: On Your Own Behalf

A civil money judgment is an asset which can be bought, sold, transferred, etc. If you want to get downright technical, a civil judgment is referred to as ‘a thing in action.’ When a judgment is assigned, the ownership of the judgment is transferred from the original judgment holder to the assignee (that would be you, in this case). From that point on, you own the judgment and anything you do to enforce the judgment is done on your own behalf. You will be legally recognized by the court as the judgment creditor, and you will have all the same rights and remedies at your disposal to enforce the judgment through the court as did the original judgment holder.

Once the judgment is yours, you are entitled to locate the whereabouts and assets of your judgment debtor using many investigative resources that are typically only available to private investigators, professional collectors and law enforcement agencies. You are not considered to be a private investigator because – again – you’re conducting an investigation on your own behalf.

As a judgment creditor, you will also have the authority to use special court procedures to find assets. Post-judgment debtor examinations are court-ordered proceedings in which the judgment debtor must appear in court and directly answer your questions about finances, income, assets and more. This can also be conducted with written interrogatories through the mail. You will also have the power of subpoenas. A subpoena is another type of court order that demands specific documents to be provided to you for your inspection. Post-judgment debtor examinations and subpoenas can be used with judgment debtors, as well as other third parties who may have information about your debtor’s employer, business(es), bank accounts, property or other assets.

Once you’ve identified what and where the assets are, you can then direct the court to seize those assets on your behalf as a judgment creditor. Generally assets are seized through what we call a levy. A levying officer will act on your specific instructions to seize the asset as directed. Anything collected through the levying process will be turned over to you – since you’re the owner of the judgment and the judgment creditor.

It really is that simple.

Let me finish by assuring you that enforcing a judgment through the court system on your own behalf never has – and never will – be illegal or require attorney

I realize that a lot of the above is a little ‘technical’ – so please – let me know if you have any questions or comments. Of course, if you would like to read articles about other specific topics, just ask!

Warm Regards,

Christina Smiley