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:
AT&T Directory Assistance: www.corp.att.com/directory/
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.
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