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

3 thoughts on “Skip Tracing: A Three Part Series

  1. Hi!
    Is it possible to find out the location of person with his telephone number?
    If yes, pls let me know how to find the him.
    Thank you in advance for your response.

    • Hi Hak,

      Yes, it is very possible to locate a person by a telephone number, so long as it is current. There are several resources that allow for a reverse phone search (not the stuff you’re inundated with online – these aren’t very good!). You can reverse search a phone number to determine a subject’s social security number, previous and current addresses, verification with live 411 – and even an email address. If you can determine that it’s a cell phone, there are even resources that will ‘ping’ the cell phone number to give you an approximate location of the cell phone. Pretty great stuff!