How To Skip Trace

Welcome to our skip tracing guide. If you're a beginner, we're going to take you through the basics of how to get going in the field. If you're a veteran, hopefully we can introduce you to some new techniques or resources.

If don't know what skip tracing is, I'd suggest taking a look here first. If you're not interested in learning how to skip trace, and would like to let the professionals do it for you, you can always head over here and have one of our trained professionals do the skip tracing for you.

Getting started

The first step is to obtain as much initial information about the subject as possible. In skip tracing, the subject is the individual you are trying to locate. Unless you are doing the skip trace for yourself, you're going to have to question your client about what information they have.

The first time questioning a client, you quite often won't get the answers you need. If a client is looking for John Smith in Victoria, they are going to have to provide you with a lot more information to make the trace practical.

You never know what information is going to be useful, so collect everything. Fields we typically focus on obtaining are:

  • Full names, including middle name

  • Last known address

  • Last known phone numbers

  • Date of birth

  • Last known place of work

  • Any relatives contact details

  • Any friends contact details

  • Email addresses

  • Social network addresses, such as Facebook

  • Any current or previous business details, such as ABN's

  • Passport or drivers licence numbers

  • Any previous addresses or phone numbers, regardless of age

  • Locates

    The first part of skip tracing is understanding what a locate is and what it isn't. Depending on why you're locating someone, the requirements on a locate may vary. If you're working for a client or with a lawyer, you should always consult with them first, as what works for one may not work for another. For our clients, we're typically after a confirmed phone number and home address.

    If the client is attempting to serve papers, a work address may be suitable. Sometimes locating a direct family member will be enough if the client has obtained a substituted service. Other times the client will be after the location of their property such as a car. Or in the case of private matters, the client may just want a phone number, or mailing address.

    Once you know the objective of your locate, you can move on to using the information you have. Our first move is to do searches on the information we have, and see if we can obtain more information. These are typically reverse searches, by phone, address, and name + DOB. If you're using a service with good historical data, you can often find clues, such as relatives, ex's, housemates, spouses, or business details. Note everything down and start building a timeline about the subject. We use SkipRM for this purpose, however Windows notepad is sufficient, or just a pen and paper.

    What people databases should I search with?

    We of course provide our own, however you might want to try the competition, such as Veda eTrace, Acceleon, or FCS Online. We're confident enough that ours is the best skip tracing database Australia has to offer, that we encourage you to try to competition and see which you get the best results with. We provide ours with a free trial, so let us know what you think.

    The key points when evaluating a search provider are the following:

  • Do they provide DOB or at least year of birth data?

  • How much mobile data do they have? Land lines are dying

  • How much historical and occupant data do they have?

  • Do they offer reverse phone searches? Agreements with Sensis may prevent this

  • What else do they offer to make my job easier?

  • I have a subjects phone number, what should I do with it?

    Call it, see who answers. If your client and local laws allows pre-texting, then proceed with it. Otherwise, tell them why you are calling and ask for new information. Make notes of everything they say.

    If you can't get through on the number, then perform a reverse phone lookup, and Google the number to see what new information you might find. You might find the number is associated with a business, and can proceed from there. You'll often find numbers are listed against items for sale, in which case you might inquire about the listing and ask where you can see it.

    When you're making calls, always note down what time you called. Sometimes you'll find a subject won't answer their phone during work hours, or will only answer on weekends or late evenings. Keep this in mind and vary your call times until the subject answers.

    What if I have a mobile number?

    Don't be afraid to send an SMS. Sometimes a simple "Hi Frank, hows it going?" can get you a confirmation of number, when the subject refuses to answer an unknown caller. Pre-texting over SMS is also an option, however generally not advisable.

    Be aware that not all clients will be happy with using SMS to skip trace.

    As mobiles almost always have caller ID, you should be aware that private numbers are answered less than regular numbers. Also, calls from other mobiles tend to have a better pickup rate than land lines.

    I have an address of the subject, what should I do with it?

    First, perform a property search and see if you can identify the landlord, or if the subject owns the property. If the subject owns the property, a simple search should tell you if the property is being rented out. You may be able to convince the current tenant to contact their landlord for you.

    If the subject is renting the property, match the landlord to known phone records, and call them to see if the subject is a tenant of theirs. Property records will typically give you a name, so a proximity search for someone with the matching name around the area will often yield a match.

    If you can't confirm the address through a landlord, then perform searches on the neighbours and call them. Neighbours are generally happy to assist, and will even go as far as walking next door to hand the phone to the subject; it happens more often than you'd think.

    If you can't get in touch with any reliable third party about an address, then call friends or relatives. In this case, always provide a slightly incorrect address and let the contact correct it for you. For example, tell them 5 Kent St, and let them correct it to 3 Kent St. If they don't correct the information you provide, then you should consider anything they say as potentially tainted. Remember that friends and family are inclined to agree with anything you ask rather than tell the truth.

    It is worth performing a reverse address search on the address. This might tell you if the subject was a previous occupant, or if there is a phone number attached to the residence. You might even get a phone number of someone the subject knows.

    I have work details of the subject, what should I do with it?

    Call the company and see if they work there, and what times. Ask the client if they can use the company details for their needs. You can often get more information out of colleagues, and even personal contact details can be divulged.

    Searching LinkedIn or Google can sometimes get you more useful information about the company. If the subject's title is Director, you might be able to obtain personal information from ASIC about the subject.

    I have an email address of the subject, what should I do with it?

    Perform a reverse email search and try to tie it to social network accounts. You can also sometimes get in contact with a subject via email.

    Searching for the subject via email on Facebook will often give you a match. Keep in mind that Facebook doesn't always give a result for this type of search.

    What would I do with a DOB?

    You can use a DOB search to make sure a database record is a match to the subject. You can also sometimes use a DOB search with a first name to match a potential change of surname after marriage.

    You can also use DOB information to locate a subject on Facebook. First perform a search by name, then one by one go through the results. Even if they have their DOB hidden from public, you can often come across posts that say "Happy birthday!", which you can match up to a known DOB.

    I know the subjects spouse or family information, what can I do with it?

    You can perform a couple search which matches records where two known people live there. This is often useful in matching partial records where a DOB or middle name aren't available.

    You can also use this to find a match of the subject on Facebook. Look through the subjects friend list for people with the subjects surname, and see if you can't find matches to known family.

    I have the subject on Facebook, what can I do with this?

    Depending on the client, you may be able to use Facebook to your advantage. Facebook defaults to leaking GPS location information in private messages, which can give you an idea of where the subject lives or works.

    Posts on Facebook may also give other information, such as relatives, contact information, or work. If you don't have the subjects DOB, searching through old posts may yield it - which you can use to make other searches later.

    Pre-texting over Facebook is possible, but generally not advisable.

    What property databases should I search with?

    The two big ones are RP Data and Price Finder. We prefer RP Data, however Price Finder is cheaper. For some states, you will need to do title searches to get owner information; in this case, we use Citec Confirm for our purposes.

    These databases allow you to do searches by address, and will give sometimes give you owners names in Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia. If you have the appropriate license, you may also get information out of Victoria.

    If you request is specifically, they will also let you search by owner name in some states.

    RP Data Screenshot

    Price Finder Screenshot

    What other database should I search?

    You can use our Mate Spotter integration to search a list of available sites, saving you a significant amount of time over searching them individually.

    Don't forget to also search Google, you never know what will come up. Search on just about everything you can think of in both partial and full terms. For example, we've had locates by searching for the first portion of an email address (the part before the domain name.)

    I want to do an ASIC search on an ABN or ACN

    We currently use Citec Confirm for this. An ASIC search can provide you with details of the directors of a company, past and present. It's expensive, so make sure the client is willing to pay for it before you do the search.

    Citect Confirm Screenshot

    I've got the new address of the subject, what now?

    You need to double confirm your information before providing it to the client. If you don't the client can end up wasting a significant amount of money on actioning bad information.

    What is the subject is dead?

    If you've got reason to believe the subject has passed away, by means of searching Obits or the Ryerson Index, the this is almost always considered a successful locate. The client may not be able to use the information, but you've found the subject.

    What if the subject is incarcerated?

    This one can be tough to prove, especially depending on state. If you can prove it, this is typically a successful locate, though may not be of use to the client.

    When you call a prison, you might get different answers as to whether the prisoner is there each call. Keep this in mind.

    What if the subject is overseas?

    Depending on client, this is a locate. They may require exact details still, or they might not be willing to pay for the locate. Overseas locates are not favorable for the skip tracer or the client. Try to find out if or when the subject is returning, and see if you can sit on the locate until the subject returns to Australia.

    What is a double confirm?

    A locate typically involves a single confirmation of phone number, and a double confirmation of address. You need to be careful with double verification, as not all confirmations are equal. Lets take you through some example situations:

    The agent calls the subject and obtains a home address. The agent then calls a neighbour and the neighbour confirms he knows the subject.

    This is a double confirmed address, and typically acceptable for most clients.

    The agent calls the subject and obtains a home address. The agent then calls the subjects friend, who confirms they know the subject, and that the subject lives at the address provided.

    This is only a single confirm. The problem is the subjects friend is motivated to lie for the subject.

    The agent calls the subjects work and obtains a home address of the subject. The agent then calls the subjects mother, who confirms the subject lives at the address provided. The mother states she hasn't seen the subject for eight months.

    This is a questionable single confirm. The problems are that the subjects work may not have updated details on the subject, and that the mother has not been to the subjects for address for a significant amount of time.

    Reporting to clients

    After a job is complete, clients typically want a report of the results you found and the work you performed. If you've been working out of SkipRM, then you can easily generate a report based on your notes.

    Otherwise, you should provide a general summary of the positive results you had. If your locate was not successful, then you should also provide the negative results you found. SkipRM makes all of this a lot simpler and professional, especially compared to notepad or pen and paper.

    SkipRM Screenshot

    Notes to a client will typically look something like this:

    The agent confirmed that the subject still owns the mobile number, 0435 123 1234, through sms. Agent tried to call the subject on his mobile but only got the subject's voicemail. Agent noticed that the call was routed directly to voicemail.

    Agent searched the address found on one of the files submitted by the client which is 1 Kent St Hope Island and found out that it is currently listed under the subject's name (registered July 2014) with landline number, (07) 1234 1234. Agent also found out that the address is currently listed in whitepages with same name, address, and phone number. Agent tried to call the landline number twice but there were no response and agent only got voicemail.

    Agent searched the property owner of 1 Kent St Hope Island and found that it is listed under Mark Andrews.

    Agent called Mark Andrews on the number 0403 123 123 and was able to speak with him. He said knows the subject but not personally. He said that the subject is his tenant. Landlord confirmed that the address the subject is residing is 1 Kent St Hope Island.

    Agent was also able to speak with Melanie Scott residing at 4 Kent St Hope Island (neighbour of subject) on the number (07) 4321 4321. She confirmed that she knows the subject.

    Land lines vs mobiles

    The difference between land lines and mobiles may seem obvious at first, however in Australia, there are some notable differences.

    A mobile is not geographically allocated, which means that a subscriber can change addresses and their mobile number does not need to change. However a land line is not the same - in Australia the first four digits of the number refer to the exchange that the number is located in.

    For example, the number (03) 9802 1234 tells us that the number is located near Ringwood, Victoria. The 9802 indicates the Ringwood exchange, which means the subject must be close to this area. Our validation tools can perform this search for you.

    Are PO Box's acceptable locates?

    Generally speaking, no. For the most part, a PO Box is not suitable for service of legal documents, and is not that useful for much. It could be weeks or even months between a subjects visit to it, making it questionable for surveillance. Clients would only accept a PO Box in the rarest of occasions.

    I got a rural address, but it's not somewhere Australia Post delivers, how can I verify it?

    In this case you can usually call the local post office. The staff usually know the subject and will confirm that letters can be delivered there and picked up. Everyone knows everyone in a small town.

    What happens when a subject is located for a client?

    In a lot of cases, the subject will be served. This means the client will pay to have someone turn up at the address you provided and serve legal papers. This however is not always the case. One or more of the following may occur:

  • Legal papers will be served

  • A vehicle or other property may be repossessed

  • Collection calls will be made

  • Demand letters may be sent

  • Clients may attend the address themselves

  • Depending on the purpose of the locate, different addresses may be acceptable. Some clients are happy to serve legal papers at work addresses, while others are not.

    What is a secondary subject?

    In the case of debt collection related locates, a secondary subject may be involved. In this case, the secondary subject is usually a cosigner of the debt, and is liable for the debt the same way the primary subject is.

    Clients will often accept the secondary subject if the primary cannot be located. Typically a secondary subject incurs a second locate feed if they are not living with the primary subject.

    Why don't we delete data about a subject we are locating?

    You never know what information about a subject may be useful. An old address may identify relatives or individuals with relations to the subject. You never know what may come in handy when chasing down a subject.

    Keeping notes

    Keeping detailed notes is incredibly important. You must assume that someone else will need to read your notes and continue skip tracing your file. If a client is paying you for unsuccessful locates, they may require a report with a summary of what work you performed.

    We recommend SkipRM for keeping track of case notes.

    Common abbreviations used in notes are:

    SW - Spoke with
    FTP - Female third party - A person that is not
    MTP - Male third party
    ADV - Advised
    NA - No answer
    D/C - Disconnected
    C/B - Call back
    CONF - Confirmed
    CUS - Customer
    DOB - Date of Birth
    ID - Identified the customer, normally by date of birth and address

    What should I do with files that have been located?

    Keep hold of them! Using a system such as SkipRM makes it simple to keep track of your old work.

    You would be surprised how often two clients want to locate the same subject. Under some circumstances, you might even find the same client wanting to locate the subject twice, due to data sharing agreements.

    The client has asked for a re-locate, what now?

    If the request has come due to an error on your part, or the subject has very recently moved, I'd encourage you to skip trace them again for no extra charge.

    If it's been months since the locate was complete, and your locate was correct at the time but the subject has since moved, then consider it a new locate. It's the clients responsibility to action the information you provide them as soon as possible.

    The client sent a process server, who said the subject isn't there?

    This happens. The way process servers are paid, it's not in their interest to detect lies from the subject, or to spend any real amount of time trying to serve the papers. Ask for a report from the client of the process server, double check your locate, and see if you can figure out what went wrong - more often than not, it's the process servers error.

    If the subject wasn't directly identified by the process server, you may be able to advise the client to obtain substituted service to serve one of the family members instead.

    Remember, it's in your best interest for the client to get a favorable result with whatever goals they may have.

    I've got the subject narrowed down to a street, but don't have a house number, what can I do?

    If your client is paying you on the higher end of the spectrum, you may be able to put out an ad on a private investigator forum, and have a locate investigator perform a door knock for you at a reasonable price. If they locate the individual, this may even get you a service of documents for the client. New investigators or investigators with jobs already in the area, may be more willing to take the work from you. Keep in mind an unsuccessful search will cost you money.

    What about electoral records?

    It used to be that you could do a public search of electoral records at any electoral office, and use this information to locate subjects. Unfortunately, times have changed and the electoral commission is no longer considering this lawful use of the electoral roll.

    If you obtain information from the current electoral roll, be warned that your information may be called into question and you may have committed a crime if it's taken to court.

    State libraries often still carry electoral records on microfiche that can be searched. It's going to be older information, but it still might come in handy.

    Whats the deal with pre-texting?

    Pre-texting is the art of pretending you're someone you are not, for the purpose of obtaining information. For example, you might pretend you are a distant relative, to try to obtain an address from a subject.

    Although pre-texting shouldn't be considered fraud, it's in a gray area of skip tracing. Certain pre-texts are definitely illegal, while milder forms may be fine.

    Recently the Australia Privacy Principles (APP's) have changed, and it may have become a violation to use information obtained under pretext. Be warned that if your information ever goes to court, you might get in a lot of trouble if you can't explain how you legally obtained the information.

    Also take into account that larger clients generally do not want pretext being used on their files. Always check with your client and lawyer first, before doing anything that may be illegal.

    Time management

    Know when to stop!

    It is easy to get carried away and over work a file, so knowing when to stop is important. A general rule I always go by is the 15 minute rule, if I can’t find them in 15 minutes I move on to the next file. That isn't to say that I have given up on the customer, it just means I will revisit the file at a later date.

    You need to treat your skip tracing as a function of your hourly rate. Skip tracers will often get into tunnel vision and spend hours chasing the same subject, only to realize they missed a vital detail when they revisit the file later.

    Keep track of everything you've done, and don't be afraid to revisit a file a day later. An agent can easily handle 20-30 files per day if they manage their time properly.

    When to give up

    We've had files that have shown nothing in any search we do, only to pop up in a new search six months later. If you've followed all the leads you can and found nothing, consider telling the client you will revisit the file in a months time, once new potential leads have come up.

    If you've kept track of your searches properly, you should be able to make a good judgement of when it's time to throw in the towel. Always consider how much your time is worth, and how much you're getting paid. If a successful locate is worth $120 to you, and you've spent 10 hours on it, you've spent too long!

    Common status codes

    New - File just loaded and not actioned
    Tracing - Searching has started and still following up on leads
    Skipped - Unable to locate at this stage
    Located - You have located the subject
    Secondary - Dual responsibility of debt, locate if possible
    Closed - All process have been completed and file now closed

    Billing clients

    How you charge and how you accept payment are important parts of skip tracing. The business has a lot of unprofessional types in it, and results can vary greatly across providers.

    As a non-locate typically takes as much time (if not more) than a successful locate, it's common to charge a non-locate fee. Depending on the client, this may be a flat fee for the locate (regardless of success rate) or it may be significantly lower.

    Some providers offer a no locate no fee basis, however this is often taken advantage of, and clients will send you files that no one else could locate - so you end up wasting a lot of time for no profit.

    When dealing with locates for private individuals, it's best to bill upfront or bill before sending any reports. They are often very demanding and will waste a lot of time asking for status updates on files that are barely a few days old.

    Law firms will typically want regular updates and give you a shorter time to complete the locate, however they pay well. The downside is they will often insist on paying via cheque, due to how they bill their clients with a trust account.

    Larger organisations post-pay for reports, and pay the least, however make up the bulk of your volume. Expect late payments, and a demand for weekly reports. There will also be a demand for non-locate reports, so expect to charge for the time to write these.

    The majority of clients will be fine with using Paypal to pay bills via credit card. Others will be fine with EFT. Cheque is just the law firms.

    I was asked about washing, what is this?

    Some larger clients want their data washed or appended. What this means is they want newer data attached to their existing record. Services such as Detective Desk offer this.

    The client provides a data file (typically in Excel format) and we provide back any new addresses or phone numbers we have for anyone in the file. It's a great way to find new leads in an otherwise time exhaustive process. Alternatively the client may with to be setup for alerts which provides them with new records in real-time.

    I want to learn more!

    We offer training courses for beginner to advanced skip trace training at reasonable prices. Head on over and find out more!

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