What is skip tracing?

Skip tracing is the process of finding someones whereabouts. Skip tracing is performed by a skip tracer, which may or may not making skip tracing their primary occupation.

In Australia, skip tracing is typically done by private investigators, and debt collectors; however repossession agents, process servers, attorneys, law enforcement, private citizens and even journalists get involved in the process or hire skip tracers for their needs.

Skip tracing typically starts with the collection of known information that was at one point valid. This information could be anything from first, middle and surname, to addresses, to last known employment, to known relationships, to family details, or just about anything that might link the subject to their current details.

A skip tracer typically does not intend on doing any surveillance or in-person task to find their subject; but instead relies on technology to do the work for them. A skip tracers best friend is typically their phone, combined with Google and information databases such as Detective Desk.

The first step is to take the known information and attempt to validate it. If the known information contains a phone number, they will call it and simply ask for the subject; however clients rarely give valid phone numbers, but on the odd occasion the subject will answer. The skip tracer then moves onto trying to obtain an address from the subject for their client.

Depending on the ethical or legal inclination of the skip tracer, they will often use pretext to trick the subject into providing information. Pretext typically involves lying to a subject about your identity to make them hand over information when they otherwise don't wish to be found.

If the skip tracer doesn't have a valid phone number, they will turn to other resources to find it. They might try searching Google for the subjects name, to see if they have posted their information in relation to for-sale or business listings; or they might look for licensing or employment information; or they might look for social profiles such as LinkedIn or Facebook to see what the subject has shared with the world.

Information databases play a further role here, because they collect historical and current information about subjects. For example a reverse address search or DOB search might indicate that a subject is likely married or lives with their family. This information can then be used to perform a couple search for households with overlapping names or initials. There might be thousands of J Campbell's in Australia, but significantly less common to have both a J and a N Campbell in the same household.

People search databases might identify land lines or other mobile phones associated with the subject. If a mobile number is listed in the phone directory, it's not uncommon for the address details to be updated at some point. The problem is the White Pages does not offer reverse phone lookups, which greatly hinders the ability to find newer information, especially if the name is common; not to mention numbers are regularly made private, leaving the skip tracing wanting historical information.

A smart skip tracer will also use email addresses if they can find them. Social networks will regularly leak account owner information associated with an email address. Social networks can be extremely important to a skip tracer, as it can do anything from verifying property addresses, to leaking device GPS coordinates, to verifying where someone works or where they often frequent.

The most important skill of a skip tracer is their ability to understand and verify data they find. It is simply not enough to obtain a phone number from the phone book and presume that is current; the skip tracer must call it and verify the subject picks up. Similarly, if a skip tracer obtains an address from the subject, they should presume the subject is lying, and contact the subjects neighours or land lord to verify the subject lives there. It can be extremely costly for clients to be given unverified information, especially when a car repossession agent can charge upwards of $500 non refundable for a single job. An address search will often reveal public records of an addresses occupants.

All in all, a good skip tracer will use multiple databases and techniques to find their subjects. The task requires good deductive logic for quality results, and good phone manner to gain trust and compliance of a subject or a subjects relationships.

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