Collecting debts or important information is not easy. Unfortunately, some people have the tendency to skip town when it's time to give back what is due. Some people simply don't want to be found. This is where skip tracers come in, but what exactly is a skip tracer, and how does the process work?

The first step in understanding skip tracing is knowing where the term comes from. The term 'skip' comes from the commonly used phrase 'to skip town,' and refers to the individual who doesn't want to be found. 'Tracing,' on the other hand, refers to the act of tracking down that individual.

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What is a skip tracer?

Basically, a skip tracer is an individual who is tasked with locating a certain person's whereabouts. A skip tracer uses different skip tracing tactics for collecting information without violating privacy laws and the law in general. This person usually offers his or her detective work to locate individuals with an outstanding amount of debt.

However, skip tracers don't just deal with debt collections. Skip tracers are also involved in a great deal of collecting helpful information about a person whose available data are scarce. Some of the other people who might need skip tracing services include a repossession agent, bail enforcement agent, private investigator, lawyer, police detective, journalist, or even a stalker.

Locating a person who doesn't want to be found can be a gruesome process. The complexity of the task at hand will determine how much the skip tracing fee would cost. This could range from as low as $20 to as high as $350. It's best to confer with a process server or debt collection agency to find out how much the actual fee would be.

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Is a skip tracer the same as a bounty hunter?

Skip tracing isn't exclusive to debt collection. Some private investigators and other individuals employ this kind of service for bail bonds and bounty hunting. However, skip tracers and bounty hunters are not one and the same. In a nutshell, bounty hunters can act as skip tracers but skip tracers cannot serve as bounty hunters.

Skip tracers are in charge of processing as much information they can find on the person they're looking for. Then, they report this information to the client. It's up to the client if he wants to use a bounty hunter to collect the actual money.

How does the skip tracing process work?

Skip tracing isn't as simple as searching for information about a person. At the same time, the process of locating an individual isn't easy as conducting a quick Google search. All information collected by the skip tracer is analyzed, verified, and used to determine the location of the individual. What's challenging about skip tracing is that skip tracers often have to work with either too many or too little information.

On the flip side, a lot of skip tracers now have skip tracing software that helps fast-track the process. While this software automates some skip trace tasks, a human skip tracer is still required to process all the information gathered by the software, and conduct the actual search.

The first step in the actual process is to verify the information provided by the client to understand who the subject is and if the client has any misinformation. Accurate data is essential for trace services to be effective.

Afterward, a lot of research is involved. Here are some of the documents skip tracers usually peruse in their investigative process:

  • Phone number databases;
  • Credit reports;
  • Credit card applications;
  • Job applications;
  • Criminal background checks;
  • Loan applications;
  • Utility bills;
  • Public tax information;
  • Public records databases;
  • Courthouse records;
  • Department store loyalty cards;
  • Air travel records;
  • Driver’s license/vehicle registration departments.
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If none of this information is helpful in the skip tracing process, skip tracers have the option to contact current or past acquaintances of the person he's looking for. In the past, some skip tracers resolve to tactics such as dumpster diving and pretext calls to utility companies. However, access to social media and online information has made the search for the location of most people so much easier.

Skip tracing services don't happen just overnight. The length of the skip tracing process would depend on how accessible it is to find information about the person being looked for. This could be as fast as 4 hours or as long as 10 days or more.

Is skip tracing legal?

Yes, skip tracing is legal in the U.S. A lot of debt collection agencies employ their services to skip trace individuals with outstanding debt. However, it is imperative that the skip tracer does not break local laws while searching for the information he or she is looking for.

For example, it is illegal to obtain information or private documents without a person's consent. A skip tracer must be honest in his dealings so it's important for the skip tracer to conduct some research on the law of the town or city before actively looking for that person.

Laws can differ from city to city and town to town. In short, skip tracing can be really challenging because as you proceed with your business, it's important you abide by the law.

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How does one become a skip tracer?

There are no formal requirements for performing skip trace. However, it is important that the individual familiarizes himself or herself with state and federal laws regarding everything from surveillance laws to privacy laws. Skip tracing might also be more lucrative if that person specializes in a specific area of skip tracings, such as bounty hunting or debt collecting.

On the flip side, before an individual is put in the field to collect information, there is some training involved. This is especially when the tracer works for bail bond agencies, private investigation firms, or debt collection agencies.

However, you can search for process servers independently. There are some online seminars on skip tracing online. There are also a lot of reading materials available so you can improve on your craft. You may have to pay some money to join these workshops, but the returns will be worth the investment.

Plus, it's important that interested individuals have a piece of good working knowledge on computer systems and databases is required to achieve success in this profession. The ability to community well with others is important in this profession as well.

How does one hire a skip tracer?

If you're going for a more cost-effective route, it would be better to employ the services of a third-party agency with an existing skip tracing department. Hiring an independent skip tracing professional would usually require you to pay more money.

Some agencies would charge you on a contingency-fee-basis, meaning there’s no fee if no money is recovered. Independent contracts commonly work on an hourly basis. However, employing the services of a skip tracing expert might be worth the expense if that person has an impressive track record of locating individuals. This is especially when the individual you're looking to find has little to no information available on public records.

When would you need to hire one?

Hiring a skip tracing isn't really cheap, so when do you need to hire one, anyway? It's important to note that a lot of information about individuals can be found online. You should conduct some research by yourself before employing the services of an expert.

If you find your personal search unsuccessful and the money or debt you're looking to collect is of significant value, you may use the services of professionals to make the process easier for you. The cost may be well worth the investment especially if you don't have the time to conduct the skip tracing work by yourself.

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