Skip Tracing 101

Here are step by step instructions on how to successfully find someone.

Hire a professional

Most pros will be able to find someone relatively quickly and sometimes for less than $100. Professionals have a wide range of research sources that they have cultivated over the years, including investigative databases, other investigators, and countless other sources of information. But, if you don’t want to pay a professional or pay for an investigative information database AND if you have A LOT of time your hands and some good common sense, read on.

Gather as much information on the person you wish to locate.

Start a file

Almost all professionals begin with a file in some form.

Write down all of the person’s identifying information

Full name and any aliases, date of birth (DOB), previous addresses, Social Security number, driver’s license number, automobiles, license plates, telephone numbers, places of employment and those telephone numbers, note occupation (most states require licensing for certain professions), names of friends and relatives, places the person likes to socialize, and anything else you come up with.

Begin with the phone book or directory assistance. I’ve been paid well to dial 411.

Write down all the persons with the same surname as your subject; e.g., if you are trying to locate John Doe in Anytowne, USA, write down all the Does, they could be relatives.

Call those people

Here’s where we get into some interesting stuff. Say you won a small claims judgment and are trying to locate your debtor. Your debtor may very well be attempting to hide. Now, you can’t very well call up any one of those Does and say,”This stinkin’ guy with your same last name owes me money! Now tell me where the no good looser lives!” In a scenario like this one, not only have you scared the bejesus out of some poor Doe who may or may not be related to your debtor, but you potentially have scared off your debtor, making him skip town. There’s a technique that professionals use. Investigative Journalists are very familiar with it, too. It’s called the “ruse“, or “pretext“. It’s our First Amendment right to lie. A little pretext goes along way. Let’s replay the above scenario again, but this time we use the “ruse“, or “pretext“: “Hi! This may sound strange to you. But I’m trying to find John Doe . . . Oh, my name is Whatever . . . yeah, me and John go way back. School, ball games . . . (You have to be careful what you say here ,for obvious reasons) , worked together in the construction business. Haven’t seen him in ages! What’s he been up to? Hey, do you have his number by any chance? Where’d I get your number. Directory assistance. Yeah, he spoke about you last year when we went fishing. I’d love to get a hold of him. Thanks a lot. Now you take care.” You have to be creative, but not outrageous. Assume the person you are calling is intelligent and cautious; they could also very well be rude. Keep this in mind, too, “You can attract more flies with honey than you can with vinegar”. Ask yourself what you would believe if someone called you asking for the same information. Write what you are going to say down on paper. Read it back aloud to yourself until you get it right. Then make your call.


There are laws in most states that forbid a person from representing themselves as the following: law enforcement, any government official or employee, and legal council. I would go as far as to not recommend the use of an established business such as AT&T, Microsoft, NBC, Planet Hollywood, Hard Copy . . . Get the idea? There may or may not be criminal ramifications, depending where you live, but there may very well be civil ramifications. These guys can have attorneys crawling in every crevice of your life!

What if I don’t know what city the person lives in? Or state?

Have you contacted all friends and relatives that you know? Are you sure? Are you positive you didn’t overlook one possibility? Okay, this where we start getting into the research part of the gig. Ask yourself about your subject. What kind of person is this? Does this person have to have a license to run a particular kind of business in a state? Where would this persons parents live? Where might this person live?

Okay. So, what if your subject lives in another state?

Again, begin with Directory Assistance and Telephone Directories that cover the state you wish to search. Call your local library and ask if they have out of state telephone directories and what years. If they do not have the directories you are looking for ask which library would have those. You can also call most state capitals to locate their respective state’s telephone directories. Most state capitals have there respective state’s telephone directories dating back for years.

What if you have NO idea whatsoever where your subject may be?
Begin looking for the subject’s relatives.

What if there are no leads for relatives?

Hire a professional to conduct some simple Nationwide searches for you. You should be able to get a listing of persons with the same name as your subject for $40.00 to $100.00. But please be aware that a large number of professional investigators are not too crazy about working for such little money, but then again you may get lucky and find someone who would be happy to help out. Note that if you’re searching for a judgment debtor, in most states you can attach the fee’s incurred from collecting the judgment onto the principal amount of the judgment.

What if you can’t afford a professional?

You are really going to do a lot of legwork. This is often the case with judgment debtors who have skipped. Contact the subject’s former employers, co-workers, or employees. If you’re lucky, these folks will have a grudge against your subject, too. Note that people are creatures of habit. A person who is likely to commit improprieties in one instance may very well do the same elsewhere. This means that there may be a good chance that one of the people you contact could have a similar experience to yours. They may or may not be willing to share the information they have. But, there is always a good chance that your contact will say, “Yeah, I heard John Doe moved to Alabama or somewhere.” Okay, that’s a good start. Ask your contact where he heard this. Try to validate his statement without insulting him. Then follow up on his lead. It could very well be nothing. Maybe it was Arkansas and not Alabama. Continue to dig. You may have to exhaust all your contacts. But that’s part of the game. Unless the guy is a complete loser or in jail, then you stand a good chance of finding him. Even if he is total loser you can find him, but he probably won’t have anything worth levying to satisfy your judgment.

Search court records

There can be a wealth of information in civil, criminal, and bankruptcy records. If you’re searching bankruptcy files you will be able to find out if he has claimed bankruptcy, and whether or not you can make a claim against his estate, or simply whether or not it is worthwhile pursuing. You can also find his social security number, DOB, spouse, other persons involved, and list of assets and liabilities at the time of filing bankruptcy. We have also seen copies of Federal Tax returns, divorce settlements, and abstracts from other civil cases. If you search criminal and civil records, you may also find additional identifying information, such as spouse, addresses, aliases, etc. Add these to your list and follow up on them.

Search Vital Records

Vital Records (Vitals, Vitals Statistics, Vital Stats, etc.) are birth, death, and marriage records. Say you feel that knowing your subject’s parents would be helpful. If you can locate his birth certificate, his parents will be listed on the certificate. Say you feel that your debtor has vested all his assets in his wife’s name, but you don’t know the spouse’s name: search the marriage records. For this reason you may also find it necessary to know your subject’s spouse’s or ex-spouse name.

Search Department of Motor Vehicle Records

Note that many states have restrictions on DMV searching and some states forbid the general public from accessing those records. However, you could very possibly locate an address, vehicles registrations, or a driving record. The search criteria for DMV records varies. Some states require full name and date of birth, others require a social security number, and others require an arbitrary driver’s license number. You may also be able to search using your subject’s license plate, so always take plate numbers down.

Search Voter Registration Records

These are still public in most places, but note that a lot of people do not vote. However, if you do not find your subject listed you may find his parents, brother or sister. Also, you will have to call around to see which city or county would have the records for your subject’s address – voter registration, like other matters, is jurisdictional.

Search Tax Roll Records

See the city or county office that has jurisdiction over your subject’s address, and search for property tax bills, personal property tax bills, and excise tax bills.

Search for Business License Records

You may have to dig to see which agency controls this. It may be the state, the county, or the city in which your subject’s business OR residence lies in. It may also be in one, all, or any combination of the three. And they may all contain different information.

Contact the appropriate Better Business Bureau. They may be able to help.

Search real estate records.

Most states have several County Recorder’s Offices which record all real estate transactions in the given county. Go to the county recorder’s office in the county in which your subject resides or has resided. The records will usually be indexed alphabetically, by date, and by grantor (seller) and grantee (buyer). Search both indices. Search by your subject’s name, aliases, spouse’s name, and all possible spelling combinations of his name. Again, know that information has to be passed through many hands before it reaches an index. Keep in mind that it is very easy to create a typographical error in that process. So it is paramount that when searching you have to exhaust all possibilities. Also keep in mind that people will use their initials in their names. So locate where this will be in the index. For example, Z. Doe might be listed in the Z’s OR he might be listed at the very beginning of the index. Look at both.


Laws in most states forbid persons from representing themselves as investigators if they are not. As a matter of fact most state laws forbid persons from looking into the whereabouts or reputation of persons and entities as part of their normal course of business; if not licensed as a private investigator. Please read the laws in your state’s appropriate Rules and Regulations, and Statutes.

How to locate neighbors

If you plan to canvass a neighborhood, get a map. When you are in the neighborhood pay close attention to all adjacent properties to your subject’s house or apartment. You will want to talk with at least several persons on each side of your target, as well as behind the TARGET and across the street. If you plan to use a telephone here’s what you will have to do. Go to a library (or call first) near the target. At the reference desk ask for the Reverse Directory for the area. A Reverse Directory is like a telephone book but backwards. Instead of looking up someone’s to get an address and number, you look up the address or telephone number first. Like a telephone directory, they will not be complete. Make sure you are looking at the most current one as well as the one dated to when your subject lived at the target. Some of the names for the reverse directories are The Blue Book and Haine’s Directory. They are used mostly by people and companies who produce mailing lists for mail solicitation. Remember to photocopy all appropriate pages or take careful notes.

Contacting Neighbors in an apartment building

This can be difficult, but maybe necessary. If you plan to canvass the building, you first have to get inside. This can get you in trouble if you go about it in the wrong way. How you gain access will be dependent on the trespassing laws in your state. Most states trespassing laws state that any area commonly accessible to the general public is not considered trespassing unless otherwise noted. And by all means DO NOT BREAK THE LAW TO GAIN ACCESS INTO AN APARTMENT BUILDING! Not only can you get arrested, but it is possible that it may be brought up in court as it pertains to your manner of collecting your judgment. The judge or jury may not be happy with your behavior and hence find against you. It is best to get permission to enter the building. If you can sweet talk your way into the building via the building’s manager, you probably will be safe. Remember to note the name and physical description of the person who let you in. If there is a security guard on duty you might be out of luck. These guys, in general, are very difficult to deal with. They seem to get pleasure out of making things difficult or unpleasant for people. Again, here’s where a professional would have the advantage. A security guard might very well be a P.I. wanna-be and would love nothing more than to aid in the investigation of one of the previous ”bad tenants” tenants.

Last words of advice

Be discreet, Be professional, Be thorough. Good Luck!

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