skip tracing


Skiptracing (also skip tracing) is a colloquial term used to describe the process of locating a person's whereabouts for any number of purposes. A skiptracer is someone who performs this task, which may be the person's primary occupation. The term comes from the word "skip" being used to describe the person being searched for, and comes from the idiomatic expression "to skip town," meaning to depart, perhaps in a rush, and leaving minimal clues behind for someone to "trace" the "skip" to a new location.

Skip tracing tactics may be employed by debt collectors, bail bond enforcers (bounty hunting), private investigators, attorneys, police detectives, journalists or as a part of any investigation that entails locating a subject whose contact information is not immediately known.


Skiptracing is done by collecting as much information as possible about the subject which is then analyzed, reduced, and verified. Sometimes the subject's current whereabouts are in the data, but is obfuscated by the sheer amount of information or disinformation. More often the data will be used to identify third parties that might be able to assist the process. This is where the job becomes more than mere research since one must often employ methods of social engineering to finesse information without compromising the situation. A common tactic involves calling or visiting former neighbors, employers or other known contacts to ask about the subject, sometimes under false or misleading pretenses. In most jurisdictions this deception, known as pretexting, is legal.

Records that "skiptracers" use may include phone number databases, credit reports (including information provided on a loan application, credit card application, and in other debt collector databases), job application information, criminal background checks, utility bills (electricity, gas, water, sewage, phone, internet, and cable), social security, disability, and public tax information. These methods don't break any law because the information is freely available due to the nature of the business, whether it be debt collectors, bounty hunters, or other "skiptracers".

Even when no specific information is returned, public databases exist that cross-reference skiptracing information with others the "skip" may have lived with within the recent past. For instance, if previous records show a "skip" lived in the same house as a third party, the third party may also be "skiptraced" in an effort to locate the "skip".


Controversy is sometimes raised in connection with the industry, due to persons selling pirated information under false pretenses.

One example of this type of scenario would be an unlicensed "company" selling cell phone numbers or records to anyone with money. This is obtained by the abuse of social engineering/pretexting methods which are normally used by enforcement agencies for the common good when information can not be acquired by more direct means. Cell phone data should be legally acquired by the use of a subpoena.

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