What is Skip Tracing, and How is it Used?  

Sometimes, people don’t want to be found for a wide range of reasons. It can be as simple as someone moving without updating their contact information, making them difficult to track down. Other times, there are reasons why someone may want to remain off the grid. They might be trying to avoid paying a debt. Maybe there are people out there with whom they don’t wish to make contact under any circumstances.

Regardless, there are still steps you can take to locate even a person who appears to have fallen off the grid. One of them is called skip tracing, and in real estate and other areas like law enforcement or debt collection, it’s useful in many ways, all of which are worth a closer look.

skip tracing

What is Skip Tracing? Your Overview

Skip tracing is a type of investigative technique that does largely what it sounds like: it helps to track down a person who may be actively trying to hide their location or who has otherwise avoided contact for whatever reason.

Sometimes, people are just difficult to reach. Other times, they’re specifically hiding from people like debt collectors or legal investigators. Either way, skip tracing can help you find whoever you need so that an appropriate next step can be taken.

Some of the elements of skip tracing include but are not limited to ones like:

  • Database searches. Databases often combine information from many different places on the Internet into a “single source of truth” based on a topic, like land records. Skip tracing can then condense this process even further, allowing you to search multiple databases nearly instantly for records pertaining to the individual you seek.
  • Public records scrutiny. Court records, contracts, marriage licenses, and even FBI files are all examples of public records that skip tracing can help you quickly peruse.
  • Surveillance. Especially when it comes to legal cases, it is sometimes necessary to hire a private investigator to follow a person and collect more information to ensure you have indeed found whoever you were looking for.

Although the techniques themselves are varied, the core goal remains the same: skip tracing helps collect as much accurate, actionable information as possible to uncover someone’s precise location definitively.

The Many Uses of Skip Tracing

Deb collectors, legal investigators, and law enforcement officials commonly use skip tracing within the context of a “Missing Persons” case. It’s often even used in other fields like real estate because it’s not only a diverse technique but also a far-reaching one.

On one end of the spectrum we have skip tracing in real estate. Here, it may simply be used to determine exactly who owns a property that you have your eye on as an investor.

If you’re in wholesale real estate and you want to enter a particular area with low competition, for example, you might begin by first identifying the types of distressed properties that would make good investments. Once you find one you like, you’ll have to figure out who owns it so you can discuss things with this person and hopefully come to an agreement. Assuming the property owner doesn’t actually live there at the moment, skip tracing in real estate can help you figure out who they are.

You can then locate a potential buyer, negotiate another deal, and pocket the difference between the two as your profit once the transaction has been completed.

Then, you have the way skip tracing is often used in debt collection. Sometimes, people owe so much money that they relocate or disappear to avoid having to repay. In this case, skip tracing would investigate everything—from public records to social media to other databases online—in an effort to determine the person’s current contact information. You would even begin to identify and contact people who know the debt in the hopes of uncovering their whereabouts.

Other examples of people who would use skip tracing include those who are investigating insurance fraud, journalists, process servers, bail bondsmen, repossession agents, and even employment verification services. In the case of bail bondsmen, some people might assume they are essentially the same as skip tracers. This isn’t the case. A bail bondsman would likely hire a skip tracer in their efforts to find someone who may have missed a court date or some other type of legal obligation.

The Ethical Considerations of Skip Tracing

Based on all this, it should be no surprise that skip tracing is highly effective in just about every scenario. Of course, this demands the question: is it unethical to use these techniques to locate someone who may not want to be found?

Note that skip tracing is supposed to utilize “non-intrusive” data collection methods. This means that you’re just taking that already public information and condensing it into a more useful form. You’re not supposed to sacrifice their privacy or their dignity in the process.

Is it possible for that to happen? Yes. If the wrong people use the types of techniques that are a part of skip tracing, it could lead to situations akin to stalking or even harassment. In those situations, it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine a scenario where things rise to the level of legal repercussions.

In that way, skip tracing might be considered a tool that you hope people will use as intended, but those with malicious intentions can easily abuse it.

Still, there are perfectly legitimate reasons why you might need to locate or even identify someone who appears difficult or impossible to contact. The uses of skip tracing in real estate alone go a long way toward proving that.

Charu decided to unite her Honors Degree in New Media and lifetime of geekiness to pursue a career in tech and gaming journalism. You can usually find her writing about a variety of topics and drooling over new gadgets and games.