What Is Skip Tracing? How It Works & What You Should Know

As a business owner or freelancer, encountering clients who resist payment for provided goods and services is not uncommon. Typically, you would attempt to communicate with them regarding the outstanding payment. However, challenges arise when repeated efforts to reach the client prove unsuccessful, leaving you with the impression that they have disappeared entirely. In such scenarios, the most viable solution to track down this elusive non-paying client is to enlist the services of skip tracing services.

What is Skip Tracing?

In a broad context, skip tracing encompasses the systematic process of locating individuals who are either missing, unresponsive, or challenging to find. Often employed as an investigative technique, skip tracing proves particularly useful in identifying an individual’s location, especially in cases involving unpaid debts or unmet financial obligations. The professional undertaking this task is commonly referred to as a skip tracer.

The term ‘skip’ finds its origins in the expression ‘to skip town,’ signifying a swift departure from a location with minimal clues about the person’s destination. ‘Trace’ in skip tracing denotes the meticulous act of tracking down and determining the whereabouts of the individual in question.

What is Batch Skip Tracing? 

Batch skip tracing, also known as bulk skip tracing, involves the systematic collection of essential contact information for multiple individuals, primarily for business-related purposes. This method is frequently employed by real estate companies seeking specific details such as phone numbers, addresses, and emails for numerous potential buyers or sellers.

The most effective approach to execute batch skip tracing is through batch append services. These services are designed to procure the necessary information required to reach out to targeted groups of individuals. However, it’s crucial to note that such services may have inaccuracies, leading to misconstrued or potentially unusable data.

Batch skip tracing is most beneficial when dealing with a large volume of individuals for whom data collection is necessary, with a focus on cost-effectiveness. While this method may yield reliable contact information for approximately 50% of the targeted individuals, it is important to be mindful of potential inaccuracies in the data provided.

Who Uses Skip Tracers & Skip Tracing Services?

Skip tracers and skip tracing services find applications across various industries and professions, including:

  • Bail bondsmen
  • Banks and financial institutions
  • Collection agencies
  • Credit card companies
  • Employment and tenant verification services
  • Genealogists
  • Insurance fraud investigators
  • Journalists
  • Lawyers and other legal personnel
  • Medical finance professionals
  • Private investigators
  • Police detectives
  • Process servers
  • Real estate agencies
  • Repossession agents

These diverse sectors leverage skip tracing to locate individuals for a range of purposes, from legal and financial matters to investigative and verification needs.

Skip Tracer vs Bounty Hunter: What is the Difference? 

While ‘skip tracing’ and ‘bounty hunting’ are often used interchangeably, they denote distinct roles in the pursuit of locating individuals who wish to remain elusive. Although both involve finding someone who does not want to be found, they serve different purposes.

Bounty hunters, often employed by bail bondsmen, frequently enlist skip tracers to locate fugitives who have failed to appear in court. Interestingly, bounty hunters can operate as skip tracers, but the reverse is not true – skip tracers cannot function as bounty hunters. The primary responsibility of bounty hunters is to apprehend individuals who have evaded capture to avoid legal consequences.

In practical terms, bounty hunters may engage skip tracers to gather information that aids in the successful apprehension of fugitives. However, the scope of skip tracers extends beyond locating criminals; they also investigate witnesses, individuals of interest, subject matter experts (for journalists), and various other parties. It’s crucial to note that skip tracing doesn’t always lead to an arrest, in contrast to the core objective of bounty hunting, which is to capture targeted fugitives for a commission or bounty.

How Does Skip Tracing Work? 

When enlisting the services of a skip tracer to locate an individual, the standard process involves several key steps:

Verify the Skipper’s Information

The initial step in skip tracing revolves around verifying the accuracy of the client’s existing information about the individual in question. This includes their last known address, phone number, email address, and social security number. The skip tracer endeavors to confirm whether this outdated information still pertains to the person being sought. If any of the provided details are still current, it provides an opportunity for prompt contact.

Gather Comprehensive Information on the Skipper

If the initial verification proves inconclusive, the skip tracer proceeds to an in-depth investigation by meticulously searching through an array of sources, including public records, letters, files, and proprietary investigation databases. This comprehensive examination encompasses a wide range of records:

  • Address history
  • Court records
  • Credit header data extracted from credit applications
  • Criminal records, along with background checks
  • Civil records
  • Driver’s license history
  • Employment history
  • Phone number records
  • Property records
  • Tax records
  • Utility information
  • Social media presence
  • Deep web data

Contact Friends & Family

If the information gathered from records does not yield the desired results, the skip tracer often reaches out to the skipper’s friends and family. Recognizing that individuals who have relocated may have shared details of their departure with close contacts, the skip tracer seeks insights that may aid in locating the person.

Note: In cases where friends and family may be hesitant to provide information, an ethical skip tracer avoids intimidation tactics and coercion. Instead, a skilled skip tracer employs persuasive techniques to illustrate the mutual benefit of locating the individual on amicable terms.

Why is Skip Tracing an Important Service? 

The significance of skip tracing extends beyond apprehending criminals and locating debtors, finding diverse applications across various industries:

  • Court Absentees

Bounty hunters tasked with locating individuals who fail to appear in court often enlist skip tracers to track down fugitives and ensure their appearance in court.

  • Legal Case Involvement

Professionals in the legal field, including lawyers, journalists, law enforcement agents, and private investigators, utilize skip tracing services to locate individuals relevant to criminal investigations or civil lawsuits, whether as witnesses or persons of interest.

  • Debtor Tracking

Debt collectors employ skip tracers to locate debtors, ranging from tenants with outstanding rent or property damage payments to employees involved in fraud or embezzlement. Skip tracing is also valuable for finding clients who owe money to businesses or contractors who left without completing contracted work.

  • Real Estate Transactions

Real estate agents and investors leverage skip tracing to identify potential sellers and buyers. By tracing property owners, real estate professionals build prospect portfolios, expanding their business reach and facilitating successful deals.

  • Finding Missing Individuals

Skip tracing serves those searching for missing relatives, friends, or individuals with whom contact has been lost. This includes cases involving lost family members, childhood or college friends, adopted children seeking biological parents, and individuals affected by domestic abuse, divorce, addiction, mental illness, or other circumstances.

  • Background Checks for Employment

Recruiters and hiring managers may engage skip tracers to conduct identity and criminal background checks for job applicants, ensuring they are not impostors or have a criminal history. This practice aids in evaluating the suitability of potential employees for various positions.

DIY Skip Tracing Methods & Tips

While the concept of skip tracing might appear manageable on a surface level, undertaking it yourself is only feasible if armed with reliable information and a thorough understanding of the process. Without these prerequisites, it is advisable to defer skip trace investigations to the expertise of professionals.

Should you choose to embark on a DIY skip tracing endeavor, the following resources and tips can provide a foundational starting point to assist you in the process.

If you decide to proceed with DIY skip tracing, here are some basic resources and tips to assist you:


Contrary to popular belief, relying solely on Google might not yield meaningful results, especially with only a phone number or email address. However, if armed with a name and home address, you may uncover more relevant information. Exploring the “Images” tab under the person’s name might reveal recent pictures, potentially leading to more details on associated websites.

Social Media

Utilize social networks like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn by entering the person’s name or email address. While multiple profiles may appear, scrolling through could reveal the skipper’s profile, especially considering that social media often connects individuals with their actual family and friends.

People Finders

Websites offering access to public records can be valuable resources. These platforms aggregate information from local, state, and federal agencies, providing details such as phone numbers, business records, court records, addresses, and relatives.

Genealogy Websites

Genealogy sites, beyond tracing family trees, can provide comprehensive information about individuals, including full names, birthdays, age, relatives, addresses, and phone numbers. Links to relatives and friends’ profiles can further aid in verification.

When Should You Hire a Skip Tracer?

While attempting a DIY skip trace is an option, it is often more effective to hire professional skip tracers, especially when:

  • You cannot locate the individual, and a professional can employ specialized techniques.
  • You suspect the person is in a specific area, requiring targeted investigation.
  • Verification of the person’s status, such as confirming if they are deceased or incarcerated, is essential.

How Much Does Skip Tracing Cost?

Skip tracing costs vary based on service caliber, investigation parameters, and provider experience. Generally:

  • Initial searches may range from $250 to $500 for experienced skip tracers.
  • Advanced searches billed hourly can vary from $95/hr to $200/hr, starting with a budget of around $1,500.
  • Batch skip tracing costs can range from $0.10 to $3 per record.

Hire Professional Skip Tracers to Find Missing People & Assets

Professional skip tracers utilize resources and techniques beyond standard online searches, producing more accurate and reliable results. Hiring professionals is recommended for efficient tracking of missing individuals and assets when lacking sufficient information or tracking skills.


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Terri Nichols