I often get calls from people who want to become a Skip Tracer. They ask about how they can get training, if they can make money from home, and how much they can make. I’ll try to answer some of those questions here. It’s not a tough business to break into, but you should be aware of the laws and pitfalls associated with the business.
So, how do I become a skip tracer? The easiest way to get started in this business is to get hired by a private investigator. Starting off as a process server or judgment recovery specialist – or even in collections, can also jump-start the process.
What is Skip Tracing?
Skip tracing is not just a matter of running simple searches on some of the specialized databases. Real skip tracing means that you actually contact the person you are looking for, (if necessary), or contact a relative, neighbor or friend to verify that they are living and working at such and such a place. It’s not like on those worthless “Internet Detective” sites where you pay good money to get a list of people with the same name in the state. Big help that is.
In most cases, you need to speak to the person (or someone who knows them), and accurately verify address and phone, workplace, or whatever is requested. It all depends upon what your client wants. Do they need to get them served with legal papers? Are they bail jumpers? Are they a subject of an heir search? Knowing exactly why this person needs to be found will usually determine how you go about conducting the skip trace.
Types of Skip Tracing Jobs
Skip-tracers are hired to locate missing husbands, wives who have run off, and debtors who owe hundreds of thousands of dollars. These are usually tough skips and may take days or weeks to complete. Below is a partial list of why someone may wish to hire a skip tracer to find someone:
- The Subject is a Debtor
- Heir Searches
- Fugitives/Bail Jumpers
- Friend/Relative Search
- Former Employees
- Plaintiff’s/Defendants in a Legal Proceeding
The above list is pretty general as there are many other reasons someone would hire a skip tracer. Many times, finding someone in order to run a background check on them is very common. And, a competent skip tracer will run someone’s identifiers (social security number and date of birth), in order to obtain general background information to further aid them in the search.
A more typical type of skip trace is for attorneys who have a list of witnesses of a crime that happened years ago – and now these people need to be found. Skip tracers can also be hired by hospitals to locate former patients who were part of a special medical study years before.
There are also real estate investors who scan entire county databases for raw land that is going into foreclosure. They need to find the owner to offer him some money for the property. Sometimes these landowners have been absent from the property for decades.
Searching back through the years to find relatives and friends, and of course, neighbors can reveal clues as to the property owner’s whereabouts. The skip-trace path may take you anywhere.
Oh yes, and the “find the old sweet-heart” request. These are typically not too difficult. And of course, before giving out the information, a skip tracer will always check first with the “old sweet-heart” to make sure they want to be found. Skip tracers have to be careful that they are not helping stalkers or scammers.
Types of Skip Tracers
I know skip tracers who specialize in locating criminals. Some others specialize in finding people in other countries. Others focus on locating missing children. These people usually got into the business out of personal concern – something besides just money.
My point here is that there are so very many focuses possible, and you may have a concern or niche that would be just right for skip tracing. These are often the most interesting skip-tracing jobs. Many people in the business concentrate just on work conducted through an attorney.
Most skip tracers will perform almost every type of search. It really doesn’t matter, as they have set up their business, have access to the top databases, and can adjust to any sort of search needed. Of course, you must ensure that you have the proper type of licensing.
Do I Need a License to Skip Trace?
In most cases, yes, you do. Let me explain. Different states require different licensing. If you are a licensed private investigator – there really are no issues. Usually, if you are simply searching public records there is not an issue – but state laws vary. Consult with a competent attorney in your state to get the particulars.
Process servers, judgment recovery specialists, and collection agencies usually do not require a license. As long as they have a legitimate, professional reason for searching people then their OK. Again, consult with a qualified attorney.
Can Skip Tracers use Pretexts?
Pretexts are used at times when a skip-tracer pretends to be someone else in order to get the information they need. Be careful here, because some pre-texting is illegal. You’ll need to check your state laws to know about in your area. Pre-testing for financial information is a no-no. Check out the GLB here, and read up on the subject.
But basically, most skip-tracers find it necessary to pretext. If you’re looking for a dead-beat dad, you wouldn’t want the neighbors or friends to know who you are. You would never get the information that way! So skip-tracers invent some very clever things to say on the phone or in person. I can’t share those here, because the bad guys would then know. But use your imagination. And if you come up with some good pretexts, call and share them, and maybe we’ll trade you one or two (for amusement purposes only, of course).
How Much do Skip Tracers Make?
Do skip-tracers make a lot of money? Not a lot, but enough to live on, and a little more. Skip-tracing work can be expensive to do, depending on the job and circumstances. And, of course, there are clients who stiff the skip-tracers (or try to). But skip traces have an effective network of mutual support. We can always find the person who stiffs us. Trust us on that.
If you start off working for a private investigator you’ll probably make an hourly wage. Usually around $15.00 per hour. However, many PI’s pay by the job – it kind of depends upon the type of work he has you doing – and what kind of boss you have.
Many top skip tracers make 6 figures. Not a bad living, huh? For those just starting out, it may be a good idea of accepting a bit less in wages in order to gain experience and qualify for your own license.
Skip tracing is a fun, interesting business. It pays to start your new career working for someone with a lot of experience and then branching out on your own. Setting up your business does not really cost that much, and you can certainly work from home.
Do skip tracers perform private investigation work? Yes, they do – provided they’re properly licensed. It all depends upon state law. I cannot stress enough that you look into the laws and licensing procedures for your particular state before starting a skip tracing business.
What tools do skip tracers use? Great question. Most will start with some really good databases – usually provided only to legitimate, licensed businesses. And, as time goes on, skip tracers develope some really good “contacts” in the industry that can provide even more hard-to-get information.