Skip Tracing Techniques
By Dean A. Beers
Pro-Serve Investigative Services
Web Site:
(970) 407-0813 (970) 224-2203 or (800) 290-5434 Fax

Finding someone for any of a number of reasons.  These may be witnesses, deadbeat parents, debtors, lost loves, friends and relatives.

The ability to locate an individual depends on several factors.  These include:  type of locate (debtor vs. friend), length of time elapsed, available resources and geographic area.

The first thing needed is the determination and second would be the gathering of all available subject information.  These two items, combined with available resources, will surely result in a positive locate of almost anyone.  However, variables can make what seems to be the most simple of locates difficult.

Locating a lost friend may be as simple as calling directory assistance where he or she used to live or using any number of phone book cd-roms.  These may not produce them directly, but may produce leads, and with a little more research, may locate the friend.  Locating a debtor or deadbeat parent may prove just as easy, but is usually more difficult.  Our special resources, knowledge and abilities are usually the case breakers in these instances.

Many people are already aware of the common resources that are available, but overlooked.  It is still amazing how many people are found using the telephone book, or calling directory assistance, after these sources are overlooked by the client.  Various public records, including court files, property records and motor vehicle records can be great sources of information.  It is important to search a source, verify the information, follow-up the information and then search another source; until all of the sources and leads have been exhausted or the subject found. 

As an investigator, the resources available and used are numerous and often these resources are exclusive only to investigators and are always valuable.  Computerized records, and the various ways to access and search them, has increased both the amount of sources and the amount of inaccurate information.  When a locate is performed it involves finding the data and then sorting the accurate records from a mixed bag of inaccurate records.  An investigator needs as much information as possible to assist in both finding the individual and verifying any results.  It is rare that only a few telephone calls or keystrokes is all it takes to locate someone.  Experience tells an investigator where and how to look.

Most investigators will offer three ways to accept an assignment.  Flat fee, budgeted and just plain find them.

The flat fee investigation usually offers a higher fee for a successful case and a reduced fee (or even no fee) for an unsuccessful case.  A word about the "no find/no fee" plan.  This sounds really good and usually involves a rate similar to $100 for successful cases.  These are low cost to the investigator and offer no incentive to truly investigate a case.  They work in a fairly simple and standard way:

1).  Check a cd-rom for names or surnames (published or public records only).

2).  Check an on-line service as above and maybe cross check for a proprietary change of address through the service.

3).  Check a single credit bureau for an address update or social security number trace.

These assignments usually result in an old and unverified record, but is considered a "hit" by the investigator, as it produced a record.  The investigator usually has very little time and expense involved.  The only incentive is to produce a current enough record to justify success or spend only enough that it may be recovered with the next successful case.  At Pro-Serve we offer a reduced fee if we are unsuccessful in producing a verified address.  We do not exclusively use on-line services and rarely, if ever, use cd-roms.  We do rely heavily on experience and knowledge to proceed with each case in it's own unique way.  We will investigate up to a specific dollar amount (in time and expense) usually midway of the successful and unsuccessful fee, before declaring an unsuccessful assignment  This scenario is excellent for personal injury and collection cases, which are often based on a percentage or contingency fee.

Several services advertising nationwide searches and charge a fee ranging from $60 to $100 purporting to locate anyone.  This is usually no more than a printout of cd-rom and on-line surname searches, usually up to 1,000 published or public record names, addresses and telephone numbers that closely match the information provided.  It must then be determined which of these, if any, are the subject or possibly a relative.  The least expensive and time consuming way to do this is to mail a letter to each one and hope for a response.  Besides the obvious impracticality of searching this way, it also costs the postage of up to $320, not to mention the time and other costs involved.  It is at this point, and after not locating the subject via this information, that the guaranteed refund can be requested.  We have conducted several investigations that originated in this fashion.  All have been verified successful and all for considerably less than the $300-$400 that was invested by the client before our taking the case.

It may be more practical to budget the assignment.  Spend a nominal amount and either produce positive results or get an idea of the probability and costs involved in acquiring leads and results.  In these instances, the case will be charged an hourly fee plus expenses and searches performed for a fixed fee.  Depending on the potential complexity of the assignment, a reasonable limit can be set, with the hopes of successfully concluding the case within the limit.  This scenario allows the diligence to be performed that may be required.

The final scenario involves the "find them, no matter what it takes" school of thought.  As always, we want to produce positive results and in the best interests of the client, taking into account reasonable expenses and time to complete the case.  We analyze the available information and offer the best course of action and begin from this point.  When the case is concluded, either by success, an expiration of time or the probability of success has diminished, the charges will consist of the total time, expenses and flat fee searches utilized in the case.  These cases can vary greatly in both the time and total costs.  We rarely recommend this as a first option, but may offer it as a follow-up to one of the first two scenarios.

When an investigator is retained, provide as much information and detail as possible.  Provide copies of applications and any records, including notes and records of any work performed internally or by another agency.  Almost any locate assignment can be successfully completed, provided enough of the variables are met:

1).  Sufficient subject data.

2).  Sufficient and proper use of the resources and necessary follow-up activity.

3).  Sufficient available time is provided.

4).  Sufficient funds allowed.

We highly recommend retaining an investigator to perform these tasks, as we possess the time, skill and resources necessary to fully investigate.  This frees up valuable time for the client and usually takes less time and money than originally thought.  Should you have any questions or require assistance, please do not hesitate to contact our office at (970) 407-0813 or by fax at (970) 224-2203.  If you would like a current listing of our investigative rates and records searches, please fax a request and a listing will be faxed to your office.

Dean A. Beers, Owner and Investigator,

Pro-Serve Investigative Services, LaPorte/Fort Collins, Colorado

Ways To Contact The Author:

Dean A. Beers
Pro-Serve Investigative Services
Web Site:
(970) 407-0813 (970) 224-2203 or (800) 290-5434 Fax


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