What is Skip Tracing and How You Can Use It?

Skip tracing might sound like a serious and technical business, a term often associated with bounty hunters or private investigators on TV.

However, its utility extends beyond tracking down fugitives. In fact, skip tracing can be quite handy for personal endeavors such as finding a long-lost friend from high school, locating an old neighbor, or even tracking down someone who owes you money.

Beyond personal use, Batch skip tracing is a common practice for attorneys. They often engage in a bit of skip tracing to locate witnesses or track down leads for the cases they are working on. For more serious matters, like a missing person search or serving legal papers, individuals might consider hiring a private investigator or a processing service. However, in less critical situations, individuals can potentially save money by conducting some skip tracing on their own before resorting to professional assistance.

Whether you choose to skip tracing yourself or opt to hire someone for the job, understanding the basics of this process can be beneficial. This overview aims to provide insights into the fundamentals of skip tracing, offering guidance to help you decide the best approach for your specific needs.

What is Skip Tracing?

To begin, let’s establish a basic definition of skip tracing: it is the systematic process of utilizing available information about an individual to uncover their current location. The term “skip trace” originates from the colloquial expression “skip town,” implying that someone has intentionally disappeared or relocated without leaving a trace.

While depictions on TV often associate skip tracing with bounty hunters and private investigators, this portrayal is only partially accurate. Indeed, professionals in these fields frequently employ skip tracing techniques to locate individuals. However, it’s essential to note that the absence of information about a person’s whereabouts doesn’t necessarily imply an intentional effort to hide. Skip tracing can be employed for various reasons beyond fugitive apprehension, including reconnecting with old friends, finding lost contacts, or resolving financial matters.

What is Skip Tracing?

Firstly, let’s establish a fundamental skip trace definition: a “skip trace” involves using the information you have about somebody to discover their current location.

The term “skip tracing” is derived from the phrase “skip town,” indicating that someone who has dropped off the grid is said to have “skipped town.”

The portrayal of skip tracing on TV, featuring bounty hunters and private investigators, is partially correct. Indeed, skip traces are a common practice for these professionals to find people. However, it’s essential to recognize that just because you are unaware of a person’s whereabouts, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are intentionally trying to hide from you.

Is Skip Tracing Legal?

The legality of skip tracing in the U.S. is established; it is considered legal as long as you adhere to ethical practices and do not violate any laws to obtain information.

For instance, accessing private records unlawfully or resorting to violence for information is prohibited. Utilizing the information you possess to determine someone’s whereabouts is not against the law.

However, it’s essential to be aware of state laws and regulations pertaining to your specific industry or business, as they may govern how you can ethically use the knowledge of an individual’s location. In certain industries, such as debt collection, misleading or lying about intentions when contacting debtors is illegal. Therefore, while it is legal for debt collectors to engage in skip tracing, they must truthfully communicate the purpose of their contact.

To ensure compliance, it’s advisable to check local laws and industry-specific regulations to avoid crossing any legal boundaries once you have identified an individual’s location. Now, let’s delve into the details of skip tracing.

How to Perform a Skip Trace

Performing a skip trace is not a singular activity but rather a step-by-step process. While there are multiple steps involved, the process is relatively straightforward.

This is the way it operates:

Build a Profile:

If you’re entering the field of skip tracing, the initial step involves gathering all available information about the person you’re seeking. This includes verified data such as:

Personal Information:

  • Names (first, middle, and last), aliases, and nicknames.
  • Date of birth.
  • Email addresses.
  • Physical addresses.
  • Landline and cell phone numbers.
  • Social security number.

Historical Information:


  • Previous physical addresses.
  • High school attended.
  • College or university attended.
  • Previous employers and professions.
  • Military service.

Associative Information:

  • Names and addresses of relatives.
  • Ex-spouses and significant others.
  • Neighbors, friends, colleagues, and other associates.
  • Business associations or affiliations.

Additionally, consider any assumed information that may exist. For instance, the person might have mentioned future plans in a conversation, or a friend might have casually shared details about a new address or job. While assumed information can’t be verified, it can prove valuable in narrowing down your search.

This comprehensive approach ensures you have a wealth of data to facilitate the entire skip tracing process. This list is not exhaustive, but it emphasizes the importance of collecting as much information as possible for a smoother investigative process.

Make sure the person is alive

Though it may seem somber, it’s crucial to consider the possibility that the individual you’re searching for may have passed away.

Therefore, the initial step is to confirm the person’s current vital status. This involves checking death records, and fortunately, there are tools available specifically for this purpose.

While there are free people search tools, it’s important to note that these typically do not include checks for death records. To access this information, a premium records search is usually required, and it comes at a cost.

Single premium public records searches are reasonably priced, often just a few dollars per search.

For those conducting multiple searches, a subscription to a premium public records search service can be a cost-effective option.

Once you’ve ensured the person is alive, you can proceed to the next step in the process.

Check standard phone directories

The initial and straightforward information sources are the yellow and white pages, and the advantage is that searching these directories is typically free.

It’s important to note that this search might not yield direct matches, especially considering that most cell phone numbers are not listed in these directories, and an increasing number of individuals are forgoing landlines altogether. As a result, free reverse phone lookups may have limited success.

Nevertheless, there is a chance of finding relevant information or uncovering details about relatives or roommates. Even though the results may be sporadic, any findings can be valuable in the quest to locate someone.

Do a Standard Internet Search

This approach may prove less effective when dealing with limited information. If you only possess a phone number or an email address, search engines might yield limited results.

However, a well-constructed profile can enhance the chances of success in an internet search. With multiple pieces of information, you can start forming connections and potentially find relevant results. It is crucial to cross-reference any findings with as much information as possible to ensure accuracy.

Additionally, make use of the advanced search function to refine your criteria, as most search engines provide this feature. In the event that a Google search does not yield satisfactory results, it becomes necessary to proceed to the next step in the process.

Search Social Networks

An important aspect of searching on social media is that, in most cases, you’ll need an account to access meaningful results. Attempting to search without being logged into a valid account often yields extremely limited information.

Effectiveness in social network searches is heightened when armed with the right information. Having an email address, which is typically associated with social media accounts, can result in more accurate matches.

Social media connections are often reflective of real-life relationships, with individuals being friends with their actual family and friends. Utilizing a list of associated contacts can serve as a verification method, ensuring that the right person is identified on social networks based on their profile’s contacts.

Checking for the birthday on social media profiles or looking for birthday messages posted by friends can further confirm the match. The more information on the social media profile aligns with existing knowledge, the higher the likelihood of a positive match.

While Facebook and Instagram stand out as significant information pools, old networks like MySpace can also be fruitful for searches. Individuals might have forgotten to privatize or remove information from old MySpace accounts.

Discovering someone on social media often provides sufficient information to locate them, as people commonly share updates about their whereabouts. However, individuals actively avoiding being found may intentionally omit sensitive information from the web.

If social media exploration proves unfruitful, there are alternative avenues to pursue in the search process.

Search Professional Networks:

Individuals often display more willingness to be found on professional networks, driven by the perception that fewer people engage in searches on these platforms compared to social networks. Consequently, individuals may share information more openly on professional platforms such as LinkedIn.

The guidelines for exploring professional networks closely mirror those of social networks:

  • Email Address Significance: An email address serves as a crucial search criterion for effective results.Account Requirement: Accessing meaningful information typically necessitates having an account.
  • Verification through Connections and Birthday: Similar to social networks, confirming the right person involves checking their connections and birthday.

If the search on professional networks proves inconclusive, several additional options are still available for exploration.