Skip Tracing, is it really that hard?

You bet! Skip tracing is a fundamental skill required of every private investigator. It is described as the bread and butter of what we do as private investigators, but as skills go, it is not an easy one to master.

If there is one call I am guaranteed to field during my working week at OJT Investigations Group, its that of a client seeking out an individual, be it a bad debtor, an old school mate or a potential witness in an insurance claim or criminal defence matter, all can be a challenge to even the seasoned investigator or 'skip tracer' to locate these persons.

So what is a skip tracer, and what is skip tracing? Well, according to Wikipedia;

"Skip tracing is the process of locating a person's whereabouts. A skip tracer is someone who performs this task, which may be the person's primary occupation.

This definition is pretty spot on, however, these days an investigator will quite often not limit themselves to just being a skip tracer. The industry of private investigation, is one which has its ups and its downs, so ensuring you have multiple income sources in the industry in my opinion is vital. Skip tracing is one of these sources.

For most ex police officers like myself, skip tracing was as easy as firing up our computers, trying to remember our login for one of the many police databases we had at our fingertips, and then punching in the details of the person we needed to find, and bingo, there they are, name, address, date of birth, phone number and even a picture if we were lucky.... how easy was that!

Its not until people like me make the move into the private sector and fire up our own private laptops that we soon have a far greater respect for 'Civi street skip tracers'.

When I commenced my business operations at OJT Investigations Group, one of the very first jobs I got was to skip trace a gentleman I had actually had dealings with in my previous life, what are the chances! However, as much as I knew who I had to find, I still had to remember where this guy was living and what his contact details were so that I could satisfy this locate and provide the details to the legal client I had been instructed by.

People move a lot these days, and also seem to change their contact details far more then they did 10 or 15 years ago. Here I was with my first skip trace wondering what to do, and how to do it....... I went back to what I knew best, feet hitting the pavement and door knocking the addresses I knew he previously resided at, talking to people, getting as much information as possible which would lead me to my man, so that I could finally give him some positive news!

I was having no luck, but had a few leads to go on. I was given his fathers full name by one of the residents of the addresses I had visited, however, nothing else was known. So I turned to social media, Facebook, and did a search, the search brought up a male person matching the details of the father, and luckily for me his friends list was open and his sons details were listed and I had my guy, was this going to be my first successful skip trace?... I made contact and introduced myself, outlining that I needed to make contact for certain reasons, but firstly needed to confirm the identity of the profile holder before entering into any conversations about the matter, I left my number and waited for the call......

About an hour later my phone rang and the male I was looking for was on the other end of the line, after our brief conversation, I confirmed his details and was able to forward these on to my client to make immediate contact. They were over the moon, they hadn't been able to get hold of the guy for some time and other investigators had failed to locate him. OJT Investigations Group, had had a win!

A lot of what we do in this industry I'm beginning to learn relies on luck, and being in the right place at the right time. However, there are also times when we need to know what we're doing and do things methodically so that we can remain cost effective, competitive and deliver a quality product.

There are investigation databases out there which retain large quantities of information which assist us greatly in what we do. Using these databases is the first port of call for any private investigator / skip tracer. However, when these fail..... what do we do then? Do we give up? Do we tell the client we cant find them? Do we call another agency for help?

In my view, this is when a skip tracer becomes a skip tracer. They think out of the box and use every online resource they can find to aid them, they jump in the car and drive down to the local electoral office and run searches, they use social media, they pour through the White Pages and scour, they review rental databases and peruse Google searches, crossing their fingers and toes that one of these resources will aid them in getting that one step closer to the person they need to locate.

Skip tracing does have a dark side though, and one we all need to respect and comply with. It is my view that every client that contacts us to try and locate someone should be vetted and screened as to why their seeking this person out. My life in the police taught me many many things, but most importantly the QPS taught me the SELF test. A decision making tool which in every case will guide you to make decisions that are the right ones.

Scrutiny - Will your decision withstand scrutiny should it be challenged

Ethical - Is your decision or action ethical

Lawful - Is your decision or action lawful

Fair - Is the decision or action that your choosing to make fair for all the parties involved.

A scenario could be;

A mother calls you pleading to help find her husband and her two children who are with him. As part of the questions as to why she wishes to find her husband, you ask if there are any domestic violence orders which prohibit contact with the husband and the children. The mother informs you that she is named as the respondent in a no contact order preventing her from approaching, contacting directly or indirectly with her husband, and that the children are named on the order. She goes on to say that she hasn't seen her children for 3 months and is desperate to see them, and is prepared to pay double the standard fee for the locate.

As investigators, we rely on income to survive and to make our businesses flourish and grow from strength to strength...but at what cost? This scenario would fail the SELF test on every level. If you took on this job, not only would you be aiding and abetting the breach of the domestic violence order that you now know about, but you could be potentially putting the husband and children's safety at risk. You have to ask yourself... Is it worth it!

It is my opinion that we vet all our clients carefully and strictly to ensure that the skip trace is being taken on for the right reasons and that the safety of the people we are locating is at the fore front of our minds.

Skip tracing is challenging, fun, sometimes incredibly frustrating, but also very rewarding when you know you've found the right person.

There are many courses out there designed to help you skip trace, and by running a Google search you will quickly find out where they are, and how much they are to participate. I would encourage anyone to take up these courses and further this skill set.

Skip tracing offers us as investigators another string to our bow, and another income stream to top up the business account with.

At OJT Investigations Group, my head of research, Sarah, is every bit the professional skip tracer and more, her tenacity and patience at locating the hardest people is incredibly impressive, and that's why I'm so proud that we undertake this role for so many clients right around the globe, from London, New York, Europe and Asia, we have been tasked with some of the most challenging locates and come out on top!....

And for me, well, I'm getting the hang of it, and becoming pretty good myself.....


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13 Aug 2018

By Oliver Laurence