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

Reviewed for accuracy by Joseph Jones on September 14, 2022

If you’re a business owner or freelancer, you’ve probably had a client or two that refused to pay for goods and services rendered. Normally, when this happens, you’d try to contact them about their missing payment. The problem starts when you try (and fail) multiple times to reach the client, and it seems that they’ve vanished off the face of the earth. In a situation like this, your best shot at finding this non-paying client is to hire a skip tracer. 

In this article, we’ll explore:

  • What skip tracing is
  • How skip tracing works
  • Why skip tracing is important
  • When you need a skip tracer
  • Choosing between an independent skip tracer and a skip tracing service

Let’s get into it.

What is Skip Tracing?

In a general sense, skip tracing is the process of tracking down people who are missing, unresponsive, or hard to find. Skip tracing is an investigatory practice that’s commonly deployed to pinpoint an individual’s whereabouts due to unpaid debts or unfulfilled financial responsibilities. The person who tries to locate people like this is known as a skip tracer. 

The term ‘skip’ was derived from the idiom ‘to skip town,’ which means to depart from a place hurriedly, with very few clues as to where the person went. ‘Trace’ refers to the act of tracking down the location or whereabouts of the person.

What is Batch Skip Tracing? 

Batch (or bulk) skip tracing is the process of gathering the basic contact information of several people for business purposes. It is commonly used by real estate companies that need specific pieces of information (phone numbers, addresses, emails, etc.) for many potential buyers or sellers. 

The best way to conduct batch skip tracing is through batch append services. In simple terms, this service will acquire the information needed to contact targeted groups of people. However, this type of service often gets things wrong and the data provided can be misconstrued or deemed unuseful. 

Batch skip tracing is typically best utilized when you have a large number of people for which you need to collect data, want it done cheaply, and don’t mind if you only acquire reliable contact info on 50% of your targets. 

Who Uses Skip Tracers & Skip Tracing Services?

Skip tracers can be employed for many different 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

Skip Tracer vs Bounty Hunter: What is the Difference? 

The term ‘skip tracing’ is commonly used interchangeably with bounty hunting. While they’re both related to finding someone who doesn’t want to be found, they’re not the same thing. 

Bounty hunters (and bail bondsmen) often hire skip tracers to locate fugitives who failed to appear in court. In truth, bounty hunters can work as skip tracers, but skip tracers can’t work as bounty hunters. 

The job of bounty hunters is to find criminals who absconded to avoid going to jail. So they sometimes hire skip tracers to find information that will lead to the apprehension of the fugitive. 

But skip tracers do more than track missing criminals. They also investigate witnesses, individuals of interest, subject matter experts (for journalists), and other parties. Skip tracing does not always result in an arrest, as opposed to bounty hunting whose intention is to capture targeted fugitives for a commission or bounty.

How Does Skip Tracing Work? 

When you hire a skip tracer to find someone, here’s the standard process they follow:

Verify the Information Of the Skipper 

Usually, the reason you can’t find a person is that you don’t have their correct contact information. That’s why skip tracers start by verifying that the outdated contact information the client has, including their last known address, phone number, email address, and social security number actually belong(ed) to the person in question. If you’re lucky, the skip tracer will find some of this information may still be current and you can reach out to the person quickly. 

Gather Necessary Information On the Skipper 

If after this initial step, you still can’t reach the person, the skip tracer will scour through public records, letters, files, and proprietary investigation databases to find more information on the skipper. These records include:

  • Address history
  • Court records 
  • Credit header data pulled from credit applications
  • Criminal records (and background checks) 
  • Civil records
  • Driver’s license history 
  • Employment history 
  • Phone number records 
  • Property records
  • Tax records 
  • Utility information 
  • Social Media
  • Deep web data

Contact Friends & Family 

The information the skip tracer gets from the above records might be enough to locate the person. But if it’s not, the tracer will often get in touch with the skipper’s friends and family. If the person skipped town, chances are they told their close friends and family about their departure and future location. These people may give the skip tracer some information that will help the tracer locate the person. 

Note: If the relatives and friends of the skipper are not willing to provide any information, an ethical skip tracer would never use intimidation or attempt to bully them into cooperation; however a skillful skip tracer uses honed powers of persuasion to help see how it is in everyone’s best interest for the individual to be located on amenable terms. 

Why is Skip Tracing an Important Service? 

Skip tracing goes beyond finding criminals and debtors. Here are a few examples of how people can use skip tracing in different industries:  

  1. Finding People Who Failed to Appear in Court – When someone doesn’t show up in court on the day they’re supposed to, bounty hunters are assigned to the case. These bounty hunters might hire skip tracers to track the fugitive down and bring them to court.
  2. Locating People for a Legal Case – Lawyers, journalists, law enforcement agents, and private investigators can leverage skip tracing services to locate someone involved in a criminal investigation or civil lawsuit as either a witness or a person of interest.
  3. Locating Debtors – Debt collectors hire skip tracers to track down debtors so that they can collect the money owed to them. These debtors include:
    • Tenants who owe money for rent or damaged property
    • Employees who committed fraud or embezzled company funds
    • A client who owes money to a business
    • Contractors who skipped town after payment but haven’t completed the work they were hired to do
    • Landlords who vanished after taking money from a potential tenant without giving them a property
    • Businesses that have closed up, but still owe money or services to clients
  4. Finding Potential Real Estate Sellers & Buyers – Real estate agents and investors can use skip tracing to find people that want to sell or buy real estate. They skip trace property owners to build a list for their prospect portfolio. Doing this helps real estate agents expand their business and close more deals. 
  5. Finding Family & Friends – Skip tracing is beneficial to people who are trying to locate their missing relatives/friends, or someone they’ve lost contact with. The most common missing persons cases involve:
    • Friends and family members you have lost contact with over the years
    • Childhood or college friends/classmates you haven’t spoken with in a long time
    • Adopted children or adults who want to find their biological parents
    • Parents or spouses that went missing because of domestic abuse, divorce, drug/alcohol addiction, mental illness, or some other problem
    • Former co-workers
  6. Evaluating Job Applicants – Recruiters and/or hiring managers may hire a skip tracer to conduct identity checks and criminal background checks to confirm that a job applicant is not an impersonator or criminal. 

DIY Skip Tracing Methods & Tips

At surface level, skip tracing may seem like something you can handle yourself. You could, but only if you have reliable information to work with and if you know what you’re doing. If you don’t, it’s best to leave skip trace investigations to the professionals.

If you do decide to skip trace someone yourself, here are some basic resources and tips to help get you started. 


Contrary to popular opinion, Google does not have all the answers. If you have only a phone number or email address to go on, doing an internet search might not yield meaningful results. If the person you’re looking for does not want to be found, chances are their personal information wouldn’t show up on Google, and if it does, it’ll likely be outdated. However, if you have a name and home address, you may find more information that will help you locate the person. 

If you search for the person’s name and navigate to the “Images” tab, you might find a recent picture of the person. When you click the image, you’ll be taken to the website that hosts the picture. There, you may find more information about that person e.g. date of birth, previous companies they’ve worked with, schools they attended, etc. From there, you can start connecting the dots and cross-referencing your findings to make sure you get the right person. 

Social Media 

If you have the name or email address of the person you’re looking for, you can type it into social networks like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn to see if you’ll find them. You’ll likely find multiple profiles with that name, but if you scroll through, you may find a profile belonging to the skipper. 

People on social media are using friends (or are connected with) their actual family and friends on the platform. If you have a list of the person’s relatives and friends, cross-reference that with the contacts the person has on their social media profile. This way, you can verify that you’ve found the right person. You should also check the birthday and locations on the social profiles you find. The more information you find on their social media profile, the more likely it is that you’ve got the right match. To learn more, check out our video guide on social media skip tracing.

People Finders 

People finders are websites that give people online access to public records and other information that is publicly available. These websites collect and aggregate billions of public records provided by local, state, and federal agencies for millions of people. So when you search for someone in this robust database, you’ll be able to find their personal information, including phone numbers, business records, court records, addresses, and relatives.

Genealogy Websites

Genealogy sites aren’t just for people who want to trace their family tree. They’re also good for people who want to find someone. Depending on the information you already have, these sites can show you the full name, birthday, age, names of relatives and friends, current and past addresses, and phone numbers of the person. The links of relatives and friends will lead you to their respective webpages. 

When Should You Hire a Skip Tracer?

As mentioned earlier, if you have sufficient time and information on the person that you’re looking for, you can try conducting a skip trace investigation on your own. But in most cases, it’s best to hire a professional skip tracer or a company that offers skip trace services. This is especially the case in scenarios when: 

  1. You cannot locate the individual – If you have no idea where the person you’re looking for lives, you should hire a skip tracer to find them. The tracer will know where to start and the best approach to take to find the person.
  2. You suspect that the individual is living in a certain area – If you can’t locate a person but you suspect that they’re living in a specific area, you should consider hiring a skip tracer to determine whether your suspicions are right or not. This is especially important if you’re trying to serve legal documents to the individual. 
  3. You want to verify if the person is deceased or incarcerated – Friends and relatives might be trying to protect the person from being found by claiming that they’re dead or in prison. In this case, consider hiring a skip tracer to find out the truth. Skip tracers can check criminal records, local jails, and state and federal prisons to find out if the person is incarcerated.

How Much Does Skip Tracing Cost?

Like most professional investigation services, the cost of skip tracing depends on the caliber of service, the parameters of the investigation, and the experience of the provider. In general, you can expect the cost to vary widely depending on the service.

  • For an initial search, the cost of skip tracing services varies but for an experienced skip tracer you can usually expect a flat fee between $250 and $500, keeping in mind there will be limits on what’s included with these searches.
  • A more advanced search (often utilized when dealing with very difficult-to-locate individuals) is generally billed hourly + expenses. The hourly rates can range anywhere from $95/hr-$200/hr and usually start with a budget of around $1,500.
  • For batch skip tracing, the cost can vary between $0.10 to $3 per record.

Keep in mind that professional investigation companies performing skip tracing services are utilizing resources and techniques the average person does not have. When layered on top of solid experience used to verify information found, they can produce results that are significantly better and more accurate than what can be found by simple online/database searching. 

Hire Professional Skip Tracers to Find Missing People & Assets

Tracking down a missing person and/or asset(s) isn’t easy. It’s even more difficult when you don’t have sufficient information about the individual or skills to track them down. To speed up the tracking process, you’ll need to hire skip tracers. 

That’s where Bosco Legal Services comes in. 

Bosco Legal Services, Inc. provides a wide variety of skip tracing services to clients. Our skip tracers collaborate with investigators, corporations, collection agencies, and individuals to help you locate individuals who have gone off the grid.

We use a myriad of public and private databases to create a profile based on social media, addresses, court records, motor vehicle records, arrest records, and associates, among others.

If you need our skip tracing services, contact us today at (877) 353-8281 to schedule an appointment. You can also send us a message online

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Skip Tracing

Is Skip Tracing Legal?

Yes, skip tracing is legal as long as you don’t break any laws in order to get information. For example, it is wrong to use violence to get information from somebody or to lie to financial institutions to get information. To be safe, check your local laws to ensure that you’re not committing a crime in a bid to find someone. 

How Long Does a Skip Trace Take?

This varies from one skip tracer to another, depending on how urgent it is to find the skipper and how much information is available. Some skip tracers find people within 48 hours, while others take up to four weeks. Bosco Legal usually averages about 1-2 weeks. 

Where Do Skip Tracing Companies Get Their Data?

Skip tracing companies get information about people by scouring through public records, such as arrest records, property tax records, business licenses, marriage licenses, social media, and more. They also look at special databases that contain private information. These databases include employment records, credit header data, and social security numbers. Only licensed investigators have access to this information.