Skip Trace

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What is a Skip Trace or Locate Service?

A skip trace or locate service is an investigative technique that traces (or finds) an individual, generally one who has skipped out on a legal or financial obligation, but it is not limited to those matters. These investigations are commonly used to track down defendants who have missed court appearances or skipped bail, locate individuals who need to be served with legal documents or track down a person on behalf of a debtor.

Here are a few reasons you might need a skip trace or locate service…

  • You need to locate a debtor who has defaulted on payments.
  • You need to locate a current address for a family member who needs to be served with family court documents (i.e. child support, divorce).
  • Your client is a defendant in a court case and has missed a hearing.
  • You need to locate an individual to inform them about assets or an inheritance.
  • You are working on a missing person case.
  • You are working a criminal defense case and need to locate witnesses.

In its simplest terms, a skip trace or locate service is an investigation with the primary objective of locating a person. However, depending on your state Department of Licensing rules, a locate service can be used to locate the address for an asset i.e., a vehicle or a vessel. But, in Washington State, a private investigator can’t give a vehicle or vessel report to a client, unless they are an attorney or PI working an active case in Washington State.

What is involved in a Skip Trace?

After gathering pertinent information and clear goals and objectives from the client, an investigator will employ any techniques required to get an accurate location for the individual. This can involve…

  • Records Research. Accessing databases, visiting courts, libraries, and public service locations that house records, verifying with the United States Post Office, and even checking marital records can all be part of the investigation. The investigator will also verify the validity of the records.
  • Surveillance. Surveillance is often employed to understand the individual’s habits, and gather accurate information on where they are living and working, what locations they frequent, and what activities they are involved in.
  • Background Investigation. Depending upon the case itself, an investigator may conduct a background investigation to better understand the individual they are looking for. This can include interviews with family members, friends, and former colleagues, looking into criminal records, etc.

Who can conduct a Skip Trace or perform a locate search?

The shortest answer is: it depends on where you live.

Each state has its own regulations and licensing requirements when it comes to looking into a person’s location and attempting to find them. This is why most individuals will work with an attorney or directly with a private investigator.

Many people assume law enforcement agencies take care of locating individuals, especially in matters of the law and debt. The truth is that most agencies have more pressing matters of public safety to tend to, and those who seek resolution and answers will turn to a competent professional.

Online People Locate Websites

A word of caution: while online people locator websites appear to be an easy way to get up-to-date information, if you want accurate and verified information that you are authorized to share and can be used in any sort of legal matter, you will need to work with a private investigator. These online websites openly state that the information may be inaccurate and/or incomplete, that an individual can have their information removed from the website, and that the records can be unclear and confusing.

In fact, an investigator conducted a search on and compared the data with his proprietary database resource. What was discovered, is that the current address listed on the site was inaccurate and that the complete list of addresses did not include a home purchased 5 months prior to the search, the actual current address. This is not uncommon when it comes to searches on online websites.

Washington State Investigators recommends you use caution when paying for information on public retail websites as their databases may not be as accurate or up to date. The database resources an investigator uses require more comprehensive background checks, often requiring office inspections to verify client and research information is kept secure, and not every private investigation agency gets approved. The costs are much higher than public retail websites, however, the information is typically more current and accurate.

If you find yourself getting confused interpreting the results from an online public locate service or person search, or you’re not getting the results you hoped for, we invite you to call Washington State Investigators. We can help you to understand the results, or you can hire us to conduct a skip trace or locate search for you.  

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Washington State Investigators