Skip Trace

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What is a Skip Trace or People Locate?

A skip trace 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 people locate or skip trace...

  • You need to locate a debtor who has defaulted on payments.
  • You need to find 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.

In its simplest terms, a skip trace or people locate is an investigation with the primary objective of locating a person.

What is Involved?

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, gather accurate information on where they are living and working, what locations they frequent, and what activities they are involved in.
  • Background Investigation. Dependent 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 People Locate?

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 Locator 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 accurate and up to date. Investigators database resources require more comprehensive background checks and not every private investigation agency gets approved. The costs are much higher than public retail websites, but the information is much more current and accurate.

Confidentiality, Integrity, and Professionalism

Washington State Investigators