“Skip tracing” is the process of locating a person’s whereabouts.
According to Wikipedia,
The term “skip” (as a noun) refers to the person being searched for, and is derived from the idiomatic expression “to skip town”, meaning to depart (perhaps in a rush), leaving minimal clues behind to “trace” the “skip” to a new location.
Skip tracing tactics may be employed by a debt collector, process server, bail bondsman or bail agency enforcer (bounty hunters), repossession agent, private investigator, lawyer, police detective, journalist, stalker or by any person attempting to locate a subject whose contact information is not immediately known.
To a real estate investor, skip tracing sometimes occurs in the process of sending out direct mail (as a means of finding motivated sellers and great real estate deals).
When you’re sending out thousands of mailers at a time, it’s not uncommon to receive a few (or sometimes, A LOT of) mail pieces back in your mailbox as undeliverable.
Sometimes mailers get returned to the sender because of an invalid address, but more often, it’s because the property owner no longer lives at the address, and the U.S. post office has no idea where they’ve gone.
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Another ancillary use for skip tracing is finding the contact information of a neighboring property owner.
Say, if you’ve identified a property you want to buy – or a neighboring property owner who may want to buy a property you are selling – if you’re able to figure out who they are and how to contact them (either by phone, email or letter), you can start a conversation about buying their property or selling your property to them.
In order to track down the new whereabouts of a person, you’ll need to start with what little information you have (usually their name and/or their incorrect mailing address) and use it to find one or more of the following:
- Their current mailing address
- Their phone number(s)
- Their email address(es)
When you have the resources to track down and reach potential buyers and sellers, you’ll be able to take more control over each situation, close more deals and make more money from leads that would otherwise be lost.
The good news is, we live in the information age. There are many free and paid subscription resources available to help you put the pieces together.
Since most of us are comfortable starting with things that are FREE, let’s start by outlining some of the best resources that don’t cost anything.
It seems pretty simple, but Google (and other similar search engines) really can work wonders.
Start by searching for the name of the person + any street or city address you may have.
Also, try the name of the person + their zip code.
The search will often turn up people finder sites, some paid and some free, with links to your “skip”. Don’t be surprised if you find a link to an obituary with your subject (see more on that later).
Social Media (free)
From Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. search for the person’s name + their city.
You can also try a Google search, using the name of the person + “Facebook” + the city of the person (replace Facebook, with Twitter, or LinkedIn, etc.).
Once you narrow down on the person you’re searching for, you can also use tools like Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn messenger to reach out to potential contacts directly.
People Finder Websites (free)
Many people finder sites will tease you with a bit of information to convince you they have more details, but will then require a subscription or one-time purchase to get full details. That’s not necessarily bad and some of the paid sites are very useful.
Many of these sites will put up false progress meters etc. indicating they are doing deep dive searches while you wait. It really doesn’t take them that long – they just want you to think they are doing a great deal of work to scour many sources of info.
A few sites that may be useful, but may not have as much information as the paid sites are:
Genealogy Websites (free)
In my mind, there are two very good people finder sites masquerading as genealogy sites.
Keep in mind – these are free, but they are pretty darn good. These are my go-to free sites and I typically use them to cross-check the searches I do on subscription sites:
- FamilyTreeNow.com: This site will provide a quick search by a person’s First Name, Last Name, City and State. You can edit the search criteria after the initial attempt and add a middle name and birth year. It provides a bit of information including the full name, birth year, age, names of associated persons and names of possible relatives as well as current and past addresses and phone numbers. The list of associated persons and relatives are hyperlinks, which will take you to their respective search pages. It does not provide e-mail addresses.
- MyRelatives.com: Allows searching by name, address, phone, and e-mail and provides information similar to Family Tree Now, but often not as complete or not as current. But, it does often provide some e-mail addresses.
This category should probably be a subset of the above internet search engine paragraph, but it justifies a mention of its own.
For those hard-to-find persons (where the information from other sources appears to be dated or no longer valid), sometimes doing an internet search for the person name + prior city of residence + “obituary” will occasionally find just that – an obituary with the names and cites of residence for their surviving relatives.
You can then apply the same tools used to find the subject to the deceased subject’s relatives in the search for the heir(s) or trustees that may be willing to help you purchase the property through the proper legal procedures.
Now, since paid information can potentially (though not always) produce results that are faster, more direct and neatly packaged, it’s worth mentioning a few of the more notable ones here as well.
People Finder Sites (paid)
There are an infinite (well, almost) number of sites that will provide a detailed report for a fee, and many others that offer monthly or annual subscriptions.
I don’t use any pay-per-use sites (with one exception mentioned below), but I do use, and recommend a few subscription sites. They provide fairly complete and current information, which includes current and past mailing addresses, e-mail addresses, phone numbers (often with an indication of which are landline or cell numbers) names and contact information (e.g. – links to people reports for relatives and associates, and links to social media pages).
- BeenVerified.com: Unlimited reports; $22.86 /month, $14.86 / month for three months or $9.83 / month for six months. Here’s a link to a review, with which I agree.
- Spokeo.com: 100 reports per month; $13.95 / month, $7.95 / for three months or $4.95 / month for six months. I personally think Spokeo is better than this review suggests.
- WhitePages.com: 20 reports / month for $4.99 / month, 200 reports / month for $19.99, or 500 reports per month for $69.99.
Of the above three, I use BeenVerified most often. I find it to be as (if not more) accurate and complete as the other two, it often provides more information, and it allows unlimited reports. If I am not able to find what I’m looking for using the above two free sites or BeenVerified, then I will then try Spokeo.
I just recently subscribed to WhitePages, and in my limited time using it, it seems to have less information (fewer numbers, emails, and addresses). Comparing Spokeo and WhitePages, I prefer Spokeo (so far). Based on a six-month subscription, Spokeo provides 600 reports for about $30, whereas for the same 600 reports during a three-month period, WhitePages charges $60.
July 2018 UPDATE from the Author: Since first assisting with this article, I have had much better success with White Pages. While it does seem to provide fewer potential phone numbers and often no e-mails; the successful hits on the numbers provided seem to have a much better success rate than I initially experienced.
The exception to not using a pay per use services: I use one site (findtheseller.com) that provides a very detailed report of names, addresses, phone numbers, relatives, neighbors, etc. The services cost about $10 per search and the results are sent about 24 hours later. Based on the few times I have used it, I truly believe the site does a very deep and thorough search of sources beyond what the typical paid search sites use.
- FindTheSeller.com: This is a pay-per-use site that provides a very detailed report of names, addresses, phone numbers, relatives, neighbors, etc. The service costs about $10 per search and the results are sent about 24 hours later. The site seems to do a very deep and thorough search of source data beyond what the most paid search sites use.
One other site worth mentioning is Melissa Data. It offers some services for free, but most of the good stuff requires a subscription, which varies in price depending on which level you choose (Level 1 starts at $29 / month).
Here are some quick examples of how you can use Melissa Data’s various information-gathering services:
- Got an address, but need a phone number? Try the Personator.
- Got a name and address, but the person no longer lives there? You can also use the Personator to track down their new location.
- Need to find the owner of a property? Try the Property Lookup tool.
- Need to find the current resident of a property (tenant name check)? Try the Address Check.
- Got a phone number and nothing else? Try the Global Phone Check.
- Got a first and last name, and need to find their current mailing address? Try the Personator Search.
Where the Data Comes From
Now, in case you’re wondering,
“How do they have access to so much personal information?!”
…the answer varies from one service to another, and most of them rely on several different sources of data.
Much of it comes from property ownership records, credit bureaus, consumer databases, social security files and a lot more. Depending on the services, most of the data is updated on a weekly or monthly basis, so in most cases, it’s usually going to be reasonably current.
If you’re at all paranoid about people looking up YOUR information – the reality is, unless you change your name, move to an undisclosed location (one that doesn’t require any kind of credit check or loan application) renounce your citizenship and live off the grid (among other things), there isn’t much any of us can do have our data excluded from these sources.
Now you know where to find a boatload of information on whoever you’re looking for, but here are a few additional tips to keep in mind as you start searching…
Be thorough and tenacious. Use multiple sites/sources and cross-reference them to get a picture of which information is more likely to be valid and useful versus in error or for a different person.
In instances where the source provides multiple (or past) addresses, look to see which ones match the county’s property record information for your subject property, then try contacting the other, or more current, addresses.
When you’re trying to determine potential relatives (e.g. spouses, children, parents) of the person you’re researching, use the age and address information of the subject person and compare it to the same information for the people associated with them (run a report for their associates/relatives too). Once you’ve got a few good guesses as to who their relatives might be, then contact those persons.
Triangulate using associates, relatives and friends’ information to validate whether you’ve found the right contact information or Facebook page for a person, then be willing to reach out to the associated persons and ask for contact information.
When sending messages to potential email addresses, if your email software has a “read receipt” confirmation feature – use it. If your email software doesn’t have this feature, consider using one that does (HubSpot and BombBomb are two great examples).
When an email gets read, but the recipient never responds – send them a follow up after a reasonable period has passed. Ask them to send a note back if you have reached the wrong person or if they know how to contact the person. Many times, if you have reached a relative, they will not give you the information of the person you’re trying to reach so as to protect their relative’s privacy (at least initially) but will – if asked – consent to pass your information along to that person and let them know you are trying to reach them.
When sending a letter, provide a phone mail and e-mail and ask the recipient to let you know if you have reached the wrong person or ask them if they have contact information for the person.
Skip Tracing Can Yield BIG Results
Skip tracing is an opportunity that many, MANY people overlook.
Why? Because it takes work – and most people either don’t want to do it, or don’t know how to do it (a problem we’ve hopefully solved in this article).
It’s an understandable dilemma, because not every person you “find” is guaranteed to pay off in a big way. Even after you do all the work, some people still won’t be interested in working with you, even when you’ve offered a totally viable solution to their problem.
However, the vast majority of people you deem worthy of skip tracing will typically be much stronger leads. Since nobody else has taken the time to track them down, there’s a higher likelihood they’ll be willing to hear you out, because nobody else has put in the effort to make them aware of the problem they may be facing AND (more importantly) the solution you’re bringing to the table.
This blog post was made possible by Karl James, a valued member of the REtipster Club, experienced land investor and skip tracer. Thanks Karl!
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