Skip tracing is an industry term used to describe the process of locating a fugitive that can’t be found at their place of residence or usual hangouts. “Skip” refers to the person being searched for (derived from the term “to skip town”) and “tracing” meaning the act of locating the skip.
The act of skip tracing is most often used by bail bondsmen, bounty hunters, repossession agents, private investigators, debt collectors, and even journalists. Skip tracing, however, may be performed by a professional — called a skip tracer — who is an expert in this process.
How is Skip Tracing Performed?
Skip tracing is performed by collecting information on the individual in question. All information recovered by the skip tracer is analyzed, verified, and used to determine the location of the individual. Skip tracing may involve gathering and analyzing a great deal of information or very little information, both of which have their own set of advantages and disadvantages.
Although most skip tracers now head to the Internet to gather information on the whereabouts of individuals, many also employ social engineering, the art of calling on individuals who may have information about the subject.
It is the job of the skip tracer to use any number of resources and databases to collect the required information. As such, skip tracing often involves accessing the following:
- Phone number databases
- Credit reports
- Credit card applications
- Job applications
- Criminal background checks
- Loan applications
- Utility bills
- Public tax information
- Public records databases
- Courthouse records
- Department store loyalty cards
- Air travel records
- Driver’s license/vehicle registration departments
Skip Tracing and Bounty Hunting
The term skip tracing is most often used in the field of bail bonds and bounty hunting, and many bounty hunters and bail bondsmen use the services of skip tracers to help locate individuals who have failed to meet the conditions of their bond. Because of this, skip tracing and bounty hunting are often mistakenly used synonymously.
Skip tracing is a unique process, however, and, although it is often a function of bounty hunting, the two actions are distinctly different. In short, bounty hunters can act as skip tracers, but skip tracers cannot serve as bounty hunters.
Both bail bondsmen and bounty hunters use skip tracing to locate an individual who has skipped bail. Because the defendant who skips bail does not want to be found for fear of being sent to prison (referred to as an intentional skip, versus an unintentional skip, which involves a person who isn’t trying to avoid detection), the job of skip tracing in the bail bonds field can be quite challenging.
Skip tracing in bounty hunting involves assessing information on the subject and uncovering facts to help in the apprehension of the fugitive. Using both traditional records and online tools and databases, all the while abiding by federal, state and local laws, such as trespass laws and privacy laws, skip tracers collect evidence and compose reports that are then used by bounty hunters when attempting an apprehension of the fugitive.
Skip tracing is not unlike detective work, as it involves scouring databases, understanding where and how to search for information, and following up on leads. Skip tracing professionals conduct interviews, engage in surveillance activities, and assess information about their subject.
How to Become a Skip Tracer: Jobs and Training
Although there are no formal training requirements for performing skip tracing, professionals who want to learn how to become a skip tracer should make it a priority to learn about state and federal laws regarding everything from surveillance laws to privacy laws. Individuals interested in jobs in skip tracing may also achieve more career opportunities by specializing in a specific area of skip tracing, such as bounty hunting or debt collecting.
Many skip tracers receive their training on the job, working for bail bond agencies, private investigation firms, debt collection agencies, etc. A good working knowledge of computer systems and databases is required to achieve success in this profession, as is the ability to communicate well with people.
Formal training for skip tracer jobs can be attained through seminars and workshops, which are often offered through professional associations, such as the National Association of Fugitive Recovery Agents and the American Recovery Association Inc. Online seminars in skip tracing are also a popular option for skip tracers and other professionals, such as bounty hunters, debt collectors, and private investigators, who want to learn about the latest online search tools and databases.
Opportunities for Skip Tracers
A number of industries hire skip tracers as employees, including debt collection agencies, investigative firms, and even law enforcement agencies. However, perhaps just as many skip tracers work as independent contractors, with bounty hunters, bail bondsmen and private investigators using their services as needed.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics organizes skip tracers under bill and account collectors. In May 2010, the median annual salary for these professional was $31,310, with the top 10 percent earning more than $47,180 during this time.
The median annual salary for bill and account collectors in the wholesale trade in May 2010 was $34,950, while collectors in business support services earned a median annual salary of $27,310 during the same time.