Skip tracing is the art and science of finding people. Skip tracers are used to find people because they owe debts they can't or won't pay, for example. People make money skip tracing in several different ways. Some work as field operatives for a private investigator (PI) and may become a licensed PI. Others specialize in providing a service accessing and searching a number of private and public databases, such as driver's license, county clerk, sheriff's office and credit reporting agencies, to locate a "skip."
Deliver service of process. Subpoena servers are assigned to find people to personally deliver copies of subpoenas compelling them to appear in court to testify. They also deliver notices of lawsuit filings to all interested parties. This specialized field incorporates the skills of a good skip tracer to find reluctant witnesses. Many process servers work as freelancers. Subpoena servers typically don't need to be licensed as private investigators.
Find parents who owe past-due child support. Some skip tracers do nothing but locate parents who have not kept up-to-date with child support payments. Author and private investigator Steven Kerry Brown says he knows of several PI firms who have the client sign a contract promising the PI firm a percentage of whatever child support or alimony payments the spouse receives after they find the parent who owes child support.
Locate the birth parents of adopted children. According to Brown, these cases can be difficult to solve, but also can be very rewarding. It's a good idea, he says, to make it a firm policy to never provide information that reunites children with parents unless both parties have been contacted independently by the skip tracer, and both are receptive to the idea. Otherwise, it is an unwelcome invasion of privacy for the reluctant party.
Some of the methods needed to do a proper job of skip tracing require a private investigator's license to carry out. Most states require some formal training in state laws and regulations pertaining to private investigators, in addition to a year of practical field experience under the direct supervision of a licensed private investigator, before applying for a PI license. The licensing process includes a test, a proper fingerprint card and documentation of adequate experience.