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Skip tracing

Region: Ontario Answer Number: 997

What is skip tracing?

Skip tracing is a technique used by private investigators to trace and locate people who have disappeared, whether intentionally, or not. Skip tracing is a service that involves collecting as much information as possible about people who are missing, and then analyzing and verifying the information in order to locate them. Individuals who perform this service are often called skip tracers.

Who uses skip tracing services?

Skip tracing services are used by many types of people, including:

  • private individuals
  • corporations
  • lawyers and paralegals
  • debt collectors
  • process servers
  • landlords
  • insurance companies
  • collection agencies

When is skip tracing required?

Missing family or friends

One of the most common reasons investigators use skip tracing services is to help a private individual who is trying to locate a missing child, parent, relative or friend who has disappeared. Sometimes their reason for disappearing is unknown. The most common missing persons cases involve:

  • adopted children and adults who want to find their biological parents
  • runaways who have drug or alcohol addictions, or are fleeing abuse
  • a parent or spouse who has gone missing after divorce, or because of domestic abuse, mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction or other problem
  • children and adults looking for a parent who left when they were very young
  • friends or family members who have lost touch over the years
  • childhood friends or classmates, or college or university friends who have lost touch or moved away
  • former co-workers

Skip tracing for lawyers

Lawyers often hire investigators to find individuals who are involved in a legal issue. Sometimes these individuals do not know they need to be found or sometimes they have disappeared intentionally. These cases involve:

  • an individual who is a witness in a trial
  • individuals who owe money
  • individuals who left because of legal problems
  • individuals who are named as beneficiaries or heirs in a Will or life insurance policy
  • recipients in a class action suit
  • clients, plaintiffs or defendants in a lawsuit where court documents need to be served on them (e.g. in a divorce case, involved in a car accident)
  • former spouses who owe child or spousal support
  • spouses who have abandoned their partner, or children

Skip tracing for debt collection

Sometimes it is obvious why someone has disappeared. These cases often involve outstanding debts on legitimate contracts, or the recovery of money taken under false pretences.

Skip tracing is often used to locate an individual who owes money, commonly referred to as a debtor. Locating a debtor’s assets is done through an asset investigation, but is often conducted at the same time as skip tracing which locates the debtor, not the assets.

A common tool used in both skip tracing and asset investigations is a credit check by a credit bureau. For an individual to have a credit check conducted on another individual, the Ontario Consumer Reporting Act legislates that lawful evidence must exist proving a debt is owed, such as a judgment, an order for support, a court order for costs, or a loan agreement.

Skip tracing is often used to help find debtors, such as:

  • tenants who owe money for past rent or property damage
  • landlords who have disappeared after taking money from a potential tenant but there is no property for rent
  • employees who have embezzled funds or committed fraud
  • businesses (or employees of a business) that have locked their doors but owe money or services
  • a client who owes money to a business
  • contractors who have left town after being paid but not finished the work they were hired to do

What information is needed to conduct a skip trace?

Investigators will require different types of information in order to conduct a skip trace. Of course, the more information that is provided, the more likely the skip trace will be successful.

Types of information that could be used include:

  • a first and last name (or name of company)
  • a last known residential (or business) address
  • last known phone number, email
  • date of birth or approximate age
  • a Social Insurance Number
  • last know employment
  • information on spouses, parents, other relatives, friends, business associates

How is skip tracing done?

Skip tracers use various search methods to locate the missing person, such as:

  • phone number databases
  • credit bureau search
  • job application information
  • utility bills
  • driver abstracts
  • public databases and internet searches
  • corporate searches
  • leasing inquiries
  • Personal Property Security Registration (PPSR) searches to identify a lien associated with an individual, or collateral that is shown as a security for payment of a debt
  • loans and bank affiliations

What does a skip trace cost?

Skip tracing services can be conducted by private investigators as well as companies that specialize in skip tracing. In some cases, these companies will only provide their services to lawyers, businesses or individuals such as landlords, and not private citizens.

Skip tracing services to locate a person are usually based on a flat rate and range anywhere from about $150-$500 for a basic search, to $250-$1,000 for a rush search (usually completed in two to three days). Many companies operate on a “no find, no fee” basis, meaning if a search is not successful the client will not have to pay. This is often the case for skip tracing services requested by lawyers, law firms and paralegals. 

For more information on other ways to locate missing persons, review topic 995 Finding missing persons.

To have someone conduct a skip trace for a missing person and for other investigation services, contact our preferred Investigators, Smith Investigation Agency .



Smith Investigations April 2017 Ontario Private Inv. Topic 997Smith Investigations April 2017 Ontario Private Inv. Topic 997




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