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An Easy Source of Additional Revenue for Servers

Process servers are always looking for ways to increase billing. A very effective way to do this is to provide ancillary services to their existing clients. From time to time, all attorneys need skiptracing services. You can solicit a skiptracing assignment on each bad address and/or offer the service as a stand-alone product. An easy way to sell this services is to charge anywhere from $75 – $150 if the subject is located and nothing if the subject is not located. And, in addition to the extra revenue, once you the subject is located you have created another piece of process to serve.

Many servers offer a “field locate” with all service of process. This means that your client automatically authorizes an attempted locate of the subject if it is determined that the given address is a bad address. A field locate provides an incentive to the server to talk to the neighbors while in the field. Typically, the charge is $25-$50 if the subject is found. If the server does not locate the subject in the field, there is still an opportunity to try to find the subject before the client is called for an authorization for a full-priced skiptrace. It is easy to sell a $150 job if you tell your client that you have already checked phone books, called directory assistance and checked with several neighbors and, there will be no charge unless the subject is found.

You do not have to be the world’s best skiptracer in order to be successful. A large percentage of the people who are being served are not hiding. In fact, one of the best ways to learn how to skiptrace is to practice on bad addresses from attempted service of process. Many of these people are actually fairly easy to find. A typical skiptrace might be for a home address of a physician or an attorney who refuses to be served at work. Locating a residence address for this type of witness is a piece of cake.

There are two essential tools that all process servers need in order to skiptrace. The first is a good electronic cross directory. The second is credit headers and credit header based skiptracing databases. You should also find a source of real property ownership, many counties are now free online.

Use a Cross-Directory First

If you intend to do even a small volume of skiptraces, invest in a good cross-directory. It will pay for itself the first few times it is used. An electronic cross-directory is a national database of names, addresses, and phone numbers. You can search the database by name, address or phone number. With a little practice, you should be able to find at least half of all of your skips with the information found in a cross-directory. All skiptraces should start with this inexpensive source of information. If you expect to find a current address for your subject by running the subject’s name in a cross-directory, you will often be disappointed. This is not the point of the product. The reason that cross-directories are so valuable is that they give you the ability to find a phone listing for someone who knows your subject or someone who can lead you to someone who knows your subject. These people are the people who live at an address where your subject used to live, neighbors at those addresses or a relative who lives near the subject’s last known address.

The trick is to learn how to get people to tell you the whereabouts of your subject without disclosing exactly why you are looking for them. If you are uncomfortable with running a pretext or gag (a little white lie) in order to determine the current whereabouts of your subject, start your conversation with “would you be kind enough to help me”. Then, tell them you need to contact the subject regarding a “personal business matter”. You will be surprised how often this works. It is not as effective as a good gag, but people are surprisingly helpful if you ask nicely.

If you are looking for someone to serve them a depo subpoena or an innocuous complaint such as a personal injury case, it is better not to try to pretext a neighbor or relative. Just tell them the truth. In fact, you do not want to lie to a witness’s grandmother in order to determine his address. If he is a friendly witness to your client’s case, and he is angered by your gag, you will likely be fired for upsetting a witness.

Another excellent use for a cross-directory is to verify the service address before the server attempts to deliver the papers. This is especially true in the case of a rush service that is some distance from your office. Rather than immediately sending the server out the door, take a few minutes to check the cross-directory and determine if there is a phone listed at the given address or at a neighboring residence. You may find the manager of an apartment building who verifies that the subject moved and provides an address or a place of business. You may determine that an address thought to be a residence is actually a business or vice versa. The subject’s mother may indicate that he is in the military or that he is expected home between 8:30 and 9:00. Many unnecessary trips can be avoided with the use of a cross-directory.

Credit Headers

A credit header is the top portion of a credit bureau report. It contains at least the last three addresses reported for the subject, the dates those addresses were reported, a social security number, an age or date of birth, and sometimes a phone number. It is important to understand that the most recently reported address in a credit header is not necessarily the current address for the subject. There are many reasons that a previously reported address may actually be the current address or that the subject’s current address does not appear at all. This points to another value of electronic cross-directories: The easiest way to verify an address found in a credit header or any other public record is to call a neighbor and ask if the subject still lives next door.

Access to credit headers is regulated by the Graham, Leach Bliley Act (GLB), also known as the Banking Privacy Act. It was signed into law on November 12, 1999. The GLB “limits the instances in which a financial institution may disclose non-public, personal information about a consumer to a non-affiliated third party.” The GLB mandates that, with a few exceptions, data collected from financial institutions after July 1, 2001, may not be distributed in credit header files. The full text of GLB is available at www.ftc.gov.

GLB regulated credit headers are updated on a real-time basis with information from financial institutions. Accessing these records does not result in an inquiry on the subject’s credit report. The acceptable uses listed in the GLB (15 U.S.C.A. Section 6801) are:

  • “For required institutional risk control or for resolving consumer disputes or inquiries”
  • “To protect against or prevent actual or potential fraud, unauthorized transactions, claims, or other liability”

Each of the credit bureaus has their own interpretation of the GLBacceptable uses. The most liberal interpretation allows the following activities:

  • Witness and victim locating
  • Fraud prevention and locating fraud victims
  • Insurance claims investigations
  • Locating for collection of a delinquent account
  • Apprehending criminals (Law Enforcement Only)
  • Locating former employees

If you are serving a witness subpoena or a complaint for money, you have an acceptable use under the GLB. Merlin offers Equifax, TransUnion and Banking Headers for $5 to $7.50. Merlin’s Link to America database, $1 – $2, includes several current and historical credit header files along with phone, property and numerous other public records.

All Servers Should be Offering Skiptracing Services

Skiptracing for service of process is a great way to increase your income and it is not as difficult as you might think. A good cross-directory, access to a credit header file, a basic understanding of the available public record in your state, and an authentic phone presence, are all you need to substantially grow your business. If you are good at getting people to come to the door, you can learn how to get people to give you information over the telephone. Merlin also has a fully staffed skiptracing department that will handle your skiptracing for you. Just give us a call at 1-800-367-6646 if you would like details.

About the Merlin National Cross-Directory

In 1999, Merlin introduced the first commercial grade, Internet-based cross-directory; designed specifically for professional skiptracers and process servers. The Merlin National Cross-Directory contains at least 170 million current households and 15 million businesses as well as over 600 million historical records going back to 1999. The database also includes about 65 million ages or dates of birth. About 90 million household records include phone numbers that come from phone books as well as regularly updated information directly from hundreds of regional and local phone companies. The rest of the households come from sources such as DMV, voters, property, direct mail lists, and the National Change of Address Database from the post office. Note that these unlisted household records do not contain phone numbers.

The entire National Cross-Directory database is updated monthly. Access to the monthly updated online Merlin National Cross Directory is only $349 per year for a single concurrent user. This means that a company can share access for this price as long as only one user is online at a time.


Michael Dores is a licensed California private investigator and President of Merlin Information Services. Michael spent twenty years in the attorney service industry as a server, process manager, and skip tracer. He currently conducts seminars on using public record to locate people and assets. If you have any further questions about skiptracing sources, call Merlin Information Services at 1-800-367-6646.


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