Skip-tracing is the process of tracking down someone who owes you money. When an individual skips out, he or she generally moves away to another city, to another state, or to another country. When a corporation skips out, it generally ceases to exist.

When to skip-trace. You should consider running a skip-trace as soon as you see any sign that the debtor may have disappeared, such as your mail being returned or the debtor's phone being disconnected.

Who to contact. There are professional skip-tracers. To find one, look in the Yellow Pages under "skip tracing" or "private investigators." It'll cost you about $30 per skip-trace, so don't skip-trace an account unless the dollar value is high enough above that figure to justify the trouble. The skip-tracer will ask you for any identifying information you have, so be prepared to provide as much as you can.


In some cases, a skip can be unintentional, such as where someone moves and forgets to tell you. To save yourself the cost of an unnecessary skip-trace, consider doing some minimal skip-tracing yourself. If it's an individual you're after, look in the phone book (most skips travel no more than 100 miles away) or in voter registration records (they have to be kept up to date so a person cannot vote twice). If it's a corporation, check building permits and industry associations.

Contrary to what you might think, finding an individual is usually easier than finding a corporation. Individuals will almost always leave a trail of records wherever they go. They'll inevitably use credit cards or ATM cards again, or they'll take out a loan or register to vote. You can almost always catch them.

But corporations are a different story because a person can dissolve a corporation one day and reappear in a new corporate form almost the next day. Since the old corporation no longer exists, your only hope is to be able either to go after the individual or individuals behind the old corporation, or to go after the new corporation with the argument that the new corporation and the old corporation are one and the same (called, in legal circles, piercing the corporate veil). Incorporation laws, however, are specifically designed to provide protection to the individuals behind the scenes, so it won't be easy. If you run a skip-trace, and you discover that the individuals behind the old corporation have reappeared under a new name, contact your attorney and discuss your options with him or her.


If a corporation dissolves, it has to file a document with the state affirming that it has paid all its debts. If the corporation still owes you money, that statement is obviously untrue. When discussing your options with your attorney, ask him or her about the possibility of contacting your state attorney general to pursue this option.