How To Identify Someone Avoiding Service of Process
- April 26, 2021
- by Stephanie Irvine
Process servers have several important responsibilities, but their primary job is to serve papers, notifying an individual of an impending legal proceeding. After all, without process servers, people could be sued and have judgments placed against them without ever knowing the process was happening, violating their right to due process. But your average Joe may not understand the role of a process server and may decide instead to avoid being served, believing this will enable them to avoid the situation altogether. We’ve compiled some advice for servers facing this particular challenge as it’s a fairly common one in the industry. Learn more about how to serve those evading service of process whether you’re new to the field or have years of experience.
Why do people avoid getting served?
The duty of effectuating process service means that process servers deal with serving a variety of defendants and, unfortunately, some of those defendants just don’t want to accept that they have been named as a party in a legal proceeding. It could be because they are being served divorce papers and they don’t want to get divorced. They could wind up in collections. There are a number of reasons that someone would need to appear in a court case and, in many cases, it is not pleasant news.
Some individuals being served might even think that process servers have an opinion of guilt or innocence of the person they are serving, which could also lead to them attempting to avoid accepting the papers. This couldn’t be further from the truth as process servers are merely serving as a messenger of legal documents. Truthfully, the role of a messenger is an important role in our legal system as it upholds the right to due process. Regardless of why someone might evade service or avoid a process server, it is necessary that process servers do their best to get the job done and within the parameters of state law.
Preparation is key
For any process server, knowing the state law and the client’s instructions is important, but even more so in cases in which a server is facing someone avoiding service. Process servers must get creative in how they approach cases where the party to be served is knowingly dodging service attempts, but they cannot go rogue and violate any of the rules of civil procedure.
Ensure that the client is providing as much detail as possible about the person to be served. This includes but is not limited to a description of their physical appearance (current height and weight, gender, and other identifying features such as piercings or tattoos), where they can be found (workplace, home address, and information about their routine or addresses of known associates, such as significant others or family members), vehicle description, or other habits. Furthermore, any additional information, such as the demeanor of the party to be served, can make the process server better prepared to complete the serve safely and effectively.
Before attempting service on an avoider, the process server should try to obtain a picture of the individual. While a description is helpful, a current picture can make a positive identification even easier — and make it harder for the individual to lie and claim they are not the person the server is trying to serve. Social media is an excellent place to obtain a current picture.
The client may engage a process server for skip tracing services if that is something they offer. This is an incredibly helpful additional service for any process server and may be worth investing in courses or mentorship from a server specializing in skip tracing. Regardless of whether a server offers it as a professional service, all process servers should have basic skip tracing skills in order to track down those evading service. This could be as simple as being familiar with social media or knowledge of how and where to access public records.
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Tips to complete the serve
When a process server has as much information they can gather, it is time to begin making attempts in hopes of finding the individual evading service.
A process server should always assume that the intended target is at the location they have been provided. Approaching the person with confidence makes it harder for the individual to deny their own identity and it presents a greater likelihood of a successful serve. If a server is unable to verify the identity of a potential target, asking for identification in a professional and authoritative manner can establish identity. If the individual refuses to provide identification, it is a clue that the person could be the subject.
Remember, a lot of people who are getting served are receiving bad news. Establishing a rapport and being kind to the individual being served can go a long way in getting them to self-identify, making it possible to effectuate service. Being conversational can also provide the server enough opportunities to verify the person’s identity by catching them in a lie.
Ask neighbors and friends
Neighbors are perhaps the best source to obtain information about an evasive individual. A wealth of information can be gleaned from talking with neighbors, such as whether the person is home, their working hours, the type of vehicle they drive, and other valuable information. In rare cases, a neighbor may be cooperative to the point that he or she calls the server when the target is actually home so as to facilitate service. Similarly, a neighbor may be able to identify the target if they are both outside.
While impersonating a police officer is an absolute no (not to mention that it’s illegal), there is nothing wrong with getting creative and donning other “costumes” while attempting service. Some servers have had great luck delivering “pizza” papers or with other benign attire. This can also be as simple as holding a package or bouquet of flowers. However, keep in mind that such pretexting is considered dishonest by some servers that should be used as a last resort. It can also ruin any chance of establishing rapport with an individual if it doesn’t work so use it with caution.
Be creative — part 2
When attempting service at the individual’s home, asking for a neighbor or someone else can throw the target off because the focus of attention will be shifted to someone else. When they reply, ask the target for his or her name for the report, and the server may be able to get a target to self-identify.
Show a picture
In this day and age, it’s almost impossible for there not to be a picture of someone on the internet. If you are able to get a picture on social media prior to the serve, save it, and show the individual denying their identity. They are more likely to cave when the truth is right in front of them.
If a server sees an individual who may be the intended target, calling out the person’s name to see if they answer is fairly logical. This can be done while the person is in a yard, in a public area at his or her workplace, or even walking down a sidewalk or at a store. It is difficult to deny being a particular individual when one just answered to his or her name.
If a server is having trouble serving someone at their home, the server can leave a note on their door (or even a voicemail) indicating service will be attempted at their place of employment (if they are employed) if they are unable to reach them on a second visit (think a “Sorry we missed you!” type note). Rather than risk the embarrassment of that situation, people will often consent to be served at home.
No matter the outcome of the attempted service, the process server should always document all aspects of the serve. The good news is that some of the technology used to document ordinary serves can prove to be extra helpful when dealing with an avoider. For example, many process servers wear body cameras for the purposes of documenting attempts. Especially in states where two-party consent is required, announcing that the attempt is being recorded may end up working in the server’s favor as the individual may be less inclined to lie knowing they are being recorded. Similarly, taking a picture can also be helpful (but be safe as this may agitate an avoider).
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Get an Avoider Served
At the end of the day, it’s clear that there is considerably more to be a process server than simply serving papers to a defendant. A server must often possess detective skills and quick thinking to get the job done. Many process servers develop their own techniques for identifying subjects and likely have an arsenal of tricks to get an individual evading service served. Hopefully, these tips combined with those from other professionals in the field and a server’s own experience can cut down on the number of incomplete serves.
More articles on how to serve in difficult situations:
- How to Serve an Individual With a Post Office Box
- How to Serve Papers in a Hospital
- How To Serve a Subpoena
- How To Serve Divorce Papers
- How to Serve Eviction Notices
- How to Serve Legal Documents to Members of The U.S. Military
- How To Serve Legal Papers on an Indian Reservation
- What You Need To Know About Serving Seniors with Dementia
- Service of Process in Prisons
- Serving Individuals With No Addresses or Names
- Serving Papers on Holidays