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Process Servers Flocking to Social Media as a Skiptracing Tool

  • October 20, 2010
  • by Staff

Who hasn’t “Googled an ex” by now? Or found a long-lost friend on a social networking site like Facebook or MySpace? Sometimes it’s hard to believe that as recently as thirty years ago, technology for locating people was pretty scarce.

Process servers and others in the investigations industry were limited to calling references and trying to find neighbors through reverse-look-up directories. Public records searches had to be done in person at local records offices. Newspaper archives could only be accessed on microfiche at local libraries. Things got easier when computerized records databases came along in the mid-80s, and by the mid-90s, it was all going online. Meanwhile, free Internet search engine technology, available to anyone, has made people-searching something of a hobby for some. How many “Yahoo! Detectives” have you known?

Now, Web 2.0 technology has ushered in the rise of social networking sites, where millions of people around the world are voluntarily giving up information on themselves. They post photos of what they currently look like, who they associate with, their interests, hangouts, friends’ names, cities they’re living in, and companies they work for. Public records databases still remain a primary source to locate a skip, of course. After all, there are millions more people who are not participating in social networking online. That said, it’s foolish to dismiss social media sites when engaged in a skip trace.

Where I live in the Bay Area, the hub of Web 2.0 and Internet businesses, a lot of people are on the social media bandwagon. While they may not be sharing their home addresses, they are often sharing their city, and the first and last names of their spouses, friends, and family members providing us with still more references to search in the records databases. On top of that, they are sometimes sharing their favorite hangouts and workplaces.

A couple weeks ago I located a small-claims defendant based entirely on the information she’d provided on her Facebook profile. She had created an “Event” and listed her home address as the venue. No, I didn’t crash the party. But if that address just so happened not to be her home, I would have. Because she had posted on Facebook she would be at that address on a certain day and time.

Earlier this year I was searching for someone to serve an order for examination. I’d reached a dead end in the public records databases. However, my subject had both a LinkedIn and Facebook profile, neither of which shared an address. But her Facebook profile gave me clues to her current career industry. After a few phone calls, I had her company address, department, and work schedule. And she was right where I expected her to be the day I showed up with the order.

Last year, a process serving firm I worked with used Twitter to get a tip on the whereabouts of an evasive witness. He “tweeted” that he would be at a certain nightspot. I showed up that night, had a few drinks, talked to a few people, and had him served by midnight.

Now, I can’t wait for the day I locate somebody for process service based on their FourSquare updates. If only it were that easy!

As process servers well know, by the time we’re hired for a skiptrace, “Googling” has already been tried. Most people who seriously do not want to be found don’t have their Facebook profile on public settings if they have a Facebook profile at all. So a good skiptracer must use any and all techniques available to them, and that includes driving to locations and asking questions of friends and relatives in person, making pretext phone calls, surveillance, and even in-person records searches when necessary.

Social media is certainly an exciting new tool skiptracers should be taking seriously, but as a complement to other tried and true methods.

Amber Howle is a process server in San Francisco, a guest contributor to the ServeReport and a member of’s trusted network of process servers.

To learn more about becoming a member, visit or call (877) 737-8366.

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