Skip Tracing - Increasingly Popular for Fugitive Recovery

When a person is granted bail it comes with one massive condition attached: you must appear at the specified date to face the charges against you. Everyone ever released on bail throughout history has agreed to this condition. Unfortunately some people agree to that condition but then head for the hills as soon as they’re released. When this happens their bail is revoked and they are considered fugitives. The bondsman (who will be in for a prolonged fight to try and recoup his losses from the fugitive’s relatives) hires a bounty hunter to locate and return the fugitive to jail, where he will sit until it’s time for his court appearance. At least, that’s how it used to work.

The Changing Face of Fugitive Recovery

Until recently the bail bonding agent would hire a bounty hunter to locate, pursue and apprehend fugitives who skipped out on their bond. Bounty hunters typically spent long hours on the road interviewing relatives, searching suspected hideouts and often coming up empty. Today, however, some bail agents are taking a different, decidedly high tech approach. Instead of phoning up the bounty hunter as soon as the defendant jumps bail, they’re calling a skip tracer instead. What’s a “skip tracer”? Good question.

The skip tracer has been around for some time. Recently though, they’ve seen their value rise due to a little phenomenon called “big data”. Big data is a reference to the fact that most people create a digital trail wherever they go these days. And that trail is recorded and stored by companies like Google and Bing. Additional traceable information is created every time a person uses a credit card or store loyalty card, every time their smartphone pings a nearby cell tower or they use the internet.

The job of the skip tracer is to sift through this digital treasure, like a prospector panning for gold, until they are able to come up with some nuggets of information that point to a likely location for the fugitive. This type of searching can save loads of time and expense and pinpoint the likely location of a suspect far faster than the old school method of going door to door or staking out suspected hideouts.

What Happens When they Locate the Bail Bonds Fugitive?

Once the skip tracer nails down with a high degree of probability where the fugitive is hiding, they typically turn that information over to the bondsman who may pass it on to the bounty hunter. Or they may simply alert local police in Adams County, Broomfield County, Weld County or Denver.

In most cases the bail bond agent will call the bounty hunter, whose only job now is to go grab the fugitive and return him to custody. This new two pronged attack is often much more efficient and effective than the bounty hunter only approach and is being widely adopted in states that are still wise enough to retain the cash bail system.

Why Doesn’t The Skip Tracer Bring in The Fugitive?

Skip tracers are not typically the type of people you’re going to want on your side in a bar fight. Not that they’re weak or cowardly but they’re normally the type of folks that have an aversion to physical confrontation. And that attitude, while understandable, is not going to serve a person particularly well when they need to subdue a large, angry fugitive intent on staying free. This is why the bounty hunter still has an active, important role to play in fugitive recovery. Without them the odds of actually returning the fugitive to jail are long.

Are Skip Tracers Licensed?

No. And this is another reason why the job has attracted so many people recently. Whereas many states regulate the activities of bounty hunters and require that prospective bounty hunters go through many hours of training, a skip tracer can be anyone with a computer and a certain set of skills (see below). Skip tracers don’t only look for fugitives. In fact their industry got started as a way to track down people who had skipped out on car payments, credit card debt and the like.

Today, however, their roles and responsibilities are more clearly defined. As such so are the requirements for becoming one. Any person who possesses all or most of the following abilities may make a good skip tracer:

  • The ability to conduct research - Research is the backbone of the skip tracing industry. An effective skip tracer is methodical and knows how to interpret information and follow leads.
  • A bit of legal knowledge helps - Not every locale takes kindly to skip tracers using federal, state and private databases to track individuals. So a bit of legal knowledge can be very helpful.
  • Attention to detail - Often times the tiniest bit of information can be the thing that cracks a case and reveals a person’s location.
  • Persistence - Sometimes people on the run will leave a rich digital trail in their wake and finding them is a walk in the park. Others however, are more careful and don’t yield their whereabouts easily. A good skip tracer is persistent.

The Bottom Line

Thanks to the digital revolution fugitive retrieval is changing along with much of the rest of the world. While bounty hunters are still a valuable cog in the wheels of justice their role these days is often less investigative than it used to be, thanks to the rise of the skip tracer.