What is skip tracing in debt collection?

Skip tracing in debt collection — the art and process of locating someone who's “skipped" town — is as old as debt collecting and law enforcement. Some skip tracing techniques have remained largely unchanged, even if the technology, scale and speed with which they're practiced have evolved. When it comes to collecting, skip tracing an account is often a necessary step to make a right-party contact (RPC), and there are many ways to reach debtors today, including emails, calls, texts, social media accounts and physical mail.

However, collectors don't always have all that contact information in their files or permission to contact debtors via certain channels. The records they receive from creditors, previous collection agencies and prior searches may also be out of date, and validating current contact information can be expensive and time-consuming.

That's where the latest skip-tracing tools come in. By tapping into various public and private databases, collectors can quickly and accurately update and validate debtors' contact information to increase their RPC rates.

Debtor's contact information can frequently change

Contact information can go stale whenever someone gets married or divorced, moves, opens a new email account, changes a phone number or starts a new job.


Between 2018 and 2019, about one in ten Americans moved each year and most people who moved stayed within the same county (65 percent) or state (17 percent). In general, mobility is down — nearly one in five Americans moved each year during the 1980s.1 However, some households move more often.2 Some may also struggle to pay bills on time, especially when the cost of housing, health care and other necessities increases.3

Email addresses and mobile phone numbers might not change as often, as people tend to keep them when they move. But unlike addresses, many consumers have two or more emails and telephone numbers. Experian's data shows that more people had two or three phone numbers associated with their files as opposed to one, and over 28.5 million net-new phone lines were added to the database between 2018 and 2021.

Multiple data points can be helpful for collectors, but only when you're actually able to make contact. Many consumers might use an alternate email address that they rarely check if they expect to receive marketing emails. The rise in spam and scams also means consumers are less likely to respond to incoming calls and texts — according to Hiya's 2022 State of the Call Report — 94 percent ignore unidentified calls because they might be fraud.4

The latest skip tracing tools may help

For years, skip tracing was a largely manual process that involved hunting down public records and reaching out to friends, family members and employers to ask about a person’s whereabouts.

Today, investigators might still look for clues and current contact information in public records and private databases. But searches can also expand deeper into the digital realm, such as social media profiles and job board sites that store resumes.

The latest solutions don't completely eliminate the need for manual involvement, especially if a debtor is trying to avoid being found — as opposed to someone who forgot to update their contact information. However, skip tracing tools can automate many of the processes for finding, organizing and deduplicating information. The tools can also help you quickly uncover potential connections with matching algorithms, rank results and review your internal data to highlight potential errors or outdated contact information.

Collections software can also help you prioritize accounts based on your criteria, such as debtors' propensity to pay or the highest expected recovery amounts. You can then focus your skip-tracing efforts on the accounts that are most worth pursuing. And when it's all put together, systems can auto-load your queue to ensure your collectors are consistently reaching the right debtors at the right time.

Read More: Four Ways to Optimize Your Collections Efforts

How Experian can improve RPC rates

Experian's TrueTrace™ and TrueTrace Live™  can help you find consumers' current addresses and phone numbers via the cloud or within manual data transfers. These tools incorporate proprietary data on over 245 million consumers, including 100 million thin-file consumers, unlisted phone numbers, alternative financial services data and Experian® RentBureau® data. We've seen clients achieve a 10 percent lift in their RPC rates after implementing TrueTrace. Phone Number ID™ with Contact Monitor™ can also offer real-time phone ownership and phone type validation by drawing on data from more than 5,000 local exchange carriers.

Before you attempt to reach out to a contact, mitigate compliance risk by using FirstSweep℠ to help identify accounts that need special handling, such as those belonging to deceased consumers, active-military, litigious debtors or someone who has filed for bankruptcy.

Actively monitor your accounts with Collection Triggers℠ using custom criteria that sends an automated alert if there's a relevant change, such as new employment or tradeline activity.

Although Experian offers some of the most advanced skip-tracing solutions, it's our end-to-end collection solutions that give us — and our debt collection clients — a competitive advantage.

Contact Experian to learn more about TrueTrace and our other collection tools.


1. Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University (2020). Are Americans Stuck in Place?

2. FiveThirtyEight (2015). How Many Times Does The Average Person Move?

3. Pew Research Center (2022). One-in-four U.S. parents say they've struggled to afford food or housing in the past year

4. HIYA (2022). State of the Call 2022. [White Paper]

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