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How to Find a Missing Debtor

Getting a debtor to pay a delinquent account can be tricky, especially if they’ve left town with no forwarding address. There’s no need to write off the debts of a missing debtor. Often you can track them down as long as you know where to look.

What is skip tracing?
If you’re not familiar with the term ‘skip tracing,  it’s worth knowing. Skip tracing, or skiptracing, is a colloquial term used widely in the debt collection industry. It’s based on two expressions, ‘to skip town’ and the act of tracking that person down or ‘tracing’ them to a new location.  Debt collectors refer to the activity associated with finding missing debtors as skip tracing.

In the internet era, it’s never been easier to find someone. You can conduct a lot of research online, and plenty of it is free of charge. Other public records are available for a fee so you need to balance the amount of the debt owed against how much it costs to acquire information.

Consider the following areas when conducting your own skip tracing:

Property and Land
Public records are available for property and land sales.

Company information
If you’re debtor has owned a business or been a director in a business, you can do a lookup using an Australian Business Number (ABN), the company number, or even the business name. The ABN Lookup Tool allows anyone to do a quick, online search. Services such as CreditorWatch allow you to obtain an ASIC extract containing company and director’s information.

Bankruptcy Records
Information concerning bankruptcies is available to the public. You can find it by searching bankruptcy records.

Automotive information
Several different databases exist providing information on automotive registrations. The National Exchange of Vehicle and Driver Information System (NEVDIS) coordinates information from each of the state agencies including the Written-off Vehicle Register. You can also do a quick motor vehicle search on the debtors Vehicle Information Number (VIN) or chassis number.

Marriages, Births and Deaths
While it might not seem intuitive, knowing if someone has recently been married or had a child can help you locate your missing debtor. Marriages, births and deaths are a matter of public record and you can find information in newspapers, online or through government offices.

Business Registers
Depending on the industry, your debtor could be listed in a number of business registers or industry associations. Things that may prove useful in a skip tracing activity include listings with Directors profiles, executive summaries, staff lists, staffing changes, key personnel, new members announcements, staff promotions or industry awards.

Google Search
Of course you can search for a name on Google, but did you know you can search using an image? Simply upload a photo of your debtor and Google will return all the places on the internet that photo is used. It works especially well if you have a business headshot of the debtor or a photo you know they use often.

Other search engines
If you’re not getting anywhere with Google, don’t forget about Bing, Yahoo, Dogpile,  DuckDuckGo or any number of places on the internet that perform search functions.  If you think your debtor has moved to another country, use search engines specific to the country they’re in.

Social Media
The obvious spots to search for someone are the popular social networking channels including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Don’t forget about other channels that might provide clues to your debtor’s location. Photo sharing sites like Instagram and Flickr are a good place to start.

Finding a missing debtor can be time consuming but it’s not impossible. The internet provides more information than you can imagine and much of it is free. The downside to this activity is that it can be time consuming and the person doing it needs to enjoy working methodically while managing a lot of detail. Alternatively, debt collection agencies can help you recover a missing debt. They often get quicker results but you will incur a charge for the service. You need to weigh up whether it’s more economical to do it yourself or turn it over to a professional.

Natalie Walker
Natalie Walker is managing director of Blitz Credit Management (www.blitzcredit.com.au), a technology-driven debt collection agency based in Australia. Her modern approach to debt collection and credit management services has been widely embraced by Australian businesses. She can be contacted at (08) 6140 2584.