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How to Become a Finder of Missing Heirs

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How to Become a Finder of Missing Heirs

Quick Summary ↬ Finder of Missing Heirs is an easy business to get into. If you want to be successful, this line of business can work for you, as long as you are truly committed. I traced heirs while living in the USA, the UK, South Africa, and Australia. It’s a portable profession that I started when I was very young.

I was still in high school when I completed my first case and made around $5,000 in one afternoon. I kept at it on and off during college, business school, and law school, and I started full-time after graduation.

Heir tracing gave me the opportunity to travel all over the world, and from the time I started full-time until the day I retired, I earned an average of $1 million a year.


Introduction

This line of business is easy to get into. If you truly want to be rich and make serious money, it can work for those who work at it. I did it in the USA, UK, South Africa, and Australia. 

It was a portable profession I started when I was 16 years old. I was still in high school when I completed my first case and made around $5000 in one afternoon. I kept at it off and on during college, business school, and law school. 

I quit when I was about 30. Heir tracing allowed me to travel all over the world. From the time I started to do it full time (after graduation from college) until the day I retired, it brought me an income averaging a million US dollars a year.

I know people who are broke find it hard to believe that others could earn so much money with so little effort. However, today I had a little drive along the Mediterranean Coast from San Remo to San Tropez. I would guess that in the marinas along the way I saw around 200,000 boats worth a few million each. 

The cost of running those boats with the crew, insurance, berthing, and gasoline is over a million bucks a year in many cases. The bottom line is that there are an awful lot of people making very serious money. 

They have enough leisure time to be partying away on their Yachts. I was one of them once, but now you couldn’t give me a yacht — a personal jet — a racehorse — or even give me a Rolls. Why? Been there, done that. 

Of course, in those days forty years ago, a million was an impressive income, not like now. You’d need to add an extra zero maybe more. I remember rewarding myself during my first full-time year: going into a Mercedes dealer and treating myself to a spanking new, white, two-seater sports car. They called it the “Pagoda” or 280-SL. 

For $6900 full price, it was mine. I got a new one every year for five years. Then I moved up to a Rolls Royce. I remember my first new Rolls Corniche Convertible. It was only $35,000. Today, the equivalent Mercedes is around $75,000 and the Rolls must be $350,000.

To earn the equivalent of a million a year today, you’d have to double it and add a zero. You might need an annual income of $20 million to have the equivalent buying power of my million a year back in the early Sixties. 

Would it be possible these days to earn $20 million a year tracing missing heirs? 

Unquestionably yes! There are many little known endeavors with similar unlimited potential. As I said, there are many people out there who don’t work too hard and who earn a lot. These days I don’t want to work at all. Nevertheless, I do enjoy my writing and consulting. It is fun for me. 

For starting the kind of portable trade that I recommend for my readers, you shouldn’t need anything but a computer, a printer, and maybe a bit of guidance. Not one person in a thousand knows that a business like “tracing missing heirs” exists. 

What I will say here is enough to alert you to the possibilities and maybe even get you started. A chap who used to work for me and when I retired, took over my business is, I hear, going strong today. He is filthy rich. He stayed at it for several decades vs. my ten years of heir tracing.

No license or permits were needed 40 years ago nor are any needed today. Under some interpretations, you might need a “private investigator” license, but I never worried about such formalities. If you provide people with any valuable service, they will usually pay you. It might be a defense in a lawsuit for a beneficiary to say, “He is unlicensed.” 

However, my philosophy has always been to stay out of conflicts and courtrooms. If a client won’t pay, I seek a quick amicable settlement or just walk away.

To engage in distributing unclaimed assets all you need is a certain amount of aggressiveness. The business doesn’t come to you. You must go out and drum it up. Finding the recipients is the easy part. It is harder to dig up substantial unclaimed assets. How did I do it?

How To Find The Leads

My biggest early lead came from an article in the Wall Street Journal newspaper about the reorganization of the Missouri Pacific Railroad. It had been in bankruptcy. There had been reorganization. Old MoPac stock had been declared worthless. Then a class action (decided twenty years later) restored the position of the former stockholders. 

The Wall Street Journal article announced that new shares worth $16,000 were available to holders of 100 old shares. There were thousands of old shares that had not been exchanged. Most people would not have seen this as the opportunity of a lifetime. As I had already been tracing missing heirs for several years, the potential was obvious to me.

I bought one share of MoPac stock. Then I went to the railroad’s HQ in St. Louis, Missouri. I demanded (as was my right) to see the name and address lists of the as-yet unclaimed shares. I ran down the “lost stockholders” and handled the exchange in most cases, for a 50% contingent fee. 

Ultimately, I ended up owning around five% of Missouri Pacific. This outfit was a major US corporation. I was only around 22. Tracing the missing heirs of those old shares made me a multi-millionaire.  

Whoever says there is no way to get rich quick is wrong. I did it nine times — in unrelated businesses. The last eight times were for fun. Most of my entrepreneurial-oriented friends from my Wharton School days made millions too – mostly in our twenties. It certainly wasn’t easier then. If anything, with the internet and so many new technologies, there are more opportunities and unexploited niches around today than there were in the 1960s.   

One surprising observation was that there is almost no competition for serious money. The average Joe or Sally just looks for “a job.” If they don’t find someone who will hire them and tell them exactly what to do, they may get on the dole and spend much of the rest of their life watching TV. 

That is what my less ambitious contemporaries did. They moaned about the lack of opportunity when the opportunity was all around them. My advice? Read all about the people who made fortunes in the last 50 years. Get your inspiration from them. You won’t get exact details on what to do next, but you should get many ideas. 

However, don’t spend all your time reading and dreaming. There comes the time in your life, hopefully for you, dear reader, in the next 90 days, when you will need to get off your duff and make something of yourself. 

Heir tracing still offers one such opportunity in my opinion. It can be done in any country in the world with no investment and no permanent office or base. A mail drop address will do. These days it is possible to have an email address, website, or a personal mobile or cellular phone number that will allow anyone to contact you instantly, anywhere in the world. The customer won’t even know where you are. This wasn’t available forty years ago. 

No Licenses or Permits Needed

After I had been in the heir tracing business for at least a decade, I took a really dumb test to be a “state-licensed private detective.” Then I could put the legend “Licensed by the State of XYZ” on my stationery. I felt it gave me a bit more credibility. Maybe it helped, maybe it didn’t. 

However, you can, this afternoon, start to ferret out lists of unclaimed assets (bank accounts, inheritances, stocks, bonds, mineral rights, abandoned farms, and homes, etc.). Once you know of an abandoned asset, you find and sign up the owners and potential claimants to pay you a contingent fee. Your fee is due once they get the assets transferred to them. They must agree to pay you for disclosing an asset of which they are unaware. You can handle the process and collect your fee without any licenses or permits. Normally you convert the asset to cash and split with the heir. 

Basic Concept of Heir Tracing

Every bank and the public corporation has two or three percent of its accounts going dormant every year. Once they are inactive for five years or more they must usually report these assets and turn them over to the State. In places like Switzerland, the banks just keep the money forever. 

Dormant accounts are dangerous for financial institutions because corrupt employees notice them and sometimes withdraw and “borrow” the money – knowing that the owner is unlikely to show up to claim his money. The money then disappears on the ponies, wine, women, and song. 

Thus, banks have special procedures to segregate these inactive accounts. They want to make sure they are regularly audited and any withdrawals are double-checked.

Local state and national governments have “abandoned property or escheat laws” by which unclaimed assets must be turned over to the State. The State of California, for instance, pays no interest on the money but the true owner or heirs can usually claim the principal funds indefinitely. An heir tracer must, by hook or by crook, obtains lists of these names, last known addresses, and amounts of money involved in each situation.

If the original owner is living and has, hopefully for the heir-tracer, forgotten the assets, he is located and signed up on a written “contingent fee” contract. The missing heir agrees to pay the heir tracer (you) a percentage of any recovery of unknown assets due to him. 

He also gives you a “power of attorney” to complete the collection. Then (and only then) you make full disclosure of the asset (where it is and the amount). Once you tell what the asset is, the client signs a second sheet of paper ratifying the power of attorney and admitting that he had forgotten or didn’t know of the dormant asset you just disclosed. 

If the client says he knew all about it and had just filed or was going to file his own claim letter, you have to forget it and go on to the next case.  

In my experience, fewer than one in 20 people whom I informed they had money coming would refuse to ratify our agreement, if I was physically with the heir and it was done in person. However, if I made contracts by mail, perhaps one in five missing heirs would visit their lawyer and then try to perform a commission-dectomy to circumvent their contract with me. So on any big case, it was important to meet and sign up the client in person. Otherwise, they will start thinking about ways to beat you out of your 50% of the collection. 

How much is available worldwide in the way of unclaimed funds? 

Possibly a trillion dollars or more. The pool of funds and assets is huge and rapidly growing. Yet in the whole world, there are probably not more than two dozen heir-tracers currently who are as effective and determined as I was. There are always dilettantes in any profession who neither know nor care what they are doing. They come and go, complaining, “This is no way to make a living.”

After I had made a success of this business, my own father who had explained the concept to me when I was 15 tried to do it. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the personality to “close the sale” if there was any resistance. The business requires going after asset holders and never taking no for an answer — until you have the list. 

Getting Lists of Unclaimed Assets Is the Key to the Business

Holders of funds are understandably reluctant to give out these lists as it means the assets and funds under their control are likely to be distributed by you. Some lists are public record, like the dormant funds’ lists of almost every state in the US. Others are quasi-public, being on file in court cases involving corporate reorganizations and liquidations.  

The biggest source of large, unclaimed fortunes is the Probate or Surrogate Court files. It is amazing that so many wealthy people die without wills and also without any known next of kin. Normally when this happens, the Court appoints a “Public Trustee” to wind up the estate. They don’t look too hard for the heirs because their fee is the same whether the heir is found or not.

Normally unclaimed probate court funds are ultimately deposited with the public treasury. Records of unclaimed funds held by the treasury in many countries are public and even available online. 

In other places, including the states of New York and New Jersey, I was solicited for a bribe in order to get a look at these records and a chance to copy case numbers and information about larger unclaimed amounts. I had enough business at the time, so I never paid. 

I got such lists without any payoffs from, among others, the US Federal Government (Treasury of the USA), South Africa, and Australia. I was for a time, the only person who had the list of unclaimed postal savings accounts (Giro) from the USA Post Office Bank. I also once had lists of all large unclaimed income tax refunds. These still amount to many hundreds of millions of dollars every year.  

Sources of Unclaimed Funds

In some places, when an oil company drills or mines a gold mine, it does so under privately owned land. Sometimes the ancestors of the owners received the land and mineral rights under a royal grant dating back two centuries. This certainly happens a lot in South American countries and other former colonial possessions. Vast tracts are owned by the current Duchess of Alba (for instance) and she hasn’t the slightest awareness of all the gold, silver, and platinum in her hills. She probably sold the land but automatically retained certain inalienable mineral rights.

The person removing minerals is obliged by law to pay a certain percentage of value to the holders of mineral rights. Often mines and wells are in very remote places. The land is theoretically private, but current owners are often unknown. A big outfit like Shell Petroleum may deposit substantial oil royalties for holders of the mineral rights. About 10 percent of these royalties go unclaimed. In some cases, these unclaimed deposits are hundreds of millions of dollars.  

The American oil millionaires H. L. Hunt and the Murchison Brothers made their fortune by simply buying up these mineral rights for a song. The lands in Texas, Oklahoma and other places had been homesteaded a hundred years earlier. Then becoming unproductive desert dust bowls, the lands were physically abandoned. However, the old homesteader’s names were still on the land titles.

When oil was discovered nearby with part of the pool under the homesteaded land, Hunt and the Murchison brothers sniffed out these situations – just as I did. Either they bought the land or did a co-op deal with the heirs of the owners. A Greek named Constantine Gulbenkian did the same thing in the Middle East. They all became billionaires.  

My approach was to sign up the heirs and split royalties with them 50-50. I did all the negotiating and work. It was fairer to the heirs. If I had it to do over again, I would have simply bought their claims up cheap, sold them forward and I’d have made twice the profit with less work. However, in the old days, before I learned the ways of the wicked world, I had something I called a “moral responsibility to be fair.” But I digress. Back to the biz of heir tracing. 

The First and Most Important Thing Is the Unclaimed Asset

Another source of unclaimed funds involves corporate securities. A company like Bill Gate’s Microsoft has taken over many little software companies by trading some shares of its stock for control of a smaller company. 

Let’s call one such taken-over outfit “Buggy Software, Ltd.” The owner and major shareholders of a takeover target like Buggy are always on top of the situation and they always will claim their new shares in Microsoft. 

But what about a Mildred Milquetoast, a former employee of Buggy who departed or was fired a couple of years before the takeover. She is the registered holder of a few thousand worthless (she thinks) shares of Buggy Software. She received them instead of pay when the company couldn’t afford to pay her with real money. The Buggy shares had no market value and couldn’t be sold — until the deal with Microsoft. 

When the deal with Microsoft goes through, every Buggy share could be exchanged for say, one Microsoft share. Mildred or her heirs know nothing about the deal. She has moved several times, or may even be dead. Her share certificates may have been destroyed. 

Yet Mildred is still a shareholder of Microsoft, and even without a physical certificate, she can claim her new shares. After splits and amazing growth, Mildred’s entitlement to new Microsoft shares might be worth several million dollars! However, nobody cares about finding Mildred (or her heirs). Nevertheless, an heir-tracer like you would be interested in signing up Mildred’s heirs to a 50% contingent recovery deal. 

How do you get her name and address? From the corporate secretary of Microsoft. How? You ask for it.

Once upon a time, I simply asked the company secretary at IBM and got a case involving a house painter who was “paid” for his work with some shares in a company that made a type of time clock for employees to record their starting and quitting time. It was called Computer Time Engineering or CTE. Later, CTE changed its name to IBM. In those days, around 1965, IBM was like Microsoft today. An investment of a few dollars in IBM in 1937 was worth millions by 1960.

I found the house painter who didn’t know he was a millionaire. Where did I get his name? I got it from IBM. Why did IBM give me this information? I bought a few shares of IBM, went to their headquarters in Armonk, New York, and then asked to inspect their shareholder list. I had a legal right to do this, as a shareholder. 

I told the treasurer of IBM, then a Mr. Trimble, that my real objective was to locate IBM’s missing stockholders or dormant accounts. Trimble was quite co-operative. He said that he’d rather see the IBM rightful shareholders get the money than the State. We agreed on what I could charge the shareholders.  

It was easy to isolate the dormant accounts. IBM had a beautifully printed record of several hundred shareholder accounts where dividend checks had not been cashed for ten years or more. With typical IBM attention to detail, this list had all the prior addresses of the shareholder, the dates when mail was first returned, the exact amount of unclaimed dividends and unclaimed stock splits and stock dividends. 

The dividends alone sometimes amounted to tens of thousands of dollars. The real value was in the unclaimed stock split shares held in IBM’s treasury.

I found shareholders for IBM and for many other big American corporations including utilities like Commonwealth Edison and industrial corporations like General Motors. My biggest sources of accounts were the major banks like Northern Trust of Chicago and Bank of America in San Francisco. 

Becoming an International Tracer of Missing Heirs

Even when I lived in the US, my missing heirs lived all over the world and I traveled a lot. I was based in the US. In those days, however, it was possible for an American to form a foreign corporation or foundation and to keep earned money abroad tax-free… No taxes were due on money earned abroad until the funds were “repatriated.” This was changed by law in the US after 1962, but the UK still allows its citizens to do something similar.

In any event, I had accumulated quite a bit of money in a Liechtenstein Anstalt or Foundation pre-1960, when I was still very young. Unfortunately, my first wife knew about it. In our USA divorce, I was ordered to turn over my foreign assets to her. I would have to do it or go to jail for civil contempt. 

And so it came to pass that while my own first divorce was pending, I decided to get out of my birth-country and disappear. I spent a while on a Kibbutz in Israel, earning (for the record!) $100 per month. 

Then I moved to London.

I wanted to quietly stay operational in my lucrative heir tracing business. Around 1960, I sent a personal looking but form letter to all the major British companies saying I would track down their “lost stockholders” at no cost to them. I asked for lists and received replies from about two percent of the companies I’d written. When I made personal calls, I got another two percent. A few were major British public companies.

The cases I worked on made me about $3 million during the two years I worked out of London. I channeled my profits to a new Liechtenstein Anstalt that I named the “International Foundation for the Distribution of Unclaimed Assets.” Since the Liechtenstein word Anstalt translates into “foundation”, my letterhead had a nice institutional ring to it. It even sounded non-profit — but it wasn’t. 

During those days I even got very few unclaimed accounts to work on from new local friends in Swiss banks.  

Other Kinds of Unclaimed Assets & How to Find out about Them

Besides mineral rights and unclaimed shares and bonds, there is a lot of unclaimed real estate. Often I would just drive around. I’d see a derelict home, vacant lot, or warehouse. I’d go to the public records (land title) office to look up the owner. 

As often as not, the owner had died decades earlier and the property involved just sat there, abandoned. In London, sometimes whole families had been wiped out in their homes by bombs or a V-2 rocket sent over by Hitler. As of the 1960’s some war-damaged building sites had unknown owners. These unknown owners would be the nearest relatives of the deceased people.

Usually, in these types of real estate deals, there were substantial repairs needed and back taxes to settle. The property itself had to be entirely redeveloped. In many cases, I would find only one heir out of a potential group and buy the one chap out. In real estate when you have a fractional interest in the property, you can bring a partition suit, and gain control over the whole property by depositing small money for the missing heirs.

I was willing to do a co-operative deal but it wasn’t feasible because a lot more money had to be borrowed or invested. The consequent innovations and improvements I had to install were going to be worth much more than the site itself. 

It was less complex to buy out one owner, and go to court for a partition and auction sale. London property was very cheap in those times and a derelict or vacant house site in an average area could be as little as $3000. 

Today, you’d be talking a $1,500,000 value for that kind of property. Also, today you can forget about finding any abandoned and derelict property in any good area of London. 

However, you can make those kinds of deals today in East Germany, Hungary, Serbia, etc. As you probably won’t know the language, you will need to recruit a suitable partner or employee to assist you.

Once in Hong Kong, I had a pending deal. As I didn’t know Mandarin, I went over to the local law school and in the cafeteria found a 2nd-year law student to translate and work closely with me during her summer vacation. We closed a good-sized deal and went our separate ways. 

Sometimes the reason for a property being derelict is that the heirs couldn’t agree upon selling because one or more couldn’t be bothered to sign the papers. Maybe a brother or sister wanted to take charge and make something of the property. Other relatives said stupid things like “I couldn’t profit from the misfortune of my dead relative.” 

I say, “What’s the difference?” The relative is dead and if a family member doesn’t take action, it will be forfeited for non-payment of real estate rates (taxes). Alternatively, a speculator like me will come along and file a partition action to have the property sold at auction.

Although some of these cases seemed to be insoluble, I discovered that once I had a fractional interest, in other words, the minute I had purchased even a quarter (or less) interest in a property from one heir, I was able to file a “Partition Suit” to bring the property up for auction. 

Without going into detail, the person who brings such a legal action (to get the property into one name by forcing a sale of all recalcitrant interests) has the inside track. 

He gets back all the costs of bringing the action, doing a survey, and so on — plus interest and fees for his work. This can be as much as the value of the property. Thus, in this way, I picked up many tracts of land, homes, and industrial parks for a song.

Cloudy titles and unknown or uncooperative property owners became another gold mine for me. If the heirs showed up at the auction and outbid me (seldom happened), I still came out well because I got all my costs, fees, plus interest and a good price for my fractional share of the property. It was a “can’t lose” deal.  

Of course, real estate deals in general, are not something that I want to get into today. They can make good money, but like a pet dog or a kid, they tie you down. If you get into a hassle with a spouse or bureaucrat, it is easy for them to tie up your real estate. Unlike a safety deposit box full of gold coins, real estate just can’t be hidden and secret. 

If you don’t want the freedom and be the person who can move anywhere, instantly, you can make a lot of money in real estate. 

How to protect yourself? One way is to have your property mortgaged for all its worth, or preferably for more than it’s worth! Then, when the property goes up in value, you take out profits without selling, by remortgaging (getting ever larger loans). You have to be careful that there is enough cash flow coming in to service your loans of course. When the real estate bubble breaks, you walk away and the lending banks are left holding property worth much less than their “loan values.” 

There are several million properties in Spain and the USA where the banks are taking a haircut. They are already offering 100% loans and cheap prices to people who will move into their abandoned properties. 

You don’t even have to look for the missing heirs. You just take over the foreclosed property with no-money-down, and maybe, no payments for a few years. It is a time of great opportunity in houses, apartments, commercial buildings, and empty subdivision lots.

Diversification – Biggest Secret of Success

If you don’t keep expanding and growing in almost any business, you are already dead. It is inevitable that some parts of your business empire will decline because some of your products are no longer in demand. For example, house prices and rentals go down in a particular town because of a general economic decline. On the other hand, some changes in the laws – like rent controls can make your operations unprofitable or even illegal.  

In my heir-tracing days, I looked for new lists and new pools of unclaimed funds all over the world. 

On a trip to Brazil, I found that many rich Lebanese had immigrated there, become prosperous, and died in Brazil. Most had families, but some passed on leaving funds to unknown Lebanese heirs scattered all over the world. I went into joint ventures with other heir tracers to pursue these leads and made some serious money. 

Later, just for fun and because I liked cars, I bought a used classic or sport cars in one country and sold them where the same models were rare and commanded a premium. 

I developed property in Canada, Mexico, Britain, USA and France. I had a Liechtenstein Foundation as my tax haven holding company long before the rest of the world knew there was such a thing as “offshore.” 

I would have gone next into mergers and acquisitions and become an international stock raider but I didn’t. My excuse? Too much of my time was wasted, on extraneous non-lucrative activities. Taking courses in schools all over the world.

“Once my mother spoke to me on the phone, worried that I didn’t “have a job.” She asked me when my savings would run out. I said, “In about 4,000 years.” 

“What will you do then?” she asked.

There are quite a few different types of unclaimed assets. Perhaps you will discover some forms of unclaimed assets I never considered. Maybe unclaimed patent, book, or music royalties.

Playing Hide and Seek in a Wired World

When I first started to skip tracing, that is, finding people, my only tool was the telephone and my only resource for searching was Directory assistance. 

Unbelievably, I was able to find people from London to Fiji, but it was costly and extremely time-consuming. Half of my search time was trying to be connected to directory assistance in a foreign country. Trust me, 411 in the ’90s was not cheap.

The world of skip tracing has changed. A world without walls truly exists. Many businesses project an international presence, like having a 345 area code from the Cayman Islands, when, in reality, they are staring at corn in a 515 area code. What keeps me in business is that the unsavory have also mastered the virtual way.

Clients came to us for many reasons, hunting down an embezzler in South Africa, finding an art forger in Paris, tracking the assets of an industrialist in the UK, or locating a Mangusta yacht for repossession. The wonders of the Internet have made all of those places accessible immediately; it is all a search engine away.

Repo Woman my business partner Eileen can track anyone anywhere, even with the least amount of information. One client sent a request to track down a yacht that was ready for repossession. 

Eileen located possible addresses of the yachtsman in Anguilla, Paris, Los Angeles and New York. By searching reverse directories that list names and phone numbers at addresses, she was able to determine that the addresses were mail drops.

In the past, we would have had to find a source that had a Cole reverse directory, huge and very expensive books loaded with cross-referenced information. There was no such thing as a PDF download.

For the yacht search, the only good information the client supplied was a cellphone number. Therefore, Eileen figured using a ruse would be the best plan of action. In the past, that same cell phone would not have worked in a different country; but because of GSM technology, the yacht repossession was one cell phone call away. 

I cannot even begin to explain how difficult the process of locating this yacht would have been 10 years ago.

Eileen searched online and found a few high-end marinas and got an idea of slip and gas prices. She called the subject and convinced him she was “Lulu London,” calling from the Little Duck Marina out of the Bahamas and that she wanted to make him an offer he couldn’t refuse. 

She made the call from a prepaid cell phone with a Bahamas area code.

With a little flirting on Eileen’s part, the conversation flowed, and the yachtsman shared what he was currently paying at his marina. Eileen offered him 20 percent off to move to the Little Duck. She might have tossed in dance and a drink, but I’m not sure.

The deadbeat bought the pretext and said he would show up the next day on his yacht to meet her at the Little Duck Marina. In case of any hitches she gave him her private line, equipped with “Lulu’s” personal Free White Paper Download: How Behavioral Analytics Fuels More Personalized Marketing outgoing message. 

He called the number provided and confirmed his arrival, and in short order, a repossession team claimed the yacht. Case closed, and all for the cost of a 10-minute cell phone call.

There are many tools subjects can utilize to avoid being located, such as a virtual phone number, which delivers messages to any email address of choice. 

Information Left Behind

With prepaid cell phones, it’s possible to have a Los Angeles number or a Hawaii number, the best part is no identification is needed to purchase one. 

However, that’s likely to change in the future. Cellphones are so affordable they can be dumped at discretion. There are also prepaid credit cards, international mail drops, offshore black credit cards, second passports, and the list goes on.

Today’s skip tracer has access to dozens of databases to get basic information. Often, even antiquated information proves useful. If I have a subject’s name, the first website I hit is Zabasearch. I pop in the name, and it will search every state in the U.S. and list past addresses. 

Sometimes it shows current addresses and current phone numbers. Sometimes I get even luckier, it lists a birth date. When searching for a subject, I look for the information left behind, the fluke factor. Everyone leaves a trace, so a site like Zaba is a good place to start, and it’s free.

Another unique search option is offered by Intelius. It allows you to put a person’s social security number and last name into a search box, and it will provide a history of cities a person resided in. 

We suggest the free search, not the paid search. From such a search, you may pick up a city like Memphis, Tenn. Maybe the ex-wife of your subject still lives there and is quite willing to provide an updated address on her ex-husband. Sometimes asking a simple question can bring the case home.

With the rise of sites like Facebook, what people seem to forget or ignore is that other people post information about them. It could be a photo from the bowling team, church group, bachelor party, or something innocuous like a Christmas photo. 

What used to take several hours or days in skip tracing now takes 10 minutes with a cellphone and a web-connected computer. I’ll tell you one thing, searching the net is more pleasant than sifting through garbage for information.

The big question always asked

Is it easier to locate people because of technology or easier for people to disappear? Technology makes the search process easier, but it’s like yin and yang. It’s a game of war, the hiders against the seekers. The winner is determined by who does it best.

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