Woman uses a computer to locate someone
When you don’t know how to find your subject, a skip trace might be in order

Correct service of process ensures that all parties are notified of a pending case and have ample opportunities to protect their interests in court. As the plaintiff or the petitioner, you are responsible for making sure the other side is served correctly. But what can you do if you’re not sure where your defendant, respondent, or witness lives or works?

In Oregon, process servers are allowed to conduct a “skip trace” for their clients, but only if the investigation is being done solely for the purpose of finding and serving a particular person. This permission is granted under ORS 703.411(15). (Private investigators are specially licensed in Oregon to perform a wide range of searches not directly related to process service.)

What is a “Skip Trace”?

Many types of organizations may use skip tracing to find someone. Lawyers might be looking for witnesses or to communicate with the heirs of an estate; debt collectors may use it to locate delinquent borrowers or customers. Even some educational institutions rely on the technique to find alumni for fundraising purposes.

In your case, there may be more than a few steps to a skip trace, depending on how long it’s been since you’ve been in contact with your subject. Skip tracing usually starts with the simple step of verifying the person’s contact information.

If you have a last-known address, your process server can request from the United States Post Office, a verification of a forwarding address. Typically, the USPS will only provide this information to government agencies and process servers.

If that request doesn’t yield any useful information, the next step will be to use specialized software to check public records. Some of the items available may be:

  • Address history
  • Travel history
    Court records
  • Credit card applications
    Credit reports
  • Criminal records and background checks
  • Driver’s license history
  • Job applications and history
  • Loan applications and history
  • Phone number records
  • Search engines
  • Social media
  • Tax records
  • Utility bills
  • Vehicular history

Information gathered from these sources is then cross-referenced and fact-checked. And hopefully, what emerges is a picture of a person’s habits and whereabouts. Your process server will then provide you with a Skip Trace Report so you can decide what steps to take next.

If the report only yields more dead ends, you might wish to authorize your process server to reach out to the subject’s friends or relatives.

Each time your process server feels they have a solid lead, they will ask for authority to attempt a serve at that location.

What if My Subject is Avoiding Service?

In some cases, we might find the person’s correct address, but that person is conveniently never around when we arrive.

Some jurisdictions allow for substituted service, which means leaving the papers with an adult who lives at the same address, often a roommate or relative, in the hopes that those papers make it to their intended person.

If your jurisdiction doesn’t allow for substitute service, you may need to get the Court’s permission to serve your defendant or respondent by alternative means, such as publication, posting, or mail.

How Much Does a Skip Trace Cost?

Solid Serve Legal provides an initial skip trace for $50, but these must be done in conjunction with a request for service of process. Depending on the complexity of your case, additional time for the service may cost up to $350.