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A private detective also called an investigator, or private investigator (“P.I.”) is often used to deliver a summons or subpoena in a legal case or track down those who owe an unpaid debt. Those who specialize in tracking people who have skipped out on debts are frequently called skip tracers.
Skip tracers can be a godsend for parents who believe that they have tried everything to locate an ex who owes tens of thousands or sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid child support. Many moms rely on the child support enforcement (“CSE”) agencies that lament that they “can’t find him” and therefore they can’t make him pay, and attorneys who send clients away because they don’t have the tools, resources or know-how to find him themselves. After all, to be fair, attorneys are legal professionals and not in the bounty hunter business. Moms in these situations are usually left feeling that there isn’t anything that anyone can do to help them.
Women have grown tired of hearing all of the broken promises by the state agencies and by well-meaning attorneys who don’t have access to reasonably effective and cost-efficient skip tracing services. The word on the street is that they are feeling like they are forever left holding the bag for an ex who has failed to or refuses to take responsibility for their child support obligations. While some continue to hold out and hope that something will happen that will turn their case around, allow me to tell you something that I know to unquestionable true. Ninety-nine percent of all people can be found. Their streams of income can be found. Their assets and deposit accounts can be identified – even when they are not being held in their own name.
These are claims that most good private investigators will make. It is also a claim that I agree with. I make this claim having worked with women from all walks of life tracking down ex’s both affluent and middle class who left women holding their bags while owing hundreds of thousands of unpaid child support. Over 10,000 women and over $15 million later there hasn’t been one deadbeat that I have been tasked to find that I haven’t. The tools that I have used and the methods that I’ve employed vary depending on the subject. The time that it took to find them also varied.
Let’s be clear, these folks who knowingly try to hide from their child support orders go through lots of trouble to do so. They use other people’s identities, work off of the books, put everything into their girlfriend’s name (or their wife, or their mother or their brother, boss, best friend and perhaps even their farmhouse pig), they do it all. I’ve seen it all. That said, it doesn’t matter where they have gone or the lengths that they have gone through to hide and disappear – they can be found.
The unapologetic crafty ones know that unless you have a whole lot of money and/or a whole lot of time -that the more that they cover their tracks and make it difficult for you to find them, the more likely that you will give up, run out of money or decide not to spend money to chase money that’s already owed to you. They count on you becoming battle weary. They know this, and they count on it. They don’t expect that you will find solutions that will expose their secrets. They don’t expect that you learn that there are methods to find them and the money that they have been hiding away from your children. They certainly don’t expect that you will use them.
The following is a scale that I developed to illustrate just how easy it is to locate a child support evader if you know what you are doing or have help doing it. It’s not scientific or tested in any way. It is just a regurgitation of data that I gathered over my twenty or so plus years as a collections consultant and what I learned as I kept track of the difficulty of skip tracing an evader based on how long it took to find them and the methods that they used to keep themselves hidden.
LEVEL ONE: Very basic. 98% of deadbeats can be found within days when they disappear under a level one. Yet, they have disappeared to the extent that it would take a private investigator (PI) several hundred dollars of your money to track him down, CSE will tell you to find him, report his whereabouts to them and then they can do something for you. At this level typically if you have a lawyer he or she will seek contempt charges in Family Court to revoke his driver’s license or seek a bench warrant. The deadbeat may have hidden merely by moving to the next state over. Even moving around the corner and not leaving a forwarding address with the post office is enough to trip up CSE. Add changing his cell phone number and maybe cell phone company to the mix and it’s mayhem. If he’s working off the books or as a 1099 worker, just forget it as far as they are concerned.
LEVEL TWO: It’s getting warmer. This is a deadbeat that means business. He has done his homework, and he knows that it would cost you several thousand dollars to find him if you hire a PI and he is banking that you are not going to spend that money. Considering that not all PI’s are good PI’s you could go to one or two or three before you find the one that will put out for you. At this point, the deadbeat is shredding his trash; he does not have utilities and telephone bills in his name (everything is billed to his girlfriend, mom, business partner…). His vehicles and home are most likely in someone else’s name, or his business holds the deed and titles.
LEVEL THREE: It’s downright HOT in here. I am not going to lie to you. If you have a deadbeat in level three, you are not going to find him by any traditional measures. In addition to hiding from you, he also keeps his information private from his bankers, his lawyers, his doctors, and the IRS. At this level not even Santa Claus would be able to find him on Christmas Eve to deliver a puppy. He has gone off the grid. You would have to pay a PI a considerable amount of money to find this cat. Even if he already owes you a significant amount of money, you might consider it a wash. You might – or you might want to change your approach to it all. Let’s just say that I have found many level three child support evaders, and they can be flushed out.
LEVEL FOUR: If your deadbeat is at this level then he is on the Federal Witness Security Program (which some people mistakenly call the Witness Protection Program thanks to movies and TV) or might as well be. He has burned all of his bridges and has no contact whatsoever anymore with family and friends who might purposely or mistakenly rat him out. He receives no magazines or newsletters, belongs to no clubs or hobby stores. He is lives like Grizzly Adams and is dead to the world. This might work in your favor though. If he is dead to the world, then that means that the time is ripe for you to file a claim on the life insurance policy that you have on him and collect your arrears that way. And if you have been following me for any amount of time you have followed my advice and used my techniques, and you have life insurance on your ex, right? Because dead is dead.
Simone Spence is not a lawyer and she does not provide legal, or advice. She was a child support collections consultant for over 20 years and has written three highly regarded child support collection books. She developed the collections platform “Athena.”
In general, only a licensed attorney can give legal advice, but there is a distinction between “legal advice” and “legal information.” Any non-lawyer can simply recite laws, but it is illegal for a non-lawyer or unlicensed attorney to offer legal advice.
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Some of this material is available in Deadbeat vs Deadbroke by Simone Spence