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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Skip Tracing 101 : Turn Over Every Rock

Skip Tracing 101 : Turn Over Every Rock

Hard work pays off

This common saying can be applied to any business, and Skip Tracing is no different.

Through the years there have been many times when a skip tracer or a collector has come up to me with a file they claimed they were at a dead end on. Because there has yet to be a program written that allows a supervisor to quickly look at a file to determine if the collector or skip tracer has pursued all the available leads, this was not always the easiest claim to agree or disagree with.

“What have you done so far?”

“We’ve had it assigned for repo to the last known address, but he’s moved from there. His parents are covering for him, and the references are no help, I’ve spoken with a couple neighbors but they don’t know anything. I’ve pulled a credit bureau, but he’s late with everyone and when I tried to call the other finance companies, they won’t speak with me due to privacy concerns.”

I’d then take a look at the notes and there were plenty. When I looked at the expenses on the account, we’d spent the money to run the bureaus and we’d paid for several different public records reports. The file was an inch thick, the guy was six payments down, and everyone else had charged off their debts.

Back at Chrysler Credit in the early 80s, when I was the one asking for permission to charge off the loan, we had a “skip worksheet” we had to fill out before we brought the account to our supervisor. I think some companies still use a manual form to do this. It was a four-page document to confirm we’d contacted every reference, neighbor, relative, job, landlord, the post office, the local grocery store, you name it.

In hindsight, it was a valuable exercise, but it was too difficult for the supervisor to really know if the account had been worked properly, and it wasn’t nearly as comprehensive as it needed to be. It also was a document that could easily be skewed.

To find a skip, one needs to have several factors working in their favor:

I. The person looking for the skip must be positive that they have a chance to find the person. If you are not optimistic, you’re in the wrong profession.

II. A good skip tracer must be confident, and confidence comes from life experience, followed by skip tracing experience.

III. A good skip tracer must also be a good sales person. My first boss once told me a valuable piece of information when he compared a collector to a salesman. He said you must sell yourself to the person your collecting money from so they have to buy what you are selling, which as a collector was getting them to pay me ahead of everyone else. As a skip tracer, its getting people to tell you what they know, even if it’s the smallest detail.

I can remember one time I was looking for a lady that no one could find. I knew the parents knew where she was, but every time I spoke to them, they claimed they didn’t know her whereabouts. The day before the loan was going to charge off I was probably filling out one of those skip worksheets when I’d realized I hadn’t called every neighbor, and I’d remembered we’d gotten in a new Criss-Cross guide for an address where she used to live. After speaking with a couple people who didn’t have a clue who I was asking about, I found a lady who knew exactly who I was asking about, but unfortunately she had no idea where my customer had moved. I was running out of questions when I asked

“When was the last time you saw her?”

“I saw her a few weeks ago at the gas station” She was getting ready to have a baby”.

That one piece of information cracked the case for me. I thanked her, and then asked a female colleague of mine to call the Mom back.

“Hi, Mrs. Wilson, this is Mary. I just got back to town and I’m so excited for Debbie, has she had her baby yet?”

Many skip tracing calls can be based on one question, and how the question is asked, which leads me to the next point.

IV. You must be a good actor. The girl I had make the call was one of twenty in my office, but she had the voice, and the personality, to make the call pay off. She didn’t know it, but I did.

“Hi Mary. We’re so excited. She just had the baby and her and Dan are at Mercy Hospital in Folsom”.

This of course, also turned out to be where the car she hadn’t made a payment on since she bought it almost a year ago was sitting.

The next three factors are probably the most important ones.

V. You must find every rock, sort them in order of importance, and then be prepared to turn them over. You never know which rock you turn over will lead to the person you are looking for.

VI. Ask the right questions. It’s pretty simple. Who, what, where, when and why.

VII. Listen.

The key to skip tracing is finding people who know the person you are looking for, i.e. rocks. Once you find these people, you need to use your acting skills, thrown in with a little data analysis, to quickly understand whom you are speaking with. You will definitely speak differently to a person who thinks and talks fast compared to a person who thinks and speaks slowly; an 18 year old versus an 80 year old; a Harvard grad versus a backwoods hick.

Once you understand the person you are speaking with and you set your tone and dialect, you then need to ask the right questions. Your tone and dialect will set the person on the other end of the phone at ease, and then after each question, you must listen and not interrupt. Most people love to talk, and fortunately, some don’t know when to stop.

The other important part about the person you are speaking with is to quickly determine if they are a friend or foe. Ex-spouses, ex-neighbors, ex-landlords, and ex-employers are great sources of info, especially when the skip didn’t leave on the best of terms.

Nearly everything a person who actually knows the skip discloses to you becomes a lead. A good skip tracer will piece these leads together to crack the case, and they will remain confident and optimistic throughout the process.