So, you’re a Skip Tracer. Maybe a Private investigator, Process Server, or Judgment Recovery Specialist. You might even work for a Collection Agency or a Law Firm. You need skip tracing databases – the good ones!
The problem that many of us in the above professions run into is that we cannot qualify for these ‘top-of-the-line’ databases. Why? We need to understand that these data providers will not allow access to their information to just anyone. We must be able to produce documents, maintain a physical office, and pass a background check.
Let’s face it – there are so many scammers and spammers out there these days involved in computer hacking, identity theft, and just plain ‘ol harassment that we all need to be on our toes. This includes data providers.
Remember that database providers WANT to give you access to their products. They make money by allowing you to search their databases for detailed, up-to-date information. They’re not out to ‘get you!’ Every time you perform a search for information – it’s money in their pocket. They’re on your side.
These data providers will perform their due diligence and verify that you provide a real, professional service – and can back it up with good character. Maintaining a legitimate physical office is a huge part of the qualifying process.
Below is a quick list of the items data providers are looking for. I will be going into more depth on each item as we move through the post. Pay attention! Missing documents or equipment can cause further delay in your gaining access to the best databases – or disqualify you.
- Your office must be in a dedicated room
- A dead-bolt locking door is required
- You must have at least one locking filing cabinet
- A good, functioning shredder.
- A password protected computer
- A copy of your business license
- A copy of your industry license
- Photo ID and/or passport – maybe both
- Industry badge (In most states, Process Servers and Private Investigator’s are required to have these)
- Stationery with your letterhead
- Business Cards
- Your office MUST look like an office! No beds, bedroom furniture, etc. Stock office supplies – shelving and books help!
- Possibly a sign, with your business name, near your front door – or on/in your mailbox
Now let’s take a look at the 10 steps you need to follow in order to get set up with those professional skip tracing databases. All of these steps are important, and failing to follow just one of them could cost you access. Here we go….
Step #1: The Credentialing Process
Are you currently a Process Server? How about a Private Investigator? If you are, then you’re sitting pretty because you will already have most of the required paperwork.
Almost all data base providers will ‘pre-qualify’ you before ever setting foot on your property. We’re talking about documentation here, and it’s called ‘Credentialing.’ Essentially, they’re going to have you send them ‘pre-qualifying’ documents.
Before I forget – call multiple companies. Most skip tracers will have two to five different databases. Data providers pull their information from different sources, and some are more up-to-date than others.
Just be aware that you will want more than one database. All of the professionals do, and I give you a detailed rundown on Skip Tracing Databases in a different post.
Here’s a great tip: Create a file on your computer that contains all of your documentation. This would include a scanned (color) image of your ID’s as well as licenses and certifications. Use the same documents for all of your applications.
Requirements will vary. Basically, they will send you a whole bunch of documents to fill out and sign. And, they’ll require you to upload your licenses, Photo ID’s, and any certifications. Before your actual physical office inspection, you will need to supply them with whatever they ask for. Here’s a general list:
- Subscriber Agreement & Application
- Driver’s License, Identification Card, or Passport
- Business License
- Certification License (PI, Process Server, etc.)
- Certification ID Card or Badge
- Consent to perform a background check
Remember that these data providers will have different requirements. Some have just a few documents to fill out while others want your life history. They may not require some of the above. They may require more documentation. Again, be prepared and give them what they want.
Step #2: You Must be Licensed and Permitted!
Data Providers will require some sort of licensing or certification. A County/City business license is always nice to have regardless of the industry you are in. Scan copies and file them in an easily accessible folder on your computer.
State requirements for licensing as a Process Server or Private Investigator vary considerably. Perform an online search for your state and make sure you understand what is required to be properly licensed and certified. You may need a bond – maybe not.
How important are these documents? Database providers are not the only people that will ask for these documents. So will your customers/clients. I get asked all the time to forward copies of my certifications to potential clients. Especially attorneys. Many will not do business with you without proper certification and documentation.
The inspector may or may not ask to see these documents. The data provider will supply their inspectors with a checklist. One of the items on this checklist might be to see a physical copy of your credentials – even though they already have these documents that you provided in the credentialing process in step #1 above. Be prepared, and have the documents readily available.
Step #3: You Need a Dedicated Room for Your Office
This is the first thing that the inspector will look for. If it doesn’t look like an office – you’re off to a bad start and will probably fail the inspection. In fact – you WILL fail. Here’s what they are looking for:
- A locking door – deadbolt preferred.
- No bedroom furniture
- No appliances located in the office – washer/dryer/freezer
- Suitable office furniture – more on that in the next section
- TV/Radio is acceptable
- Small office refrigerator is fine
- Shelving is nice
- Wall pictures/photos are OK
- Industry Books and Manuals add to the legitimacy of your business
You might have two doors to your office. I do. My current office used to be the backyard “Arizona” room. I added a couple of walls and roof and turned it into a den. So, it now has an additional door leading to the backyard. Deadbolted, of course. Oh, and carry the key on your keychain.
And, please, do not allow family members in your office during the inspection. In fact, its probably a good idea that all family members vacate the premises before – or immediately after – the inspector arrives. The most important thing here is that your office is in a separate, locked room.
A quick note about these Inspectors: They are all different. Most likely, they ARE NOT employed by the data provider. They are Independent Contractors. I have had Certified Process Servers, Notary Publics, and Private Investigators inspect my office. Some are quick, knowledgeable, and professional, while others are chatty and relatively clueless. Go with the flow.
Your home office is a very important part of the entire process. Not only should it be set up for the easy-qualifying for databases – it has to be comfortable and work well for you. I wrote another article about the Best Home Office Setup for your skip tracing business that will get you up to speed.
Step #4: Acquire Your Office Furniture
Nothing fancy here. You do need a desk and chair, of course. Remember that your dedicated office must look like an office! Shelving looks nice and professional. Desk lamp, filing cabinet(s), a small table/stand for your printer.
Anything that will take up some space and make your office look like it’s actually being used. As a skip tracer, you really don’t need a lot of furniture. It’s mostly computer work.
I’ve been working out of a home office for over 20 years now. Things are starting to pile up a bit as you can see from the pictures I’ve inserted into this post. Yes, those pictures are from my actual office. Notice the fridge. Nice, huh?
The most important thing to remember here is that should you be required to have a physical inspection – your office looks like it’s being used. It MUST look like and function as an office!
Step #5: Make Sure Your Computer is Secure
Obviously – you need a computer. A secure computer. A desktop PC or Mac is just fine. A laptop will also be acceptable. It MUST be password protected because you might be asked to shut down your computer – and re-start with a Password.
You really need to take this step seriously. No password-protected computer may cause you to fail the inspection. I have had roughly 20 office inspections throughout the years and 90 percent of the time I have been required to show that my computer is secure.
If you have only a laptop – make sure that it is in your office and fired up before the inspector arrives. Your goal here is to give the impression that your computer is a permanent part of the office. If you have to ask a family member to hand over your computer while the inspector is there – you’re toast!
Step #6: It’s All About Security
Security is really what this inspection is all about. Legitimacy and security, actually. It all starts with a locking door to your office – and then it gets more detailed. You need to have certain items in your office that add to the security of your business. Here they are:
- A deadbolted door – we discussed that earlier
- Document shredder
- Locking filing cabinets
- Secure windows
- Password-protected computer (Step #5, above)
Recently, I was asked by an inspector if my shredder “Cross-Cut.” She was looking at her checklist when she asked the question, so I’m assuming the data provider had a reason for inquiring into this. Purchase a good one – and make sure that it functions properly.
Below is a chart I pulled from GBC showing different security levels of shredders. I would definitely recommend purchasing a shredder that cross-cuts.
About half of the time, I am asked to demonstrate that the shredder actually works. Again, these inspections can vary greatly – and the data providers will ask for different things. Buy a good, sturdy shredder and make sure it works!
A locking filing cabinet is a must. You may have multiple filing cabinets in your office – just make sure that at least one of them can be locked. They may have you demonstrate that it is in working order, so be prepared.
Carry the key to your filing cabinet on your keychain. I was once asked to demonstrate that my locking filing cabinet worked properly. Stupid me, I grabbed the key from a shelf above the cabinet and demonstrated. The inspector laughed and asked me if this was a secure process. Oops.
Does your office have windows? Are they secure? I had one inspector look closely at my office windows and commented that they were acceptable. I asked him what that meant and he simply stated that they could not be opened from the outside. OK.
Step #7: You Need a Website!
The data provider has already asked you about your website during the credentialing process in Step #1 above. In fact, I’d be willing to be that you won’t even get this far in the qualifying process without a website. If you do not have a website – get one.
Everyone in business these days needs to have a website in order to compete. That includes Process Servers, Private Investigators, and others. The inspector may have you pull it up on your computer. Nothing fancy – a five page site will do just fine.
It is rare that the inspector will ask to see your website. He will be more interested in whether or not your computer is secure. In all my years of going through inspections, I have been asked about my website just once. And, honestly, I think the inspector was just curious.
On the flip side, the data provider will be very interested in your website. During the credentialing process, they have looked up your website – maybe even using the ‘wayback machine’ to see how long you have had it. Please – build one now.
Step #8: Marketing Materials
Here’s another much-overlooked step in the process. It’s not just about the security of your office and computer. Are you in charge of a REAL business? Do you have any marketing material? Do you belong to any local organizations that are similar to your industry? You might be asked about this.
I’m talking about business cards here. And stationary letterhead. I know it seems trivial – but I have been asked to produce both letterhead and business cards. Letterhead, you ask? Do people really use letterhead anymore? Yep.
Getting everything in order here is quite simple. Order 100 business cards for starters. $10 is cheap – and it’s nice to have them on hand when people ask about your business. Keep them handy on your desk or in your office somewhere. Carry a few in your wallet or purse.
It’s easy to create some letterhead. Business name, address, phone, email, and website. Fax number if you have one. Use Microsoft Word or Google Docs to create it. Bold and center at the top of a blank page. Save it on your desktop, and print out a copy to show the inspector if asked.
I am a member of NAPPS – the National Association of Professional Process Servers. And additional industry groups like the CAJP (California Association of Judgment Professionals), and the APSA (Arizona Process Servers Association). Do an online search for local groups in your city or state.
All of the above are great groups, and I would highly recommend joining one or more of them. Why? Simple – Inspectors have asked me more than once if I belonged to any industry groups. And they wanted proof. One inspector even asked if I had their logos on my website.
Again, the data providers are looking for legitimacy. Joining industry groups provides you with solid footing, and producing evidence of your membership in any group looks good. And by the way – it will greatly benefit your business.
Step #9: Property/Outside Requirements
Before the inspector even enters your house or apartment, he will take some pictures of the dwelling. Remember that he probably has a checklist provided by the data provider, so he obviously knows where you live.
He’s looking to see if your home is attached or unattached. An apartment complex or single-family home. Where is the entrance? Data providers frown on anything that looks suspicious – and instruct their inspectors to look for these things.
He may ask where your mailbox is. I have been asked that many times, and one inspector even had me open up the box so he could see if my business name was taped/attached to the inside of the box. Strange, huh?
He may wish to see a sign near your front door with the name of your business on it. Yes, I know, kind of overkill, huh? One time an inspector asked why I didn’t have the name of my business posted near the front door. Ouch.
He’s also going to look for evidence of any other business operating out of the premises. Is a family member working on cars in the front yard? Not a good sign. A sign near the front door of your house with the name of your wife’s internet business does not look good.
Common sense goes a long way here, and removing anything that looks out of the ordinary will help you pass the inspection with flying colors.
Step #10: Your Demeanor
This is the final step – but no less important than the others. In fact, it may be the most important. The inspector is going to observe your general behavior. Are you nervous? Are you acting like you’re hiding something?
The reason I added this into my list of 10- steps is that I have asked inspectors what they’re specifically looking for. Observing nervous or evasive behavior on the part of the applicant is of high priority.
One instructor informed me that he was SPECIFICALLY INSTRUCTED, by the data provider, to observe my behavior. I asked he want he meant by that. His response? Interesting, to say the least – but I get it.
I had mentioned earlier in this article that data providers are concerned about all of the scammers and spammers out there. This particular inspector said that the data provider was concerned about privacy laws and what not. Totally understandable.
They were running across too many people who were trying to gain access to their databases for nefarious reasons. Scammers and spammers. They need to weed these people out and protect those of us who have legitimate need for these databases.
Remember that the really good skip tracing databases contain more than just public records. Some may have access to full social security numbers and dates of birth. Others have motor vehicle and driver’s license records. The addresses and phones of family members are probably available.
The release or access to all sensitive information is governed by Federal and State authorities. Data providers cannot afford NOT to perform their due diligence. They will do their homework, and observing your behavior is part of the process.
After my first few inspections, I lost all fear of being disqualified. Why? Because I know exactly what they’re looking for. Relax and go with the flow. After all, if you have been paying attention to what I’ve said in this post – you will pass with flying colors.
You Can Qualify for Skip Tracing Databases
Yes, you can qualify for those really good skip tracing databases. You just have to be prepared for what’s coming your way. You will be pre-qualified through the initial credentialing process, and you will most likely have your home office inspected.
Don’t sweat it. Diligently follow the steps I have outlined above and you will be just fine. Keep in mind that you probably won’t even get to this point in the application process if the data providers find something askew in the initial credentialing process. Get your paperwork in order.
Related Topics About Skip Tracing
What if I just want to be a Skip Tracer and not a Private Investigator or Process Server? That’s great – but you’re going to have a hard time qualifying for most of the really good skip tracing databases. State laws vary on what you’re allowed to do without a license.
I am not an attorney – it would probably be a good idea if you consulted with a competent one about this. In the meantime I wrote all about how to start a skip tracing business in a different post. Check it out.
Do I need a special type of software for the skip tracing business? No, not really. When you say ‘software,’ I’m assuming that you’re not talking about online databases. Databases are not considered software – they’re tools to aid you in finding information on your subjects.
There are other types of software you will need. Applications like QuickBooks, WordPress (or some other type of CMA), for your website, Process Server and GPS software, etc. I wrote all about skip tracing software here.
Concentrate on getting your business set up properly – and go for the really good databases. Yes, they will cost you some hard-earned cash – there’s no getting around that – but they are essential these days if you want to be successful.