Lost & Found

~ By Michael L. King ~

It’s been said that family is not an important thing, it’s everything. Most people would agree with the wisdom of this statement, but sometimes, despite our best intentions, we lose contact with friends and loved ones. As the years drift by without a phone call or letter, it becomes all too easy to procrastinate, imagining that we can always get around to calling later. Unfortunately, if we wait too long, a valued relationship can slip away, buried beneath the relentless sands of time.

After neglecting a friendship for years, what options are available when we finally get around to calling, only to discover the phone number is disconnected? What recourse do we have when a long overdue letter is mailed at last, only to be returned as undeliverable? How can we possibly reconnect with a relative or friend when we lack the means of contacting them?

The answer is one of elegant simplicity. You can hire an investigative agency that specializes in locating people, or as it’s called in the investigative industry, skip tracing. I spoke with Richard Bohannon at Denver-based Elite Legal Services, and got the inside scoop on how they locate missing persons, and track down those that don’t want to be found.

Investigative agencies often provide a wide range of services that require access to sensitive information. Process serving, bounty hunting, and private investigations are a few of the specialties that depend on locating current contact information for persons of interest. Data aggregated by skip traces can be broadly classified as either public or private information. Public information includes data retrieved from publicly available data sources, such as property ownership, voter registration, business filings, court filings, and social media websites.

Private information may include data compiled by credit reporting agencies, credit card issuers, cell phone providers, and related industries. Access to complete social security numbers, dates of birth, and other personal information requires investigative firms to demonstrate the highest level of professionalism and trustworthiness. Firms that require access to such confidential data must undergo a rigorous screening and background check process to mitigate the risk of potential fraud and abuse.

With the holidays rapidly approaching, I found myself thinking of a middle-school friend I once opened Christmas presents with, Joey. I haven’t seen Joey since his family moved to another state, and as an adult, I had assumed I would never see him again. It never occurred to me that it might be possible to locate him after so many years. The only contact information I had was his first name, and the street we once lived on. Surely even an investigative agency like Elite Legal Services would be unable to locate my childhood friend after so much time!

I asked Richard Bohannon to demonstrate exactly how Elite Legal Services would go about finding Joey, and after filling out a simple form, we got started. “Firstly, we ask you for every relevant piece of information you have about your friend,” explained Richard. “In this case, we only have a first name, a street address, and a date range. From there, we’ll look up pictures of houses on the street, and hopefully, you’ll be able to identify where Joey used to live.” Richard opened Google Maps, and sure enough, within minutes, I was able to recognize Joey’s old house, and ergo, his old address. At this point, I was starting to feel cautiously optimistic.

“Next, we’ll call the Denver County Assessor’s Office, and ask who owned the house when Joey lived there.” Richard picked up the phone and dialed. A friendly woman answered the call, and Richard politely inquired about the property owner’s name during the years I knew Joey. I recognized Joey’s last name as soon as I heard it, and just like that, we had a full name and past address!

With excitement building, I asked Richard what came next. “Now, we’ll run one skip trace on the former property owner, believed to be Joey’s father, and a second skip trace on Joey himself. Then, we’ll cross-reference the addresses from both skip traces, and if successful, we’ll be able to identify the
correct Joey. Because we’re completing a nation-wide search, we’re going to find multiple people with the same name, so cross-referencing address information is critical,” Richard said.

For security reasons, I wasn’t allowed to watch Richard complete the skip trace itself, but within 5 minutes, Richard said, “I have Joey’s phone number. Would you like to call him?”

Suffice to say, I was extremely impressed. I did want to call Joey, but I had a few more questions for Richard first. “What’s the cost of a skip trace? What do you do if the skip trace doesn’t show relevant contact information? Can you find ANYONE?”

“A skip trace usually costs between $50 and $100 per subject,” Richard said. “The price varies depending on the difficulty of the search. Skip tracing someone with a common name will return more results than when searching for someone with a unique name. Confirming we’ve found the correct person can require multiple database searches. If a skip trace does not provide the necessary information, we can send an investigator to the subject’s past known addresses, and talk to former neighbors and co-workers. With difficult investigations, the major determining factor is cost. Private investigations are billed at an hourly rate, and are significantly more expensive than a skip trace.”

“As for your last question,” Richard continued, “we certainly can’t find everyone! In cases where a subject is wanted by law enforcement, or is avoiding a process server, the subject may deliberately hide their identify by using aliases, frequently changing phone numbers, forwarding mail to PO boxes, and severing ties with friends and family. If someone is determined to stay hidden, it can be extremely difficult and expensive to locate them. In most cases, however, if the person is alive, we’ll find them. If they’re dead, we’ll tell you where they’re buried.”

After I concluded my meeting with Richard and left Elite Legal Services, I eagerly dialed Joey’s phone number. I am happy to report that Richard did indeed find my long lost friend. I couldn’t have asked for a more meaningful Christmas gift, and I am tremendously grateful that I’ve been able to find a friend I thought was lost to me forever.

Elite Legal Services can be reached at 303.635.6934.

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