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Finding You: Debt Collectors on the Hunt

Like good retail, recovering money also follows the law of location, location, location. While some debt collectors might find playing junior gumshoe fun and productive by harassing your mamma and neighbors, the reality is that most people that are credit worthy or wish to become credit worthy live on the grid, meaning that they have a postal address, have a telephone, use a credit card, carry insurance, have a bank account, pay taxes, own property, etc. Electronic records associated with the aforementioned activities confirm and track a person's very existence and consequently their whereabouts. Armed with this basic fact, let's examine how debt collectors obtain records in order to locate you, a process known by the industry as skip tracing.

Original Creditor

The chase begins with an assist from the original creditor. If the creditor can produce a legitimate postal address, telephone number, and social security number, then the collector is at least starting the game above water. However, it's not uncommon for a creditor to have garbage records, compliments of the debtor. Regardless, the creditor's information seeds subsequent search methods for better or worse.

United States Postal Service

Don't count the government out of this game. The postal service gladly licenses its 160 million record change of address database that accounts for 4 years of address changes through its NCOALink service. Addresses obtained from the USPS become a great lead for obtaining additional contact information.


Acxiom, InfoUSA, and LexisNexis (Accurint, ChoicePoint, etc.) are the 800 pound gorillas in the data aggregation business. Best guess profiles on millions of people are derived from information harvested from data provider relationships with banks, utilities, insurers, credit card companies, etc., and scouring public records. For what amounts to spare change, people profiles are sold to anyone with permissible use, which includes law enforcement, government, banks, insurers, health care providers, legal professionals, collection agencies, etc.

Credit Bureaus

The bureaus, Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, and Innovis, offer a suite of products tuned to the needs of the collection industry. These products are an excellent and cost effective source of location information and value add such as scoring and portfolio segmentation. The bureaus receive monthly account updates through data furnisher agreements, typically creditors and other collection agencies. In return, a data furnisher hopes that it can use your credit score as leverage in the relationship with the consumer.

You've Got the Wrong Guy

While a debt collector can often get its man when it matters, the process is far from perfect and there are detours at every turn. That's why so many of you get collection calls that are for a different person. It could be that you share a debtor's name or have been allocated their old telephone number. Some may take solace that the process leads collectors to also make fruitless calls to the likes of Waffle House, Wal-Mart, and other completely erroneous places and spending some time on hold.