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Tips on Finding a Missing Person that Needs to be Served

It’s not uncommon for people to avoid a process server. No one wants bad news, but the unfortunate truth is, you can’t avoid service of process forever. Avoiding a server just adds extra time and cost onto a case, that ends up being at the evasive party’s expense.

Are you a process server having difficulty finding an elusive litigant? If so, use our top tips for finding a missing person that needs to be served:

Do your homework

Don’t skip out on researching your target before heading out the door. The internet makes it easy to discover lots of information about almost anyone. Collect the following information, at a minimum:

  • Name
  • Addresses
  • Phone numbers
  • Aliases/nicknames
  • Vehicle make, model, color, unique bumper stickers, and other identifiers
  • Picture or physical description of the target
  • Best time and place to contact
  • History of evading service
  • History of violence

Adjust the list according to the needs of the case you are working on. Not everything will apply to all cases. However, gathering this information will give you a well-rounded picture of the person you are trying to find.

Take notes

There is no note too small in process serving. Even minor details can crack the case, so write everything down that you learn as you attempt to find the process recipient.

Start calling around

No one wants their employer, family, or friends to know that they have pending legal matters, so they will usually get back to you back pretty quickly once you start calling phone numbers associated with them. These could be home, work, friends, or family numbers. Do be careful when contacting someone at work, as there are particular rules about that. Avoid involving other people at first, but contacting them after you’ve been unsuccessful in finding the intended recipient can be helpful.

Dress the part

Always opt for an outfit that mixes well into the setting you are visiting. Your appearance often determines your reception, so you don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb and call excessive attention to yourself. 

Check out their online presence

You’d be surprised at what people will post publicly online, especially on social media. Just a few quick searches on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat can yield plenty of information to get you started on your search or give you new leads to follow. Pay special attention to location tags that people often include with their posted photos.

However, avoid contacting process recipients online without identifying yourself as a process server first.

Some other ideas for finding people’s information online include searching for upcoming court dates for the process recipient and approaching them while they are at the courthouse. Online directory sites could also lead you to phone numbers and addresses that may not be listed officially. However, do not rely on online information only, as it can be inaccurate or outdated.

Stakeout time!

For the most elusive process recipients, a stakeout may be in order ( who doesn’t want to say they’ve been on a stakeout?). While attempting service at a location where you believe the recipient is hiding, take photos of anything you can see that should move regularly, including:

  • Oil stains on the driveway
  • Power meter readings
  • Water meter readings
  • Things you can see looking in a window, such as dirty dishes or a coffee table

Come back in a few days. Have the items in the photos moved? Well, that’s a sure sign of human activity at the location.

You can also try sticking a piece of masking tape in a highly visible place on a door that appears to be used often. In an inconspicuous spot near the bottom of the same door, place a small, clear piece of tape connecting the door to the door frame. Even if the process recipient is smart enough not to touch the visible masking tape, they will likely not notice the clear tape near the bottom, as they will be distracted with the tape up top.

When you return for the second service attempt, check if any of the tapes has been moved. If the answer is yes, then you once again have confirmation of human activity at the location.

Once you are sure someone is hiding at the location, pick a nearby spot to park your vehicle where you can see the entrance to the residence. Wait patiently, and when the process recipient finally shows their face, make your move.

Request service by substitution or publication

In cases where the process server can prove they’ve made every reasonable attempt to serve the process, but the intended recipient cannot be found, a judge may agree to an alternative service. The most common types of alternative service are service by substitution and service by publication. 

In service by substitution, someone other than the intended recipient may receive the process on their behalf. However, you’ll need to mail a copy of the papers to the recipient’s last known address as well. 

For service by publication, you’re allowed to post an announcement for the process recipient publicly, usually in the local newspaper, for at least 32 days.

Service of process in Tallahassee

If one of the litigants in a case you are handling just can’t be found, give Accurate Serve® of Tally a try. Our team has the network and experience you want when trying to locate people that can’t be found. Call us at (850) 519-5494 or send us a work request online to get started today!