Wouldn’t it be great if we could perfect service on the 1st attempt every time? We all know not every serve can go as planned and oftentimes difficult people make for difficult situations.
As a process server I find that my skills at times are tested. When these difficult serves arise I must remember that I am an investigator first. Process servers and investigators alike must have the skills of creativity, logic, communication and the ability to use innovative techniques to complete an efficient serve.
Planning and Preparation:
Planning and preparation is so important to any successful process server. As part of your preparation for an assignment, you should always gather as much information as possible on the individual you are about to serve.
As a standard, I always ask the client if the following information is available on the individual I am about to serve:
- Name, address and personal phone numbers
- Work address and work phone number
- Aliases or nicknames
- What kind of vehicle do they drive? Year, make, model, color or other unique identifiers are helpful too.
- Does the client have a picture or physical description of the person to be served?
- Is there a specific time service should be made?
- Have they been avoiding service or are they expecting and agreeable to service?
- Can the documents be sub-served?
- Is the individual known to be violent?
I also like to do a quick pre-surveillance check of the area in which I will be serving by using a variety of Internet tools such as Google Maps, Google Street Views and Microsoft’s Bing Maps (formerly Live Maps). This allows me to get familiar with the surroundings, alerts me to any potential hazards and may identify any other entry points to the address.
A prepared process server is a successful process server!
Unwilling and Evasive Individuals
Our standard service of process rates are based on 3 diligent attempts over a period of six days at varying times. What happens if I do not get the individual on the 3rd attempt or they appear to evading service?
Search Public Records. Before charging any additional costs to my client, I like to quickly check my local clerk’s public records on line. I check for pending court cases and updated information. I have found pending court cases on many individuals and ended up serving them in court right before their appearance. In searching these free public records, I have also found updated addresses that our client may not have had.
Conduct Simple Internet Research. Sometimes a lot of information about a person can be found through just a simple Internet search. I found an individual’s current employment address just by viewing their Linkedin Profile.
Talk to Neighbors. Talk to neighbors to find out the habits or whereabouts of the individual you are trying to serve. Sometimes you will find that the individual is on vacation or works odd hours. Always be cautious when talking to neighbors; they do not need to know anything about the case or the true nature of your visit (you don’t want the neighbor to put your defendant on notice).
Take Notes. Document all evidence that supports the fact that the individual you have been trying to serve is evading service. Attorneys can often file a pleading to the court regarding the evasive defendant and they will need your factual information in order to do so.
Remember to always work out a cost effective plan with your client to deal with unwilling or evasive individuals ahead of time. Here are some additional service techniques that many of us use in these difficult situations:
- Find out if a request for a change of address has been filed with the Post Office.
- Skip trace the subject using a dependable nationwide database provider, this can often yield additional billable hours or service fees.
- Conduct a stakeout. We oftentimes can serve difficult service after a short surveillance and “service by ambush.” This is another lucrative add-on service!
- If you have phone numbers for the individual, use creative pretexting techniques.
Of course before conducting any skip trace or pretext remember to follow your state laws and regulations:
- NEVER represent yourself as a law enforcement officer, clergyman, employee or member of an actual company.
- MAINTAIN CONFIDENTIALITY. Do not reveal personal or intimate information about your subject to individuals having no right to or need for such information.
- NEVER use your correct name or leave your telephone number.
- NEVER pretext to obtain information from financial institutions, telephone companies or other protected information.
- Be innovative and creative. Sometimes you just have to think outside of the box. Serving evasive individuals is like a game of “cat and mouse,” but by putting your investigative expertise and creativity to work you can often catch the individual off guard. For example… I had to serve a taxi driver once and he was evading service at his home and at work. I ended up calling his taxi service and asked for the driver to pick me up at my office; the call was under the pretense that I needed a ride to the airport. When he came to pick me up, I was able to serve him successfully… Out of courtesy, I paid his cab fare to my location… it was worth the effort and the client did not mind picking up the tab on this very important assignment.
There is a pretty good chance that you will outsmart your evasive or unwilling recipient by using creative techniques, thinking quickly and being persistent. If you are in doubt of using an unusual method of service of process consult with your attorney to ensure you are operating within the laws and regulations of your jurisdiction.
If you have some innovative, creative tips and tricks of serving evasive clients I would love to hear from you. Join us on our forum to discuss additional difficult process serving tips in detail.
This article was written by Stephanie Mitchell and is posted courtesy IRBseach, LLC.
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