How Collection Agencies Find You

How do debt collectors find you? They can use several methods to locate you.

By , Attorney · UCLA School of Law
Updated by Amy Loftsgordon, Attorney · University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Considering all of the digital resources available, it usually isn't hard for a debt collector to track you down. Searching the internet or the DMV records, for example, can quickly reveal your whereabouts. Even without these electronic sources, a debt collector has other ways of finding you.

Can Debt Collectors Find You?

They sure can. Here are the primary resources a collection agency uses to find people.

Reviewing the Information On Your Credit Application

When an original creditor hires a debt collector, it provides the collection agency with the information on your credit application. You probably had to provide information like your name, phone number, address, and more when you filled out the application. So, that application might contain your current contact information.

If you've moved, someone listed on the application (your employer, bank, credit references, or nearest living relative) might know where you are.

Contacting Your Relatives, Friends, Employers, and Neighbors

Collection agents often call relatives, friends, employers, or neighbors, posing as a friend or relative. However, the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) limits these types of calls.

Using Social Media

A debt collector might use Facebook, LinkedIn, or another social media site to track you down. Many people list their hometown, employer, and other identifiable information on social media. In many cases, debt collectors just look at your posts (without connecting with you) to get your contact information or learn more about you. And once a debt collector finds out where you work, they're more motivated to seek a wage garnishment.

If a debt collector sends you a private message through social media asking to be added as one of your contacts, the collector is supposed to disclose their identity as a debt collector. However, collectors have been known to set up false identities and try to connect with consumers and then fish around for information about whereabouts or assets.

Some debt collectors use social media to coerce debtors into paying by posting messages about a debt or otherwise harassing debtors online. While debt collectors who violate the FDCPA can be held liable for statutory damages of up to $1,000, you might be unable to trace the account back to the debt collector.

Looking at Phone Directories (How Did Collections Find My Number?)

Phone directories, printed or online, are good sources of names, addresses, and phone numbers. If a collection agency has your phone number, it might be able to find your address using a reverse directory. A reverse directory lists telephone numbers in numeric order rather than by name.

Checking the Post Office

The agency might check the post office for a forwarding address. Also, major credit bureaus with their own collection agencies receive change-of-address information for each month from the U.S. Postal Service.

Some privacy rights advocates suggest that to prevent collectors from using your change of address information to find your current address, you should choose the "temporary" address change when you fill out a change of address request. That will forward mail for six months, and you can extend it for up to a year, but it won't show up as a permanent change of address in postal records.

Alternatively, you can simply notify each person or business you want to know your new address but not fill out a postal change of address form. Of course, you risk forgetting a business or person you want to keep in contact with or whose bills you want to pay on time. You could fall behind on a priority account because you don't get the bills.

Using the State Motor Vehicle Department Database

In most states, a legitimate creditor or its agent (the collection agency) can use the motor vehicle department's database to verify your address to collect a debt and pursue legal remedies against you.

Reviewing Voter Registration Records

Some collection agents check voter registration records in the county of your last residence. The registrar will have your new address if you've reregistered in the same county.

If you've moved out of the county and reregistered, your new county would have forwarded cancellation information to your old county, and the registrar could make that information available.

Going to Utility Companies

Although this process is difficult, an agency collector might be able to find you through the electric or phone company, especially if you are still in the same service area. Even if you move farther, the company might have your new address as a place to send your final bill.

Asking Banks

If you move but leave your old bank account open—even if you don't still do business with the bank—the bank will probably have your new address and could provide it to a collection agency.

Checking With the Credit Reporting Bureaus

If a collection agency is associated with a credit reporting agency, the collection agency has access to all kinds of information, like your address, phone number, employer, and credit history.

Even if it isn't part of a credit bureau, for a small fee, the collector can place your name on a credit bureau locate list. If you apply for credit (even if you've moved hundreds or thousands of miles from where you previously lived), your name could be forwarded to the collection agency.

Using Data Aggregators

Data aggregators gather and sell information on millions of people from public records, surveys, purchase data, and demographic data. Much of this information is now available online.

You might want to try to opt out of these online lists. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse provides useful information about "people search" sites, along with a list of data brokers.

Doing Internet Searches

You can find anything from aircraft owners to high school classmates online. Even clubs, churches, and PTAs put their newsletters online so your affiliations could appear in an internet search. Then, the organization might innocently help the collection agency find you.

Hiring Skip Tracers

Creditors and collectors use skip tracers to locate people. Skip tracers locate people using traditional and high-tech techniques, such as email address finders, Social Security number searches, phone company call records, public records, domain name lookups, military and Selective Service lookups, prison inmate lookups, professional license lookups, apartment locators, hotel/motel locators, business and corporate records, hunting and fishing licenses, and even eBay seller searches.


Pretexters get people's personal information illegally, using false pretenses. A pretexter might call you and say he's from a survey firm. He might ask you some questions to elicit basic personal information.

When the pretexter has enough information, he calls your financial institution and pretends to be you or someone authorized to access your account. He gets more personal information from the bank.

Talk to an Attorney

If you need help dealing with an aggressive debt collector, figuring out what option is best for handling your debts, negotiating a settlement, or responding to a lawsuit for nonpayment, consider consulting with a lawyer.

And if you have a lot of debts, you might want to consider filing for bankruptcy.

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