I hope you have read and enjoyed Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of this series covering the basics of serving process. In this part I will share with you how I first approach a new serve and why it always pays to do your homework.
Do Your Homework
Much of the work an experienced process server puts in on a case is done before the first attempt at service is ever made. At least it should be. I have saved countless hours and untold frustration by researching a case before I ever leave the office to try to serve it.
The first thing I do is obtain a property profile for the address I’ve been given by my client. If you meet their criteria, you can sign up here for an account with FASTWeb. Simply search for the address and, if found in the database, you will get a report showing the current owner of the property, zoning information (office, industrial, apartment, single-family residence, etc.), previous owner and various tax information.
Trust me, it makes your job much easier if you approach a single-family residence that you know is owned by someone with the same last name as your defendant than going in blind. Is the house you are serving a family home or probable rental property? Did your defendant sell the property to someone else two years ago? This step will also help you identify whether the address is part of an apartment or condo complex which may mean that you need a unit number that your client was not able to provide.
After I figure out what the story is with the property I will be visiting, I attempt to dig up some information on the defendant or person being served. If the defendant is a company, you can usually do a few quick searches online to confirm that they operate at the address you were given by your client. I like to find the names of officers of the corporation or owners or partners of the business so I have some people to ask for when I arrive at the office. You may also find other locations from where the business operates that may be more convenient for you to serve, depending on the method of service required by law.
Learn about the person you need to serve
If the defendant is a person, I start with a Google search of the person’s name then refine the search with possibly city, address, company they work for, etc. With any luck you will come across various pieces of information about the defendant. Spend a few minutes searching around and you will likely find a Facebook or similar page with a picture of the defendant and information that tends to confirm or deny that they are in the area you believe them to be. Click around on the defendant’s friends’ pages to possibly uncover more information. I’m not telling most of you anything you don’t already know here, but it works.
Consider Paying for Information – It Can Be Profitable
As a registered process server, you can gain access to certain paid online databases that provide address location services. I currently use LocatePlus.com to run searches in an attempt to confirm or locate a defendant’s current address so I can serve them papers. Running a search through the database costs money and you have to agree to only search for information for certain legal reasons. You cannot just search for celebrity addresses or see where your ex-girlfriend is living these days. You must acknowledge that you are utilizing the information in an attempt to serve papers, prevent fraud, etc.
If I am unable to find good information online for free, or I visit a likely address and find out that it is no longer current for the defendant, I will search for them using LocatePlus. It takes doing some searches to learn the tools and how to best read the reports and it is fun putting the pieces of the puzzle together. It usually takes a couple months for the system to “catch up” to a person once they move but you can generate a report of likely addresses and learn much about your defendant. Depending on how you structure your business, you can charge a premium for this service or roll it in with a package deal like I do. Nothing makes you a hero to your client more than tracking down and serving their defendant when they are not sure where the defendant lives.
Once you have done your investigating prior to attempting service, you should have a much clearer picture of who you are serving, where they are likely to be found and what to expect when you arrive at the address. If you are lucky, your client has provided you with a picture of the defendant, what vehicle they are known to drive, and other information, but clients do not always have this information to provide. Sometimes you have to figure all that out yourself. That is when a little bit of investigation can pay off big time, saving you money, stress and time.
Stick around for Part 5 where we will take the information we gathered in our investigation and get out there in the field, knocking on doors and serving people, whether they like it or not. Sometimes you only get one shot and the element of surprise is king.
Also, check out my recent article containing 5 Tips to Become a Better Process Server for more ideas and insight on doing your research before knocking on doors.