Many process servers use a false pretext to get their papers served. They’ll knock on the door armed with flowers, balloons or in a pizza delivery uniform. The validity of such methods is often discussed and challenged but using such tactics as the initial contact with the person you are trying to serve could potentially do more harm than good. For one, it endangers your reputation as a professional. As an example, if the police are called and a server is at a residence under false pretenses, it may not matter that you are there to fulfill due process. The homeowner may, in fact, be correct that you are there for an illegitimate reason and the police could agree. Secondly, using a false pretext can be embarrassing when the person would have cooperated if you just went with the truth. Oftentimes, process servers serve individuals more than once. It’s embarrassing to return to serve someone after you’ve made some elaborate pretext.
Instead, maintain honesty from the beginning. As Keith says, “Don’t assume you have to be dishonest as your first response when dealing with people. There is a time and place for a pretext, but in my experience, it’s rarely necessary.”
Rather than resorting to trickery for a difficult serve, try opening lines of communication with the person you are serving such as leaving a note with your name, number, and a request to call. Strategically leave out that you’re trying to serve them papers and even make the note “non-professional” such as a handwritten note. Often times, the person living at the address will call you out of curiosity. If you do not get a call using these methods, send or leave a letter that explains it is a criminal offense (at least in Mississippi) for any person to evade, impede or avoid process service. However, be sure to research the laws in your state before saying something similar.
Ask the client for phone numbers, vehicle information, and any social media profiles that the defendant you need to serve may have. Many clients have useful information and they might not realize how vital it is to a process server. Looking at the social media accounts of the defendant, whether it’s Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, or even Twitter may give you a better understanding of the person you are trying to serve. Did they recently have a major tragedy in their life? What kind of emotional stress are they going through?
Depending on their privacy settings, you may uncover employment information, habits, places they frequent, as well as hobbies which may provide a topic of mutual interest with you and the person you are trying to serve. If you’re questioning whether or not you have the right person, you can look at their friends and relatives and attempt to cross-reference any names from a database report offered by many providers such as idiCORE, Tracer’s Info, or TLO just to name a few.
To establish an open dialogue, Keith utilizes messaging services, such as text, Facebook messenger, email, or any other type of messenger. He says, “We’re gaining traction on finding hard-to-locate people and we don’t even have to send them to our skip trace department simply by being persistent and utilizing any electronic communication source available.”
One tactic when using messaging is to send the target many messages over a short period of time via social media or their phone number. Again, persistence is key. These messages don’t threaten the defendant, they simply inform them of the situation and provide contact information. Craft messages beforehand where the content is careful to avoid saying the person is going to be charged or arrested for their evasion (even though it is a criminal offense in some states). Rather, the messages should indicate that it is a possibility. Create a variety of canned messages for possible responses so that sending these notifications is easy and straightforward once the messages are written. It’s just a matter of cut and paste.
For ease of use, consider an online texting application via a computer to send these messages, like Vonage. Using a desktop or other interface will allow you to respond at your leisure without repeated interruptions on your smartphone.
Often the individual doesn’t respond to the first message and may not ever respond. However, sometimes targets respond after many messages were sent as persistence sometimes pays off. According to Keith, “Utilizing text and Facebook messenger has enabled us to cut down at least 20% of papers that we would ordinarily nonserve or send to skip trace.”