When you are recovering a judgment, there seems to be no limit on how much you can spend, attempting to discover assets to recover some money from your judgment debtor. This article is my opinion, and not legal advice. I am a judgment broker, and am not a lawyer. If you ever need any legal advice or a strategy to use, please contact a lawyer.
The easy, yet expensive way to find the possible available assets of your judgment debtor is to hire a private investigator, pay an asset location search company, or pay monthly for a professional data service subscription. The good ones are expensive. This article highlights some cheap and possibly time consuming methods of locating assets of your judgment debtor using public data records. The free and cheap methods are rarely as good as the expensive options, however they sometimes work.
The first search to try is the web (Google, Bing, etc.). Run your judgment debtor’s name, address, and phone number. Try your searches using different quoting options, and perhaps also a few spelling variations. If there are no matches, try the debtor’s spouse or parent information, if you know it, as that might provide clues about your judgment debtor.
Look up your judgment debtor’s name on Facebook and other social media web sites, because sometimes people brag about their assets, hobbies, or jobs on the web. Enter your judgment debtor’s home address into Google Maps, to see what their house or residence looks like. If your judgment debtor lives in a shack next to a toxic waste dump and some railroad tracks, they may be judgment-proof, and there is probably no need to do any more searches.
The next searches are for criminal records, because they show private judgment debtor information and are public records. Most of the “free criminal record searches” on the web are not free. I recommend first searching on the web for “yourcity criminal records”. You might find a local courthouse on the web that lets you search to see if criminal records exist for your judgment debtor.
Unfortunately, most courts require you to visit their courthouse to view or copy their records and often you must pay for them. If you cannot visit the court, maybe this can be done by mail, or you might have to pay a few dollars to those “free” solutions on the web. Pick the web sites that show up on the first few pages of a web search. SkipMax is one example, another idea is to check your local law library and see if they have public records on (e.g.) Westlaw. (Some law libraries only have subscriptions for legal lookups and case laws.)
Next, search for property records of your judgment debtor and their parents. The reason for also looking at the property records of the parents of your judgment debtor is to see if they own real estate assets. If they do, there is a chance your judgment debtor will inherit them someday. On the web, the free search sites quickly turn into pay services. Try searching on the web for “yourcounty property records” or “yourcounty, state property records”. In some counties you need to visit the county recorder in person, or arrange and pay for a copy of the records by mail. Although database searches are wonderful, for the truth, pull records at the county recorder. If they own property, get your lien recorded quickly.
If possible, walk or drive by your judgment debtor’s house or residence, and take note of what vehicles are parked there, and what you can see through their windows. Look for hints about toys they may own, taking care not to trespass or cause attention to yourself. This is a long shot because usually window coverings are closed, however sometimes the garage door is open and a shiny new motorcycle or boat is showing. Also, you might try to follow them to their job some morning.
Next, there are judgment debtor examinations and possibly third-party examinations. These are not as cheap as they should be, yet once you pay the fees and the expenses to have your judgment debtor served, your patience and determination will be the most important factors.
Unfortunately, vehicle ownership record information from sources other than from judgment debtor examinations are rather expensive; requiring a private investigator, or through other expensive and complicated solutions including the department of motor vehicles. Through debtor and third-party examinations at the court, you can determine possible vehicle ownerships. Judgment debtor examinations and document requests may lead to information about other available assets owned by your judgment debtor.
If the free and cheap asset discovery tools do not pay off, and you think your judgment debtor has some type of available assets, it might be worthwhile to pay for a private investigator to perform an asset check on them.