Skiptracing with NCOA

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By Robert Scott, PI & CEO,

“NCOA” is short for National Change of Address — the U.S. Postal Service’s huge data system that keeps track of who’s moved where. Of course this assumes that a mail forwarding request was made by the person moving. Back in the day it was automatic for skiptracers to check NCOA, but in the era of online data it’s become largely overlooked and forgotten as it isn’t available online. When I recently asked a skiptrace seminar audience how many check NCOA as part of their skiptracing routine, only 4 out of 50 raised their hands! Many assumed this was automatically checked by people search data companies like my own Skip Smasher but that isn’t necessarily true. I know four ways to check NCOA data, each of which has its own advantages and disadvantages:

1.If the purpose for obtaining the forwarding information is for actual or proposed litigation, use a form called  “Request For Change of Address or Box Holder Information”. A fillable PDF version of the form can be found online at . The form needs to be submitted at the post office that delivered mail to the LKA (Last Known Address). It can be walked in, mailed in or faxed in. Faxing is usually most effective. The requests can take up to a week or more to be returned; although if you’re lucky, the same day; or if you’re there in person, while you wait. If a change of address is on file, you’ll be provided with the new address.

2. Send a postcard or letter to the person at the LKA with the wording ADDRESS SERVICE REQUESTED on the front of the mail piece. If there’s a forwarding address on file, the mail piece will be forwarded on to the new address and postal form 3547 (See example below) will be returned to the sender showing an image of the mail piece and the old and new address. There’s a .57 cent charge on top of the original postage.

3.  Send a postcard or letter to the person at the LKA with the wording RETURN SERVICE REQUESTED on the front of the mail piece. If there’s a forwarding address on file, the mail piece will be returned to the sender with a yellow sticker showing the new address. There’s no charge other than the original postage.

4.  NCOA data can also make its way indirectly into people search data. I say indirectly because it forbidden for a people search service like Skip Smasher to just run a database through the NCOA system to harvest fresh addresses. NCOA by law must be used for legitimate mail purposes only. However, the credit bureaus and others do legally obtain and update their information using NCOA and this filters down to people search data. The problem is, there’s no guarantee this has been done; or done on a timely basis.

The best practice for a skiptracer/investigator who needs to know for certain that NCOA has been checked (and to know when it was checked) is for him or her to do it themselves using one of the first three options above. The 4th option is essentially blind and is less reliable. As it can take a week or more to get the results back from any of the first three options above, it’s wise to make a NCOA check one of the first steps in your skiptracing routine. Considering that at times it can produce a new address before commercial data providers, expert skiptracers know this makes it worth the effort involved.


Source: “99 Things Every Expert Skiptracer Knows (or Should Know)” skiptracing seminars presented by Robert Scott in March and April 2014 in Southern California.
Article copyright 2014, Skip Smasher, Inc. All rights reserved.