Tracing a Debtor: My Experiences

As a website developer, I'd always placed the burden of trust on my own shoulders when it came to client relationships. In other words, I never asked for a deposit up-front. I always delivered work first, then the client paid if they were satisfied with the work done. Normally if they weren't satisfied, it simply meant some remedial work to fix the issues they didn't like about their new website. It's a simple arrangement that 99% of clients are happy with. They are not stressed with worrying whether they are going to be ripped off, nor would they have to worry about having to try to claim money back for whatever reason.

However, one particular client really took advantage of my arrangement. This company was outside the UK where I am based. That's not so unusual, and so I just keep the same arrangement regardless of where the client resides. Anyway, this was a big job, and I did even consider asking for a deposit since it was tantamount to about four weeks full-time work. No, I thought. Stick to your principles. It's always worked, so don't worry.

So, I set to to work. Actually, it took a little longer than four weeks to get to a point where I could show a working version of the client's new website. They were delighted with it. Of course, there were some changes to be made (another day's work), but after that we could go live. So I did the remedial work and then the website live on their domain name. With the website live, I sent off my invoice to the client.

Let's wind the clock forward a full three months. I won't bore you with my invoice-chasing. Believe me, it's a tedious tale to tell. The client had gone cold on me. Many times I called their phone number listed on the website I had developed for them. Nobody ever picked up.

I sought legal advice as it was a big bill to chase. The lawyer I spoke to was very abrupt with me - told me that a CCJ or any other kind of legal action against the debtor would be toothless as they were overseas. Before I hung up though (after ranting on about how useless the system was), the lawyer did give me some hope: "it's a long shot, but try a tracing company. If they're good, they can track down this individual. It doesn't mean you'll get your money, but you just never know".

The next day I had immersed myself in the tracing industry. I eventually settled on one company. I simply pointed them to the URL of the website I had developed for them. The website had all the information I knew about the debtor - a contact name, a phone number, an email, an address.

Within two days, the tracing company had traced my debtor. I was given an address, and a phone number associated with the address. I called the number and was greeted with a familiar voice. I froze, scared he would put the phone down immediately upon hearing my voice, but obviously I had to say something. "How are you?".


This was going to be as difficult as I'd feared it would be.

I resisted to call back. Instead, I posted the invoice by registered snail mail. I would just bore him into submission.

Before the invoice was even delivered, I was paid in full via PayPal.

He'd left a note in the payment: "sorry for the trouble. It seems like I can't run from my debts."

It had worked as the lawyer hoped it would - it was enough to trace the debtor, and then let his guilty conscience do the rest.

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