Locating a deadbeat
August 17, 2009 5:27 PM   Subscribe

Can I triangulate someones location with a cell phone number?

After filing at small claims court, I hired a process server to serve the person (company owner) who ripped me off for $2500 (deposit on central AC system install in NY). Server went to his house – wife said he moved out, he went to office, nothing there. he has no employees. Server tried 5 different times to locate. I can't get a court date without serving him. Need a cheap way to find this bastard!
posted by pmaxwell to Law & Government (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In general no.

posted by glider at 5:34 PM on August 17, 2009

Can you not serve him by mailing the papers to his office? My understanding (not NY) is that you can generally serve a business by mailing the complaint to the corporation's registered agent, or if there is none, to the corporate office. Is this guy still in business?

If you get a suitable court order, you can try to get his cell phone company to give you whatever location data they happen to have. Depending on his phone and the network in question, this can be very precise recent data or just the rough location of his last call, but it will be something. I don't necessarily know if you can get such an order in small claims court, but you should ask the clerk at your court how to obtain a subpoena for this purpose.
posted by zachlipton at 5:38 PM on August 17, 2009

Need a cheap way to find this bastard!

Have someone else call him and ask him to come to a new location. Say you need a quote on some new AC work. You're there, waiting for him to arrive.

Greed is good. Greed works. Greed can work for you.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:43 PM on August 17, 2009

If you had a contact/friend who worked for their specific cellphone provider (in the correct department, network operations or something similar), you probably could pull some strings in there and find out - but if you want to do it yourself, it's not really possible.
posted by abstractdiode at 5:44 PM on August 17, 2009

Also, is your guy a registered contractor? If so, you may be able to get his address from the licensing board and even file a complaint against him that way. And if he's still in business, get somebody else to call his cell phone, say they want an AC system, and get an appointment for him to show up. When he arrives, enter the process server stage left!

And the wife said he moved out. Did she not specify or know where he went? Maybe just call her up and be all "I'm calling for Mr. Such-and-such please" and see where that takes you.
posted by zachlipton at 5:50 PM on August 17, 2009

are you suing him personally or a corporation?

did you pay cash or by check?

an idea... might be zany...have someone mail a check for $20 to his old address payable to his name. see if it gets cashed. that might help....
posted by Izzmeister at 6:22 PM on August 17, 2009

If you had a contact/friend who worked for their specific cellphone provider (in the correct department, network operations or something similar), you probably could pull some strings in there and find out...

That's against the law. And if you're doing a lawsuit you don't want unclean hands.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:34 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

IANAL but in NYS you serve a business entity through the department of state. They then send the papers to either the business or the agent of record for the business. Whether or not the business gets it, is a whole other issue, but that's considered service of a business.

IANAL but in NYS you serve an individual in person by appearing at their primary place of residence three days at different times and if they don't answer the door, you "nail and mail", that is you tape a copy to their door and mail them a copy by US mail.

IANAL but you can also serve a person of "suitable age and discretion" in NYS if you follow that up with a mailing at a residence as well.

If you don't want to hire a lawyer, you want to look up the CPLR on service and commencing an action.
posted by Brian Puccio at 7:32 PM on August 17, 2009

Serve him on Facebook.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:54 PM on August 17, 2009

I recall some cops catching crooks by calling suspects and telling them they won some money in a radio contest or some such. You could certainly do something similar but keep in mind the whole fraud thing. The police get to lie with near impunity to catch people. Also keep in mind caller id.
posted by chairface at 8:11 PM on August 17, 2009

The cell provider certainly does have this information, and every now and then they make a half-hearted attempt at selling it (eg, eg), but I doubt there's a legal way for you to get that information about an uncoöperative user's handset. (AIUI, GSM location accuracy also varies wildly, which probably makes it harder to sell.)
posted by hattifattener at 10:32 PM on August 17, 2009

IANAL, but if I remember correctly, orders to appear, and the like, must be served in person in NYS. In some cases, mailing certified may be sufficient. (I'm not sure, please ask a lawyer.)

You may also be able to get away with taking out space in a newspaper, and waiting a certain number of days, but that law may not apply in this case. (Again, ask a lawyer.)
posted by Citrus at 10:23 AM on August 18, 2009

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