Against my better judgement I tried to help a fellow renter, my housemate, in a time of need. I had him sign a promissory note and lent him $1200 in Virginia.

After the deadline passed I followed up in person where he came up with excuses to push it back. I relocated for a new job and over the grace period of a few months I reached out a few times to which he did not respond.

Finally, I drafted a letter of intent, which threatened that I would contact collections and pursue him in small claims court. Checking with our then landlord to confirm he would receive the letter I learned that he moved to NYC and failed to mention a forwarding address because he even owed our landlord money.

What approach can we take to locate and prosecute this individual without breaking the bank?

  • Are you confusing "prosecute" (for a criminal offence - of which there is little evidence), or "sue" (for not repaying his debt)? There is no point suing somebody who doesn't have money to pay. Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 9:27

3 Answers 3


Find him yourself

Anything else will cost money.

As to how, the 21st century has made this much easier. Find his digital footprint and use that to find him.

If you don’t know how to do this, hire a private eye.

That said, your cheapest option is to forget about the money: odds are you’ll never get it back.


Not much, because it does not sound like he has committed a crime. If he had broken into your room and stolen your cash, the police might be interested in getting involved in order to arrest and prosecute him, but in this case it is a civil matter, meaning that you have to shoulder the burden of getting justice. It should be a simple matter of serving papers and getting a judgment in your favor, the problem would be in locating him. The sheriff will deliver the papers on the defendant, based on his known address, but in this case it is known that you cannot do this since the party has left with no forwarding address. You would need to hire a private investigator to get that address, and serve him at that address (this page addressed the question of what to do if a party does not live in Virginia -- have ). This form will be of interest. You can use it to serve a resident whose whereabouts are unknown, but not, apparently, if the person is a former resident.

Ultimately, you are probably out of luck.

  • Won't the costs of private investigator top up the claim?
    – Greendrake
    Commented Aug 11, 2019 at 22:29
  • 1
    @Greendrake a successful trace and court order doesnt mean funds are ever recovered :/ The risk here is how much good money to heap on the bad money in the chance of recovering any of it.
    – user4210
    Commented Aug 11, 2019 at 22:40

There are various public records which can be searched, as well as services which provide public records. Ideally, you want to provide a current address, which if the person is a driver, will be recorded with the state licensing authority.

My experience has been that if I provide the current DMV address, then the Sheriff will verify that address and serve papers there. In most states it is established in case law that service to a DMV current address is deemed to be correct.

If you wish to research this for your state, look at the rules for service in civil practice. In most states, the county operates a law library, and services like Nexis or Westlaw are available on a computer. Looking at the CLS (consolidated law service) for that rule, will walk you through case law for a given rule, such as service.

Once you do this, it is actually easy, but doing the research is a barrier for some people.

So the terms you are interested in are "process service" for civil cases.

Also the court that you bring your action in may be an issue. A general jurisdiction court can use "long arm jurisdiction" to gain jurisdiction over someone in another state. Since your agreement was in your state, you will be able to bring the case in your state. Just make certain that the court you bring the matter in can reach out to other states.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .