How much and how hard would it be to find somebody who's only casually hiding?

A character in a piece of fiction that I am writing is a 30-ish slacker who has been hiding out from creditors by giving only P.O. Box addresses, job-hopping constantly, never giving his real address to employers, and living with other people so that no lease in his name. He knows that one of the bill collectors (he assumes that it’s the repo agency for his car) has been asking about him at former workplaces and he thinks his car has been followed.
It turns out that the person inquiring about him is a PI employed by a law firm. His grandfather has died and left him a small inheritance, but unfortunately much of it was used up in PI fees.
While this isn’t a hugely major plot-point (it’s an introduction to a non-main character), I would like for it to be believable. How hard would it be to find somebody who isn’t going to huge lengths (i.e. false I.D.s, disguises, etc.) to hide his whereabouts but who is intentionally being difficult to find (no phone/lease in his name, working for cash whenever possible, etc.), and how much would an average (not great) P.I. probably charge a law firm for the trouble of tracking him down? Would a law firm hire a P.I. for this type of work? (Assume they know the city or at least the basic area of the state he is most likely living in.)

Well, you need a real name with photo ID to rent a PO box. This applies to both post office boxes and private companies. The law firm can probably get a subpoena to get that information.


You’re basically asking for skip tracing, which can be done (by properly certfied individuals) over the internet. They basically check public domain databases that are generally too difficult for regular people to search.

[Single datapoint] An acquaintance didn’t file with IRS for years. He may have been working for cash, or may have given a false SSN, or maybe IRS doesn’t look hard for the smaller potatoes. This was before Homeland Security and all the requirements for traceable ID for everything. He was skilled both with automotive work and furniture repair/refinishing, and was living someone else whose name was probably on the residence, etc.

Other Point: There are “heir finders” who track cases where there is money coming to someone. They basically locate the heir, and come to him with a contract to link him with the money for a cut of often 25%, maybe plus expenses. Heir finders come into the picture after the executor or Public Administrator has made some sort of effort to locate the heir. A conscientious executor might hire a PI, and a determined one might feel justified in keeping on spending till the bequest was gone, in which case a free-lance heir finder would not get involved. Cite: another acquaintance who was an heir finder.