A recent conversation with a colleague pointed out that disappearing is not that hard if you know what you’re doing.
Amicus International talked to Bob Burton, a highly regarded bounty hunter about how to disappear with a new identity and live anonymously.
“You look in the obituaries,” Mr. Burton said, “in Topeka, Kan., say. You want a gas station attendant more or less your age. Once you get the date of birth, you call the county. ‘Hi, I used to live in Kansas, but I’ve been living in American Samoa for the last 20 years as a Christian missionary. Any chance I could get a copy of my birth certificate?’ “Should your ruse succeed and the certificate arrives, simply call a motor vehicle office and apply for a driver’s license. “All you need,” Mr. Burton said, “is one good piece of ID. The rest follows after that.”
This method leaves a lot to chance, but if you’ve always wondered how you could increase your 007 tool kit, this is one option. And suppose the whole idea gives you creepy feelings. In that case, MSNBC offers some helpful tips you can employ to keep people from grave robbing your loved one’s identity (e.g., “Don’t include details such as day and month of birth [use only the year] or addresses in obituaries”). Either way, good to know next time you’re looking to ditch Big Brother and disappear forever with a new identity.
How Not to Disappear
The cardinal sin in any serious disappearance is drama. You don’t successfully vanish by staging an elaborate disappearing act that ultimately involves a tri-state search, police dogs, and your hometown believing that you were mauled by a bear and dragged off into the dark night. Amicus International stresses the importance of disappearing in a legal fashion with a new identity. You shouldn’t, for example, try and secure false papers it might work to disappear with a new identity.
It’s a felony to use false identification, and you have no idea if the papers you secured are legitimate. (What if your new social security number belongs to a dead guy or a criminal? What if the passport you bought is bogus, and now, you’re staring down a customs agent?).
Instead, you want to obfuscate your new id. in a way that it’s so difficult for people to follow you that anything short of a government task force will lack the patience or funding to keep doggedly trying to find you.
Here’s a little about how that might work, minimize your Social Connections
People who hurriedly throw all their crap in a suitcase and run out the back door are the ones who fail at disappearing. Instead, one of your most important jobs is to cut the fat from your social life slowly prior to your successful disappearance with your new identity.
Stop using Facebook—ditch all social networks—maybe under the pretense that you’re spending too much time online (or any other pretense that people around you will accept besides “I’m going to torch my crappy life and move to Belize”
Minimize Your Social Footprint
You want to minimize the social footprint you occupy so that when suddenly you’re not standing in it anymore, few people will notice or care. If you’re the most prominent member of the local social scene and you vanish tomorrow, people will notice.
Minimizing your virtual trail is more important than minimizing your real-life trail. It takes mere minutes for an investigator to comb through social networks and search results, but hours and additional expenses to investigate on foot and by phone.
Keep Your Contacts to a Minimum
The one social connection most people are unwilling to ditch is communication with their immediate family. Unless your immediate family is the reason you’re pulling a vanishing act, chances are you’ll still want to talk to your parents or siblings. It can be the toughest communication to break, and it’s where almost everyone fails.
All the planning in the world is worthless if you call your relatives from your new location and a skip tracer gets her hands on the phone records.
If you want to communicate with your family or best friend after you’ve vanished from the less desirable people in your life, then you need to figure out, well in advance, how you will do so. Never communicate with them directly from any account linked to your new life or new residence.
Anonymous email accounts and prepaid phone cards, and cellphones are the only way you’re going to be finding out if Grandma’s hip surgery went well.
Ditch the Plastic; Cash Is King
Get used to the idea of ditching the luxuries you had in your former life. Gone are the credit cards, convenience cards, loyalty cards, and even simple things like video rental cards. Pay cash for everything, and don’t use anything that could link your new and old id.
Don’t check out books about Chile from your local library or buy them with a credit card. Don’t use a credit card or frequent flier miles to book a flight out of the country.
Therefore, your goal in everything you do is to minimize the number of connections between your old life and your new life. Whenever you undertake an interaction with another person or business, ask yourself, “Is this the least traceable method I could use?” Paying cash for a cup of coffee at an old coffee shop?
Paying with a credit card for a cup of coffee at an airport kiosk under the eye of four different security cameras? Not stealthy in the least. Cash is king.
Lie, Lie, and Lie Some More about disappearing with a new identity
Your goal is to create disinformation to disappear with your new identity.
As you prepare to disappear, slowly but surely start fudging the information companies have on you. “Correct” the spelling of your name on file with the local utility company, tell them they have the wrong social security number and offer a correction, and change your mailing address for your bills to a fake mail drop you set up through a private mailing company.
If people come looking for you, you want them to waste their time looking in the wrong places.
Lastly: Don’t Bother If You’re Not Committed
Disappearing is not easy. You don’t just fake your own death, buy some false papers in an alley from a guy with an indiscernible accent, and then retire to a life of leisure on a small island nation. Disappearing and doing so legally and without incurring a bigger headache than the one you’re running away from, takes careful planning.
You need to be willing to cut contact with nearly everyone you know (if not everyone), change how you shop, and even ditch your hobbies.
Disappearing means beginning a game of chase with people who want to find you and being willing and strong enough to outlive them at that game. If you can’t do that, you’ll waste a lot of time and money trying to disappear with a new identity, you will just fail.