Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How to Disappear...An Update

I was contacted by a friend of a friend of a friend a few days ago.  Seems this young lady needed to disappear from a domestic violence situation and needed to do so quickly.  Although I am pretty much out of the helping business these days, these situations seem to pop up occasionally so I do what I can...

First they get the analysis.

What are they running from?  Can less nuclear options be used than a total disappearance?  What resources do they have available?  How serious are they?  What are they willing to give up?  What extenuating circumstances could make this more difficult?

Sometimes a short-term disappearance to let the situation calm down will work.  In other cases, nothing short of a complete disappearance will avoid things such as a psychotic, murderous ex or a family bent on an honor killing.  This situation fell towards the later.

Then they get the lecture.  It goes something like this...

  • A restraining order is worth jack in most cases (but serves the prosecution AFTER a crime has been committed).
  • If a person has enough time, resources, and dedication, they will find you.  Eventually.
  • Disappearing for good will be a difficult, rather expensive, lonely, and permanent endeavor.
  • Unless you are part of a WitSec program, the difficulty and expense level will grow ten-fold.  You will still be lonely.
  • If your life is depending on your successful disappearance you will need to give up EVERYTHING.
  • In some cases, while disappearing for good sounds like the best idea, extenuating circumstances may make this the less desirable way to go (ie: disappearing to avoid legal repercussions or debt is dumb, you made the problem, you fix it.  Disappearing with kids is infinitely more complicated and can change your perfectly legal disappearance into a crime). 
That being said, this is how you disappear.
  • You take your passport, driver's license, cash, Social Security card, and birth certificate and walk away.  You don't change your daily routine, you don't tell anyone your plans, you do stash as much cash as possible, you don't look up things on your computer that could point to you disappearing.  You pick an opportune time and walk away.
At which point people say "WTF???"

Which I then reply with:
  • Your life as you knew it is gone.  You are a new person.  Pick a new name and use it.
  • Dress in non-descript clothing (jeans, t shirt, tennis shoes...no Braves ball cap, no unique t shirt, no backpack with all of your regular clothing in it).  Hop on the city bus (pay cash) and get a reasonable distance away to an area where you are unlikely to know anyone.
  • Hit up the $1 Store, the Goodwill, Walmart, etc. and pick up everything you would need as if you were going on vacation...a backpack, a toiletry kit, clothing, underwear, a cell phone, a tablet or laptop...basically if you were to pack at home for an extended vacation, what would you pack? You need to buy all of these things.  WITH CASH.  Things to change your appearance may also be useful such as hair dye or make up.
  • Your cell phone is one of the easiest ways to track you.  Leave it behind. When you get a good enough distance away, walk into a busy store like Walmart or Target and pay cash for a new prepaid phone and pre-paid minutes card.  DO NOT associate this phone with your name in any way (like using your email address to activate the phone).  DO NOT call anyone you know with this phone.
  • Your laptop and/or tablet can also be tracked.  Leave these behind.  You can save all of your files on a USB drive but you will not be opening these files for a very long time (individual files can also be bugged).  Any important information you may need from your computer should be written down on paper and taken with you.  Remove the hard drive and smash it to bits and dispose of it on your way out of town (in a lake, spread among garbage cans, etc).
  • You may want to take non-descript jewelry with you but anything of extreme sentimental value should be left in a hidden cache (either secured and buried where you can later find it or in an anonymous lock box).
  • Realize that you will never use social media again.  Yes, when you get your new cell phone or laptop you can sign up for a new email address but you will never be logging into your social media accounts again and you will never be posting photos of yourself on social media ever again (facial recognition software is quite good these days).
  • Realize that you will never contact anyone you know again (family, friends, co-workers, school mates, etc...NO ONE).  You can drop a letter in the mail on your way out of town to a family member or friend letting them know that you voluntarily disappeared so they can call of the police search for you but this will be the last time you contact them.
  • You will leave behind anything else that can create a trail to finding you: credit cards, vehicles, etc.  You will never again use your: bank account (which you should have drained of all money anyway before you leave), credit accounts, etc.
  • You will also need to leave behind every habit you have ever had.  If you used to hang out at coffee shops, you won't any more.  If you had a pet, no more.  If you were bilingual in English and Spanish, you are now monolingual in English only.  Any habit that could be used to identify you needs to be discontinued.
  • You may want to change up your appearance.  Get a hair cut and dye job.  Dress differently than you did before.  Tattoos should be covered up then changed as soon as possible.  Depending on how extreme you want to go, spray tanning, shaving your head, and even plastic surgery could be options.
  • Dress to blend in with your environment.  You want to become as non-memorable as possible.
  • Utilize non-identifying means of travel, lodging, and working.  Travel on foot or by bicycle.  Public transport is another option as long as it doesn't record your identity (like flying or using a bus pass that is in your name).  CraigsListing rides and places to stay, Warm Showers, and Couch Surfing are other cheaper options for transport and shelter but your hosts will remember you.  Staying in hotels will require your ID and will leave an easy to follow trail.  No-tell motels may be an option.  Working under the table will be your only option at this point.  Camping, especially stealth camping, are good options when you disappear.
  • Note that having no safety net and living like a homeless person can have many added dangers you need to be aware of.
  • Note that you will need to become a consummate liar (obviously it will take a great deal of effort not to get tangled up in your lies).
  • Don't commit fraud.  Don't fake your death.  Don't use a stolen identity.  While disappearing is completely legal; doing illegal things will give the police a reason to hunt you down.
  • Obviously you will want to avoid law enforcement at all costs and security cameras if at all possible.
  • Eventually you will want to stop being on the run (how possible this is depends on the situation you are running from).  In this day and age, it is virtually impossible to get a new identity unless the government is helping you (ie: Witness Protection Program).  You can move far away and change your name and hope that the particular courthouse you use puts a low priority on digitizing their records.
Contrary to decades previous, completely disappearing and becoming a whole, new, never to be found person is virtually impossible these days.  You can do your best to stay hidden, "fly under the radar", and provide enough misleading information to give you time but you will always be looking over your shoulder.  You may make new friends (difficult when they always feel that you are hiding something from them) but you will never see your old friends or family again.  You will be lonely, stressed, possibly broke and homeless.  Only you can decide if completely disappearing is the option for you.

And some more resources: here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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