Ever thought about escaping your life? I have. I’ve even fantasized about faking my own death on occasion. In the same way that FBI agents sometimes have to get into the mind of serial killers to solve cases, former skip tracer Frank Ahearn explains how he gets into the mentality of those who fade out in his book How to Disappear: Erase Your Digital Footprint, Leave False Trails, and Vanish without a Trace. So is it possible to permanently – and legally – check out? Ahearn explains why it may only take a second to vanish, but staying gone requires a lot more legwork.
Put yourself in a skip tracer’s shoes and dig up every piece of information that could be used to find you. This includes sites like Zabasearch, and pay databases like Intelius.
- Remove yourself from the system of each site. It takes time and some are easier than others; Pipl has an online request form. Intelius has an electronic opt-out option, but some friends of mine have reported that they still had to go through the mail-in route. Check, and double-check every single one.
- Create a Google alert for your name, and every alias that you’ve ever used. If you get hits, think about where you may have left clues…are you still tagged in someone’s Facebook photos from a party?
- Delete Facebook, Twitter, and every other site that can track you. Make sure that all of your photos are erased before you’re gone.
- Call utility companies and remove your information.
- Don’t let your habits be your downfall. I once found a guy through his Wine Spectator forum posts, because he couldn’t let go of that Merlot connection. “Trying to take something off the Internet is like trying to remove pee from a swimming pool,” wrote one Reddit user after his comments were unmasked by a reporter. If you have to comments, at least mask your IP address.
This is the fun part! Once you’ve cleaned up your digital footprint, start putting out false leads. That way, the people tracking you will show up to the My Little Pony convention or civil war re-enactments while you are chilling with a margarita halfway across the globe.
- Credit checks for an apartment in a city where you have no intention of living
- Never taking direct flights to your destination. Go through as many cities as possible.
- Opening bank accounts in random cities
- Create fake interests on various forums.
This is what Ahearn calls the process of starting a newer, more private life. One where you will avoid the temptation to Facebook stalk. For real this time!
- Switch everything from credit to ‘cash’ system. This means a prepaid phone, prepaid credit card, and staying off the Internet as much as possible.
- Starbucks is your friend, because they don’t make you sign in for web access.
- Never access the Internet from home
- Use call forwarding services to multiple numbers.
- Open a mail drop with a prepaid credit card.
- Be mysterious.