In a world where we share more information online than ever before, it might seem impossible to disappear completely. But that's not the case.
Tips for getting off the digital grid
For many years, Frank Ahearn tracked down 'missing' persons for clients who were searching for them for legal or financial reasons. His arsenal included use of public records, credit reports, utility bills, criminal background checks, tax information and other revealing documents.
But these days, Ahearn assists people who want to go the other way - those who want to disappear and erase evidence of their existence. In his book How to Disappear: Erase Your Digital Footprint, Leave False Trails, and Vanish without a Trace, Ahearn details some of the tricks he uses when helping clients "get off the grid", as he refers to it, and shares tips for those concerned about information and privacy in this digital-sharing era. And while he refuses to assist people looking to get lost for illegal purposes, he says they often do come looking for help and advice on strategically manipulating information in the wrong direction.
How did you first become interested in helping people disappear?
Frank Ahearn: Originally, I had a skip-tracing company for over 20 years where l located people. Most of my clients were investigators, insurance companies and lawyers. So I've always been good at accessing information. Then, a couple of years back, I was in a book shop and there was this guy buying all these books about privacy, offshore banking and Costa Rica. He ended up getting in line in front of me and paying for it with a credit card. I thought: 'That's kind of dumb. You're buying these books that are about discretion and you're using a credit card.'
I saw him in the book shop's café and started chatting to him. I told him I was a skip tracer and that I could find him with that credit card transaction he just had to purchase the books. I gave him a breakdown of how I would find him.
It turned out he was a corporate whistle blower and had some money he wanted to take offshore. He asked if I could help him disappear. That was kind of the genesis of the idea.
Who comes to you looking for help with disappearing?
Clients typically come from two kinds of scenarios: money or violence. Violence is usually a victim of a stalker or in a domestic situation with an abusive ex and not sure how to get away. Then there is the money end of it. People who have come into some money and want to leave the world behind.
Recently things have kind of changed. Clients come to me now saying they are concerned about their information. That has definitely become a more prominent issue.
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