How to disappear completely
Almost everyone has a digital footprint these days. Think you could remove your tracks? Former skip tracer Frank Ahearn helps folks drop off the face of the Earth.
By Joan Goodchild , Senior Editor
May 03, 2011 — CSO —
In a world where we share more information online than ever before, it might seem impossible to disappear completely. But Frank Ahearn can help. A professional skip tracer for many years, he 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.
Read an excerpt on disinformation from Ahearn's book How to Disappear on CSOonline.com
CSO: How did you first become interested in helping people disappear?
Frank Ahearn: Originally, I had a skiptracing company for over 20 years where l located people. Most of my clients were investigators, insurance companies and attorneys. So I've always been good at accessing information. Then, a couple of years back, I was in book store 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 bookstore's café and started shooting the breeze with 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 off shore. 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 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.