Is it possible to disappear, despite today's Internet and technologically connected world?
Maybe the NSA's surveillance program has you feeling like you're living "1984," and you're already figuring out ways to avoid being monitored and tracked. But because our lives our so tied to the Internet and technology, we wondered if that's even possible?
Frank Ahearn, a privacy expert and author of "How To Disappear," says yes.
"The more assets you have, the longer. If you're a 26-year-old waitress with no kids, don't own a house, you can be gone in six weeks' time, no problem," said Ahearn. "You can be put someplace where you can acclimate in and figure out a game plan. That's if you're disappearing from a stalker. It takes longer if you have a home, car and a lot of money. That can take about three months."
Ahearn used to make a living as a skip tracer, extracting phone and bank records for sale to private investigators and lawyers needing to find people. He says once the laws changed he got out of that business. Now he uses his experience with tracking people down to helping people disappear from stalkers or abusive exes.
"I don't really charge the victims of stalkers because they don't have the funds and it's not really expensive to do, but for businesspeople, it starts at like $35,000-$40,000 because it's a time consuming project and I do everything myself," said Ahearn. "That's my ideal of privacy. I have no employees and no other workers. Your secrets live and die with me. It's a strange business, but my whole life, I've been the strange business of finding information, extracting information and finding people for tabloids, so it kind of runs hand in hand with my life."
On the first thing to do if you wanted to disappear tomorrow:
"The first thing to consider is how you're going to make money. You can't be Joe the bus driver in L.A. and then move and become Joe the bus driver in Miami, because there are certain ways of being traced. I assume the person looking for you is going to break the law. Be it having a contact in social security track your contributions or the IRS, so that's the first thing to figure out: what are you going to do and where are you going to go? We have to make sure you can acclimate to that place. Do you have a strange blood disease or some weird medicine that you need? Can you get it there? Can you be traced by that medicine? To a certain degree, disappearing is no different than relocating. You have to have the funds; you have to be able to afford it."
On the stereotypical "tropical beach hideout":
"I call that the 'Palm Tree Lifestyle'. It's like, you look online and say, 'Oh man, I'm going to buy a beachfront property in Belize or Costa Rica for like $10,000.' The only problem is that you can't get water or electricity. The other problem is, when people do disappear in places like that, they make the mistake of hanging out in the ex-pat community. You can be easily found in such locations, so it's a very unrealistic thing to do."
On hiding in plain sight:
"That's what I teach people: if you're going to disappear, you do it in plain sight. You do it in a city, you do it as if you're living normally. The only difference is the apartment you rent is not in your name. It could be in a corporation name. Your utilities may be in a corporation name or a cousin's name. The idea is, you're just taking you and your social security number out of the system, to a degree. You still have to pay your taxes, unfortunately."