Do you dream of moving away to start a new life? Maybe you want to lose an awful ex, ditch a boring life or a escape an embarrassing screwup that got splashed all over the local news.
Whatever your reason for wanting to move to a place where nobody knows your name, life on the lam will require a plan.
If you really want to disappear completely, choose where you want to move carefully. Make sure you choose a place where you won’t stick out. Have a plan for making money, that doesn’t require getting a professional license. Remove traces of your digital self from the web, stay off of social media, and never tell anyone your plan.
Think your ready to vanish? Then keep reading for advice on making sure your past doesn’t catch up with you.
Pick a Place to Move
“There is no promised land,” said Frank Ahearn, a skip tracer and author of How to Disappear: Erase Your Digital Footprint, Leave False Trails, and Vanish Without a Trace. If you imagine sitting on a beach sipping a piña colada, you’re not alone.
“It’s what they call the palm tree dream,” Ahearn said.
But be realistic and find a place you can fit in, lie low and live for the long haul. A crowded city like L.A might not be the best choice, but go to the opposite extreme—say, a tiny town in Alabama—and you could stick out. If you plan to leave the country, make sure you can handle the new culture and language.
“It’s a question of how you can acclimate,” Ahearn said.
Decide How to Make a Living
Avoid any job that requires a license, like accountant, cabbie, doctor or lawyer.
“You can be traced by your license,” Ahearn said. Good jobs include blogging, consulting or selling products online. These are businesses you can do from anywhere, from a “Starbucks in Lisbon or a hotel in Zurich.” This type of flexible work can come in handy if you need to flee, he said.
“The key is to not be associated with anything physical,” he said. “Be a virtual entity.”
Cover Your Digital Trail
If you’ve spent the past year Googling “living in Fiji” and you leave your computer or smartphone behind, it will be fairly easy for someone to figure out where you went, Ahearn said.
Before you go, get rid of all your devices and get new ones, said Paul Bischoff, a privacy advocate at Comparitech who writes about how to protect your privacy online. Get a new cell number and even consider a burner phone.
Sever Ties With Your Past
Remember, people blab.
“You tell your best friend from high school that you’re disappearing to Belgium, and she tells her best friend and next thing nine people know,” Ahearn said.
If you plan to keep in contact with a close friend or family member, find a way to do so without phone calls. Consider an encryption app like Signal if you must call or text.
“If you’re calling somebody from your past, you’re creating a digital connection,” he said.
Nuke Your Online Accounts
“If you’re serious about not wanting to be found, you should take the nuclear option and delete all of your online accounts,” Bischoff said.
That means bank, social media, shopping and subscriptions. Going forward, avoid social media, Ahearn said. If you can, get new accounts under a pseudonym, Bischoff said.
Keep in mind that if you post photos online, even without your name, they can be searched via Google image search, said Robert Siciliano, identity theft expert and CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com.
“Don’t post selfies,” Bischoff said.
Legally changing your name creates a file that may be available through a county clerk or vital statistics office, Siciliano said.
“But it would take some digging to get,” he said.
Another option is to simply start going by a nickname, middle name or “AKA” but keep your Social Security Number, Siciliano said.
“Most of us have an AKA. I’m Robert, Rob, Robby, Bob, Bobby,” he said. “You can take any name as an AKA.”
However, you cannot take the SSN of someone else, living or dead.
“That is illegal,” Siciliano said. “And it may get you in hotter water than the initial reason you decided to make the change in the first place.”
One Final Tip
And, finally, be very careful on “D Day” — the day you disappear, Ahearn said.
“Be aware of your surroundings,” he said. “That’s the most important day because you never know who’s watching you.”