Ditch Your Life
Beat the government's database -- and vanish

If you've ever considered the tantalizing prospect of scrapping your old life for a new one in order to escape debt, regain your privacy, or avoid prosecution for putting a bomb under somebody's car on behalf of the Symbionese Liberation Army, consider the challenge. The first thing you'll have to do is create a whole new legal identity.

See also...
... by Amy Glavasich
... in the Scope section
... from November 10, 1999

Information about your medical conditions, credit status, criminal convictions, driving record -- even the magazines you subscribe to -- is all mined and stored in any number of databases, making it a simple task for the motivated pursuer to create a single file describing everything about you. The fact is, data collection by government and non-government agencies alike goes a long way towards making your life an open book. If you're serious about starting a new life, you'll need to create a fresh identity and obtain the necessary documentation to sustain it.

A reliable way to accomplish a true identity change is to assume the name of an infant who died before it was old enough to obtain government documents, like a Social Security number or driver's license. Once you've secured a name and birth date, establish a new street address at a mail drop and write to the Department of Vital Statistics requesting a copy of the birth certificate. Once that arrives you'll be able to obtain a driver's license, Social Security number, voter registration card, and other documentation to support your new identity.

Another solution is to create a forged birth certificate. This is a relatively simple process, but it requires a significant amount of research. You'll need to be able to replicate the certification stamps and seals that would have been used by the issuing county or state. You'll also need to make some effort to "age" your fraudulent birth certificate. (Placing it in a sandwich bag and wearing it in your shoe for a few days is a good method.) If you do everything right you should have few problems securing additional documentation.

Other sources suggest that the most effective way to ditch your life is to create a transitional identity based on forged documents while you work on creating a permanent identity using the infant identity method. This is twice the work, of course, but is sure to throw off anyone who might be hot on your trail.

If you are an aspiring tax evader, or are simply eager to take advantage of the high interest savings accounts being offered by banks in underdeveloped countries, you may want to consider buying yourself citizenship in a foreign country. Central and South American countries with unstable economies, like Costa Rica and Honduras, are more than happy to take your dollars and establish them in interest-bearing accounts. In exchange, you get citizenship in that country under any name you want.

If you decide to go this route, open a savings account in the third-world country of your choice. (If you're leaving to avoid prosecution for a crime it would be wise to pick a country which has no extradition treaties with the U.S.). Withdraw the money from your U.S. bank in small increments to avoid drawing attention to yourself. When traveling to your new country do not fly directly, and buy your airline tickets from different travel agencies for each leg of your trip. Open your foreign bank account in a large, national bank ­- local banks pay better interest, but carry a higher risk if the country's currency is devalued.

Whether you flee to the Caribbean or remain in the U.S., the key to a successful disappearance will be your ability to separate from your previous identity. To stay anonymous you'll need to eliminate contact with friends and family, take up new hobbies, and abandon your previous line of work, to name a few things, and all of this can take a heavy psychological toll.

On the other hand, your new neighbors might just turn out to be Elvis and Jimmy Hoffa -­ and that could be pretty cool. Good luck.

See also: Where Are They Now?

Amy Glavasich can often be found hiding under her desk with her hands over her eyes. She thinks no one can see her this way. It's really kind of sad.