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what it takes to vanish

August 31, 2009

IMG_0092Great piece on the difficulties of disappearing your life in this day and age:

People who go missing do so with an endless variety of motives, from the considered to the impulsive. There are of course those running from their own transgressions: Ponzi schemers, bail jumpers, deadbeat parents, or insurance scammers dreaming of life in a tropical paradise. But most people who abandon their lives do so for noncriminal reasons — relationship breakups, family pressures, financial obligations, or a simple desire for reinvention. The federal government’s Witness Security Program provides new identities for endangered witnesses, but thousands of people who testify in lower-profile cases are on their own to face potential retribution or flee to a safer identity. So too are those trying to escape the unwanted attention of stalkers, obsessive ex-spouses, or psychotically disgruntled clients.

Starting over, however, is not as simple as it used to be. Digital information collection, location-aware technology, and post-9/11 security measures have radically changed the equation for both fugitives and pursuers. Yesteryear’s Day of the Jackal-like methods for adopting a new identity — peruse a graveyard, pick out a name, obtain a birth certificate — have given way to online markets for social security numbers and Photoshop forgeries. Escapees can set up new addresses online, disguise their communications through anonymous email, and hide behind prepaid phones.

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