10/23/2013 11:47 am ET

How To Disappear: A 4-Step Guide To Facilitating TV's Favorite Plot Device


Too often the characters on our favorite TV shows are able to hit the reset button on their lives. Stuck in a bind of complex plot lines, they head to the safe or call the guy who knows a guy to request "vacuum cleaner repair," and bam! They are set up with an entirely new life.

Brody was able to flee from both the country and his terrorist status on "Homeland. On "Breaking Bad," Walt buried his identity as Albuquerque's most wanted man in the snowy hills of New Hampshire. Queen of "Scandal" Olivia Pope was able to invent Quinn in place of the poor girl framed for the Cytron explosion.

But is it really that easy? Follow our four step guide, and you'll be facilitating an election-rigging conspiracy and / or meth-cooking empire in no more than a month's time!

Step 1: Get A Fake Birth Certificate
The easiest way to start the process is with one legitimate form of identification and, once you have a birth certificate, you're set. Now, a counterfeit birth certificate might work for the short term, but the real thing will help get all other aspects of your new identity in order. The best way to do this is to pay attention to obituaries and see who's died recently. Anyone around your age? Similar aesthetic would be great, but hey, you can't be too picky.

As Bob Burton of bounty-hunting company U.S. Cobra told the New York Times:

“You just look in the obituaries in Topeka, Kan., say. You want a gas station attendant more or less your age. Once you get the date of birth, you call the county. ‘Hi, I used to live in Kansas, but I’ve been living in American Samoa for the last 20 years as a Christian missionary. Any chance I could get a copy of my birth certificate?'"


Yes, it's that easy!

Step 2: Throw The Authorities Off Track
While procuring additional documents with that handy birth certificate, you're going to need to get Big Brother off your virtual trail.

In his book, "How To Disappear," former skip tracer Frank Ahearn advises the use of tactics like misinformation, "the act of finding all the information available about you and either removing it or altering it" and disinformation, the act of, well, making stuff up. He recommends using social media to your advantage and even sending tips from an anonymous source with fake sightings of yourself.


This part is definitely more difficult than pretending to be a Kansas gas station attendant. Disappearing makes for a long game of cat and mouse that pretty much never ends.

Step 3: Give Up Everything You Love
Now comes the emotionally painful part: sever all ties. If you're serious about this thing, that's it. Sprinting away is going to leave you with a trail of questions, as Lifehacker put it, "One of your most important jobs, prior to your successful disappearance, is to slowly cut the fat from your social life."


Even your hobbies have got to go. One private detective, J.T. Mullen told the Times he once found a man attempting to run from his divorce papers, because he literally loved running.

"'The first thing I do,' Mullen [said], 'is go down to the New York Road Runners club. They give me a printout of the mailing list for their running magazine.' Sure enough, one name on the list could not be found in any public record."

And if you absolutely have to keep up with your hobbies, do not pursue them online. According to Ahearn, one woman found herself exposed after liking a Madonna fan page. "Just be yourself" no longer applies.


Step 4: Start Your New Life
This will likely be riddled with obstacles and constant drama. For example, you should be ready to fake a signature. “Show up with your writing hand in a sling. That way, when you sign with your left hand, your signature’s messed up," Burton advises.

What if some pesky authority asks for your fingerprint? “There’s a non-greasy glue, like a mucilage,” he said. “You put it on your thumb. You roll your thumb over your heel. Now, you’ve got a heel print on your thumb for no one who exists.”

Also, literally never use credit cards again. Welcome to your new life, where everything is a lie and cash is king.


If you legitimately want to disappear, check out Ahearn's book or the full New York Times piece. Any other questions? Well, then you better call Saul.


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