finding people

High-stakes hide and seek in the digital age

If you need to disappear – or find someone – Frank Ahearn knows how to make it happen, even in our hyperconnected digital world.

BEFORE the internet, if you needed to go into hiding, it was pretty straightforward. Not so today. Frank Ahearn has a very particular set of skills. He traces people who don’t want to be found, and helps others boost their privacy or disappear altogether. He has seen professional hide-and-seek transform in the 21st century.

How did you become a “skip tracer”, finding people who have run out on their lives?

I was doing undercover work for a detective agency in the 1980s when I saw the skip tracer at work and it fascinated me. I told my boss I wanted to do the job, and he said, “Sure, if you can get me a copy of my phone records.” That night I went to a payphone, called the phone company pretending to be my boss and said I needed to go over my calls. They told me every place my boss had called in the last few months. The next day I became a skip tracer.

I got really good at “pretexting” – essentially tricking people into handing over information. Later, I had my own firm of skip tracers.

You make it sound easy.

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Skip Trace of the Week

Back in the day, skip tracing (finding people) was mostly picking up the phone and pretexting (lying). However, the digital world has created new and creative methods for locating people. I do not mean the use of database information but more so, social information combined with some fine pretext.

Recently, I had to locate a subject who was once a stage actor in Lichtenstein. He dashed out of the country to avoid a serious lawsuit and supposedly settled in Lisbon. The subject’s phone numbers were long disconnected and the address provided was a mail drop.  Utilizing a variety of skip tracing methods, I was able to figure out the subject was no longer in Portugal. The trace looked like it was going to be a dead end. However, when all else fails, Google it!

I discovered that the subject had a Facebook page and confirmed the identity via his city of birth and university. The Facebook page still listed Lisbon as his current city. I sent a friend request and a note stating, I am a college journalism student interested in writing an article about him for my class. Naturally, I friended him from a female profile. A week went by with no response and again, I assumed it was dead in the water.

Late the other night, I received a message of interest from the subject and the chat began! I have learned over the years, that if you feed into someone’s ego, greed, vanity, or other interests, they tend to respond. As we chatted, I fed deep into his ego and he gave me his email address, along with some heavy flirtation.  I asked if it would be possible to speak with him on the phone so I can hear his intonations when he responds to the interview questions. He liked this idea and so he provided me with a mobile phone number for me to call. Perhaps man has yet to evolve.

I wasted no time and the following morning, I called him and posed as a delivery person. I claimed I had a package from the name and address of his old agent. I did not even say what city I was in or street I was near. He jumped at it and provided me with an address. I explained that the package was for a home delivery and not commercial delivery. I say this to avoid a mail drop address. I waited ten minutes and called again. I stated the address shows as a commercial address. He assured me it was his home address and he will arrive home in one hour. I believed him but confirming information is key. So, I threw some other skip tracing tricks in the mix in order to confirm and it was his current home address.

Sometimes I like to include a moral of a story. However, this skip tracing moral is quite obvious on so many levels.

Frank M. Ahearn

Author of: The Little Black Book Of Skip Tracing: Creating Pretext, Mastering Social Engineering And Finding Anyone Anywhere

Creating Privacy Begins With…

Creating privacy begins with locating digital information that can connect and pierce your offline world. In my skip tracing (finding people) days I touted that, information was the greatest tool and I still believe such, however, the availability of information and the obsession of connecting people and information is dangerous and can be deadly.

If you are working on your privacy, you must begin with the digital information. In the past I was primarily focused on your information, however, I have broadened my scope. The digital world is all about connecting. It connects information to people, people to people and past to present. There are two strategies, the first is being able to look beyond your own information and locate if other people’s information can pierce your privacy. The second and most important is being able to determine how your own digital information connects you to your offline world (home). Think connections!

Now this is not a digital to digital search but a digital to flesh and bones search. It is the information discovered on the internet which will be used to hunt you. Such as, your mothers phone number, your daughter in college or a photo of you on a boat in Port Hercule de Monaco. It is these digital items which displays something in the non-digital world and leads a predator to the tangible. Until you combat these digital footprints there is no privacy protection.

I offer my clients a Digital Search Report where I search out their digital information and determine if the digital can connect to their offline life. The connected information is usually combated with digital disinformation.

Frank M. Ahearn – Digital Search Report

Author of: The Art of Disappearing, According to Sun Tzu’s, The Art of War

Updated Privacy & People Finding Services

Frank M. Ahearn provides a unique set of services that is difficult to define. Typically, they fall within the world of how to disappear, high-net–worth-privacy, digital disinformation and finding people. Most who come my way believe their situation has no resolution. However, this is where my skill sets and background as a skip tracer, social engineer and privacy expert proves extremely useful in problem solving.

Digital Search Report: When individuals begin their quest to create privacy or disappear their first step is usually to search personal online information. The objective is to learn what is known about them, however, what is known is not the actual danger. It is how online information is connected to offline information that is the true danger.

Your first step in personal privacy should be a Digital Search Report. I search your digital information and create a detailed report displaying which information makes you vulnerable and how to combat the vulnerable information.

Combating Negative Information: Digital Disinformation is the most successful tactic for creating online privacy and combating negative and unwanted information. When an unfortunate digital issues occurs, people tend to turn to reputation companies to assist with their problem. However, reputation companies use online suppression which bounces information down the search engines. This is an immediate but not a long term solution. In addition, if someone is searching your information they do not stop on page two of a search engine.

Digital Disinformation is available in rounds where I work the first round and put up the disinformation. We wait a week or so and review how the information lands. The majority of the time the matter is immediately resolved, however, depending on the issue and your personal information a second round of disinformation might be needed.

Creating Personal Privacy: Besides using Digital Disinformation to combat unwanted information, disinformation can be used to protect personal privacy. For example, I make it appear that you live in city A but in reality live in city B. This is the ultimate protection when it comes to shielding the location of your home.

Skip Tracing: If you need to locate a person, provide me the subjects name and relevant background information. The turnaround time is 24 to 48 hours. Please note, the fee is for the search not the results.

Frank M. Ahearn – www.Disappear.Info

Author of: The Art of Disappearing, According to Sun Tzu’s, The Art of War

The Ultimate How to Disappear: Part 1

I recently wrote a new book, The Ultimate How to Disappear and was not impressed with the results. I decided not to publish, however, I figured I would post sections of the book online. Do note, these pages are UNEDITED but it is the content that is important. Enjoy!

Frank M. Ahearn: http://www.Disappear.Info

Stop Everything… Look around your world and ask yourself is it safe. The computer you are using, the smart phone at arm’s length and the connections they utilize. Is it safe? Who will be able to access your digital footprints when you are disappeared?

What search words and phrases are you leaving behind? Are they words and phrases that can lead to your future location? Will these forgotten pieces of data become the nail in your coffin or the key that locks you away? Most people who disappear leave a river of traces. They never THINK that one word entered into a search engine could become their downfall.

The goal of this book is to teach you to think about pre-disappearing. To teach you to break down your current world and combat there here and the now. Pre-disappearing begins with finding the dirt you may leave behind? Meaning, did you watch a documentary about Fiji six months ago or perhaps place an online personal ad to meet a potential mate in Germany. Each are a digital footprint and neither can be deleted. Therefore, your only option is to not go to Fiji or Germany.

When you are thinking about or searching for past footprints, think digital and physical. We are both, flesh and data. Digital is a call you a realtor in Lisbon and physical is buying the pre-paid mobile phone or debit card at a store. Never think that a past footprint is harmless. Your predator can make a hundred mistake but it is your one forgotten or ignored footprint that can end your story.

Many people begin the disappear journey either as a reaction to an event or day dreaming of disappearing. This usually takes place in front of a computer searching.

Ask Yourself: What did you dream about?

Obviously you will not remember all of your search engine dreaming. You could take your computer to a techie and have them search your computer. This will reveal the bones of your computer and perhaps there is one search word recovered that saves the day.

Ask Yourself: Where did you dream from?

Access to the internet is a beautiful thing but it can become difficult figuring our past actions. For example, perhaps six months ago your mobile carrier was Dusterdick Mobile and currently it is Ahearn Mobile. This is a problem because you have no clue as to the information you left behind while being a customer of Duesterdick Mobile.

I would suggest you forget about all the plans you made up to this point and start from scratch. Decide on a new disappear location because you may have searched your destination six months back via an old internet service. The footprint is there and you might be where the footprint leads.

Change: Since you are unable to bend time and space like Hiro Nakamura, you have one only option. Change your plans, there is no other option. To not change your plans or destination is only a time bomb waiting to explode. In the disappear world you cannot live on hope, hoping the predator does not find the trace you left behind. If it exists, it can be located. If it can be located so can you. I cannot stress this fact enough.

Digital Swerving: Go back to the hardware and connections you utilized and swerve the connections. If Fiji was a disappear thought and you did some internet searching about Suva you must accept, Suva is gone and now it is time to create swerving.

Go back to the computers, smartphone and various connections and begin to search nearby countries or cities like Tonga or Samoa. Make one of those searches deeper and more detailed then Suva. The trick is to swerve the predator elsewhere. Why do this if you are not going to Fiji. Because you could have created a footprint along the way that could somehow lead the predator to your actual disappear land. Take the predator from point A to Point B and leave them there.

What to Search: When creating Digital Damage Control, search out how to become a citizen of Tahiti, new identity in Tahiti, extradition in Tahiti and so forth.

Toss in a Red Herring: Sometimes when hunting people, it is the one item that leads us down the promised land of discovery. On one computer type in Latvia and look at one website with apartments for rent. Nothing more! Leave it at that and let your predator wonder.

Digital Damage Control: Creating fake content to cover up unintentional trails you created.

A Story: I was hired to locate a person who skipped out on a ton of money. I did all of my basic searches but everything led to a dead end. It was as if he vanished into thin air and was nowhere to be found. Sometimes this happens in the skip tracing world and it sucks.

I go back to the client and ask if they have more information and the client forks over about six or seven email addresses used by the target. The interesting or common factor is all of the email addresses were a combination of his last name and year of birth. One of the old email addresses showed up on a sports memorabilia website.

I was thinking, there is no way this guy skipped out and is still using his sir name as part of his email address. Well, I was wrong. I searched out different sports sites and eventually located a posting where he has some sports cards for sale. My client set up a mail drop and purchased the sports cards with a prepaid debit card. When the merchandise was received it had the targets return address on the box. Busted!

The moral of this fine story goes back to habits, which I discuss further down the literary road. Here is a criminal who swindles someone out of money and they do not think to change their email address style or format. This is no different than sticking up a liquor store and not using a balaclava.

I am unsure if it was stupidity or just the target underestimating my client. Either way, it was an act of stupidity. This brings me to something I call the digital dumbass point. This is when someone does something on a digital level and they do not think, imagine, expect or fathom that, the action they committed will cross over into the world of flesh.

There is really no separation of digital and flesh anymore. To a large degree we are more of a digital presence if anything. To disappear properly one must learn to also disappear from their digital self. When predators hunt, they usually search for the digital entity prior to searching for your actual flesh.

In this case, the criminal never thought about how his lack of change could lead to his demise. In the pre-disappearing part of your journey this is when you think, this is when you hack apart your life and question all. It is the information you leave behind or the information you do not change that will make you suffer the consequences.

Back in the days when I was doing some heavy skip tracing I had a number of skip tracers working for me. The truth is we were quite a motley crew, however, we were some kickass skip tracers and could seriously hunt. There would be times names would come across our desk, be it the wealthy who lied, cheated or stole. What these titans of industry all had in common was they never, ever imagined, that there was a group of drunkards, potheads and single mothers responsible for extracting their phone records, bank records and ultimately taking them down.

Who knows why this particular criminal did something so stupid by using his last name in a current email address. The bottom line is it does not matter because he is presently wearing orange!

What Are My Habits: Asking this question is crucial in pre-disappearing? This is an exercise in thought. Sit your ass down and write a list about you and your habits, the good and the bad. Do not leave out any of the juice, this list might be the fine line of freedom.

When you think habits, think online and offline.

Do you drink a certain coffee or tequila brand? Do you go to the racetrack weekly? Do you smoke a specific cigar? Do you only buy Estee Lauder Pure Color or Manolo Blahnik shoes? Ask, ask and ask again.

Personally, I have grown into the habit of only wearing black t-shirts and Ralph Lauren jeans. If I had to disappear those would be the first items to go on my list. Nor would I ever step into a Starbucks or bookstore again.

What Are Your Habit Alternatives: After you have identified your habits and are cured of your wicked ways? The next question to ask is if your alternatives are derivatives of your old habits. Frank M. Ahearn has given up the black t-shirt style and now wears black dress shirts. Frank Ahearn no longer hangs out in Starbucks but spends his time in local cafes.

Perhaps one of your habits of the past was renting old movies online. You think, cool, you will spend your weekends in a movie theatre that shows old movies. Maybe you were an avid biker and you plan to join a Meetup group for city walkers. Are future habits derivatives of your past habits?

More to come.