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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How to Disappear & Remove Online Information

I am posting the Digital Hit Man online.

The Run Down:

There are a few ways to remove your information from a website, such as politely asking them to remove the information, hacking the site and creating massive destruction, or creating a pretext that prompts them to remove the information. Unfortunately, asking does not always work and sometimes the request you make could backfire in your face and create the Streisand Effect.

The Streisand effect is primarily an online phenomenon in which an attempt to hide or remove a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely. It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose attempt in 2003 to suppress photographs of her residence inadvertently generated further publicity.

As far as hacking goes, most of us do not know how to hack, so that’s probably a dead end street. It is also illegal, and what’s the point of that? Why get your-self jammed up?

Pretext: Creating a lie to cloak your true intentions in order to obtain or manipulate information

If hacking or asking to remove your information is not a viable option, you can always attempt a pretext. Pretext is all about lying and convincing the bastard who is posting your information to remove the information. There is good pretext and then there is bad pretext. Good pretext is “Hi. I’m being stalked. Can you please take information down off your site?” And bad pretext is “Hi. This is the FBI. We need you to remove information from your site.”  That is a no-no!

Part of my writing dilemma was trying to figure out how to take this deception in my head and put it on paper and have it make sense because some things in my head just do not make sense when I put them on paper. Then again, at times it seems a lot of things in my head make no sense. After the disappearing washed from my veins and the new blood of deception arrived, I had to figure out and somehow categorize the deception, and this is what I came up with.

The Tools of Online Deception

Digital DNA: Locating all of your online information and preparing for combat.

Corp-Distort-Delete: Distorting your online accounts.

The Pretext Solution: Pretexting website to remove your online information.

Digital Distortion: Creating same name websites with different extensions and then stripping negative information and replacing it with positive or neutral information on your sites.

Fake Digital Identities: Creating websites, blogs and social sites that all share your name.

Photo Distortion and Photo Doubles: The utilization of fake photos 

Propagation: Marketing the shit out of your online information.

Total War: When all else fails, Total War means going head to head with the websites.

These are the tools I came up with and that I believe will assist you in combating your online information. So sit back, strap in and let’s go for a ride.

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


Information, Technology, The Internet & A Deep Pocket Predator

Part of me is always stretching to come up with a unique perspective of privacy and disappearing. You know, that buzz that catches fire. Yet, other days when unsure of what to write, I get comfortable and reach backwards to grab a story of interest, one of privacy invasion, examples of pretexting Verizon, Chase Bank or Scotland Yard. If this were some old gin joint, I would probably sound like the old drunkard on the corner stool. Perhaps and even worse, I am that old social engineer pining for some old school action.


Today’s dish of words derives from when I was working on my website and tuning it up with a new service that searches the vulnerabilities of offline information. The type of information that can be pulled from T-Mobile, Cablevision, Bank of America, ConEd and the rest of the big guys.

As I am tweaking away I am knocking my head around being honest, is this a valid service or some mumbo jumbo to twist a buck. However, some thoughts came to mind, the first being the future of the internet, technology and information. Naturally, I think about how that information can be used against us, by big business, big brother and a deep pocket predator.

The internet is loaded with our data and connections. This type of information is like a virus, it keeps growing and the goal is to eventually link all of our information. The offline world is super loaded with out information and connections. Our identity consists of three components, name, social security number and date of birth. In most circumstances these items must be used to provide, shelter, banking, employment and other much needed services. Keep in mind this is strictly offline information that is tucked away in the databases of big business. A name, social security number and date of birth are the triple crown of privacy invasion.

The second thought was about the deep pocket predator and this derives from the Gawker/Peter Thiel situation. Peter Thiel, financed Hulk Hogan’s case against Gawker and basically annihilated Gawker and Ex-Gawker editor A.J. Daulerio. A.J. is now in the hole for a hefty some of millions and millions of dollars. The reality is most of us will never come up against an aggressor like Thiel. Then again I am confident A.J. never thought such.

If you mix information, technology, internet and a deep pocket predator you have a Gawker/Thiel scenario. This is a very similar to stalking where an aggressor has an objective and uses whatever means are at their disposal. The difference, there were no acts of violence as in typical stalking situations. However, destruction occurred. I have been involved with a number of David and Goliath cases and unlike the story, in the real world Goliath usually wins. Forward thinking suggests that you question how, information, technology, the internet and Goliath can step on your world.

Frank M. Ahearn
Author of: The Art of Disappearing, According to Sun Tzu’s, Art of War: Book One: Laying Plans