Just finished reading How to Disappear: Erase Your Digital Footprint, Leave False Trails and Vanish Without a Trace by Frank M. Ahearn. Why this book? The title intrigued me. Now I am not planning on disappearing or going “on the lam” but I thought the book might have some guidance on how to perhaps minimize my digital footprint (not easy to do these day) as well as help to protect my privacy both while online and offline.
The author was a “professional skip tracer” by trade – that is to say, someone whose job it was to find people who didn’t want to be found. His anecdotes and real-world scenarios on his successful finds were entertaining, intriguing and provided some excellent advice on what NOT to do. He has since then, changed careers and now he helps people to disappear. Why would you want to disappear? Perhaps you are being stalked or just want to start over. He covers all of these things and much more.
The chapters of the book include:
- Meet your enemy: the skip tracer
- Time to disappear
- Tracks and clues in the home
- Your reformation arsenal
- How not to disappear
- Disappear form identity thieves
- Disappear from social media
- Disappear from a frog
- Disappear from a stalker
- Disappear from the country
Overall, I felt the book contained a lot of valuable information. One chapter I especially liked was the one on Disinformation (destroying data about you) – how to start leaving less of a digital footprint by using false information such as a fake e-mail address, misspellings in your address and name, false employment history and more. Now the idea here is not to do this in order to engage in illegal activities, but rather to protect your privacy – to stop the spam email, telemarketing calls, junk mail and make it more difficult for people (stalkers, ex’s, etc.) to find you.
The book also paints a real life picture of what’s really involved with disappearing. Many people imagine spending their days in a tropical island paradise, being served Pina Coladas on a beach all day long by a handsome young men or women. The reality is a complicated web of multiple mail drops, prepaid credit cards, prepaid cellphones, public internet access points, as well as giving up your hobbies or interests and having good amount of cash. I personally felt the the portions of the book that pertained to the Internet and privacy were most beneficial but then again, I’m not about to go into hiding. If you are being stalked by someone or are the victim in an abusive relationship, then these other sections may be of particular interest to you. Many of the techniques Frank recommends could also be a good way to avoid – or at minimize the possibility of – identity theft.
The conversational and easy-to-understand tone of the book makes it pleasurable to read. Even if you are not yourself planning on disappearing, the book has many useful tips on guarding your privacy and reducing your digital footprint. If you are serious about disappearing, then this book in indispensable (I also would recommend J.J. Luna’s book “How to be Invisible” as well). Recommended!