How to Disappear from Big Brother…
Fortunately we’re not talking about anything related to Saul Goodman and Associates. LUSSO has met up with Frank M. Ahearn, bestselling author of How To Disappear From Big Brother. He’s not a criminal lawyer from Albuquerque with a highly stylised office in a cheap strip mall (or a direct phone link to Ed, who can make ‘the necessary arrangements’); Frank is totally above-board and a master in the art of extreme privacy – a hot topic ever since Snowden revealed the relationship between online security companies and governments was severely compromised.
If you’re still reading this, you’re either a bit curious or you’re looking for a remedy to a ‘difficult situation’. For your sake we hope it’s the former, but if the shit’s hit the fan then maybe it’s not too late to take action.
For starters you’d want someone like Frank M. Ahearn in your life. Frank is a man who knows a safe way to disappear and not be discovered. After 20 odd years working as a skip tracer—an investigator who specialises in finding people who don’t want to be found—he realised he could make just as much money and incur a lot less risk helping people avoid investigators like himself.
If you’re one of Ahearn’s clients you can expect him to come up with effective, offbeat solutions. Essentially he advises on how to become a ‘virtual entity’; someone who exists with no direct connections to anything physical. This could mean anything from having an online business that’s hosted on the other side of the world and a bank that’s strictly offshore, to using an anonymous corporation to rent an apartment.
“What I do is so unique that by its very definition it cannot be defined. This isn’t because it falls within the realm of extreme privacy but because every one of my clients presents a different issue that needs a singular and creative solution. My value lies in my ability to fabricate one of a kind solutions to one of a kind problems. So far there has been no problem for which I have been unable to devise a solution.”
Unsurprisingly, his book has just hit #4 on the New York Times Best Sellers List for Non-Fiction E-Books. We put some questions to Frank.
Q. Who uses your services and what prompts clients to come to you?
My clients are typically HNWI involved in global industry and they usually come to me for: Privacy, Disappearing or Stratagem.
Privacy: there are news sources that publish net worth and large ticket items bought by the wealthy. This easily accessible information concerns my clients because it could make them and their family targets of abduction for profit.
A client of mine purchased a museum quality painting that was stolen from his home sixty days later. I was hired to figure out how the thieves knew about the painting. I located his daughter’s blogs, she wrote about the painting and posted photos in her posting. Her older blogs identified what school she went to which narrowed down the area where the family lived. On her Facebook page she had photos of her and her friends in front of the family home.
I digitally bend information known about my client and their family. If a news source claims the client purchased a new mansion in Monte Carlo. I create disinformation stating the client sold the home in Monte Carlo and now resides in Belgrade with his wife and daughter Sophie. (Sophie isn’t the daughter’s actual name).
Disappear: some clients find themselves in dangerous situations and need to disappear off the grid. I have worked with women who have been in abusive relationships and felt their lives were in danger. Some clients have brokered deals that bottomed out and faced retribution from angry investors. The common factor with disappear clients are money or violence.
Stratagem: when all conventional methods fail I am called in to devise a plan. A private equity person committed a serious faux pas which was written about on a local website. The fear was the article would go viral and destroy the client’s business. The article reported that ‘John Locke’ committed the faux pas, I added a middle initial to the article John A. Locke and disseminated the article. Once that got around, I added a home town and business name to the article – all fake of course.
Q. How did you get into the business?
I used to be a skip tracer who used social engineering/pretext to locate people. Much of my time was spent extracting phone records, bank records and any other type of data that would lead me to finding the person I was attempting to locate.
The laws in the US changed and made it illegal to do certain types of pretext. Like pretexting phone companies, banks, financial instruction as well as posing as an individual from such companies. My clients ranged from private investigators, law firms, insurance companies and even tabloids in the UK. It was a huge moneymaker but I recognised that that world was ending. So I walked away.
Q. Everyone has concerns about compromising information reaching the wrong person or from social media fallout. For people who haven’t spent decades hiding from the Web, how tough is it for your clients to effectively ‘disappear’?
There are three types of online information. Information you put online yourself, information others (news/media) put online about you and database information that appears on sites like 192. You can’t actually disappear from the information since you cannot delete information from the latter two. What you can do is create online deception that blurs and contradicts the false or truth.
Q. Do you come up against a lot of legal barriers to removing content because of the overprotection of free speech?
Unfortunately there is no delete button online and our information is the gold that fuels the internet. In situations when a child’s name is in the content of an article, I contacted the webmaster and politely asked if the article could be removed. At times it worked and other times it hasn’t. Also one must be careful when contacting website requesting an article be removed, instead of removing the article, the request could be turned into a new article and double the exposure.
Q. What is the biggest cyber threat to consumers and businesses?
I really do not have that answer, I am not a technical guy. However, I personally believe the long-term threats consist of what information is fact and fiction and how will we know which is which.
Q. Were you surprised by any of the revelations that emerged from the leaked NSA documents describing the US and British surveillance programs?
Not surprised but seriously disgusted.
Q. Mr. Snowden’s revelations about Prism called into question the relationship between technology companies and governments. Bruce Schneider even said: “The NSA is willing to compromise the security of everything to get what they want.” Do you think that situation will ever change?
No! Since when does the US government listen to its citizens or other governments? Unfortunately, I believe what has happened will cause a ripple effect and other governments will follow the path of citizen spying.
Q. Since the Snowden revelations have you seen an uplift in the amount of people requesting your services?
More so from European corporations who once feared corporate espionage, they now fear foreign government intrusion. In the sense that they want to know if any of their key executives who have access to proprietary information are being digitally irresponsible.
Q. To truly erase a digital footprint what sacrifices do your clients need to make?
Originally I wrote about and suggested erasing digital footprints but those days are forever gone. If you push enter, send, download, open or forward you create a digital footprint. I now recommend controlling footprints and breaking digital connections.
For example, many people believe that using cash and pay as you go mobile phones are anonymous and do not leave a digital footprint. Using cash to pay for a pay as you go is anonymous in the sense that the person taking the money does not know your identity. However, the surveillance camera records the transaction and connects you to the purchase. I teach people how not to make those types of mistakes by using third-party services.
Q. Does our obsession with creating the ‘Internet of Things’ concern you? Should we be questioning the necessity of having our home appliances and our cars constantly connected to the Internet?
It drives me nuts they idea of connecting everything. I do not understand why total access is necessary. Human function is a good thing, we are moving in a direction where thought process will not be necessary. Maybe I am a dinosaur and enjoy the small things like turning my light on and off.
The dangerous part with connecting everything is the user gives up their privacy and allows digital foreigners into their home to record movement and use. Next will be the insertion of apps in our bodies, a final frontier.
Q. What do you think about all the online reputation management companies and the services they offer?
The same thing I think about leprechauns – nice idea, but the pot of gold is not going to happen. What “reputation sites” are selling you is digital real-estate and nothing more. They say it themselves but in different words– they promise you positive information on the first few pages of search engines. The problem with that is they are trying to sell you on the idea that no one looks past page five on search engines. But by now, everyone knows that the dirt lies in the hinterland. This concept they are selling is equivalent to wearing a five-thousand dollar suit with twenty-dollar shoes – hoping no one is going to notice. Also some reputation companies have been hacked, so much for privacy.
Q. How does one go about doing business with Frank M. Ahearn and how much does it cost?
It begins with a prepaid phone conversation at the rate of €250 per half hour in Euros. Rates begin at €33,000 Euros: half is paid in advance and the balance thirty days after the initial payment.
Q. How long does the process take?
It depends on the information I am combating, however, usually a few months.
Frank M. Ahearn is author of the New York Times Best Selling Book, How to Disappear, currently #4 on the New York Times Best Sellers List for Non-Fiction E-Books. For more information and to contact Frank visit his website at www.frankahearn.com or you can email him at FA@FrankAhearn.com.