Paul Oberjuerge header image 2

Going Off the Grid

March 13th, 2019 · No Comments · Uncategorized

So, disappearing is not impossible. Not yet!

And thank goodness for that.

Not to say it’s easy to go off the grid. I mean, completely off the grid. Like, no one can find “the you” of this moment. Even with so much of you well known to list-making authorities and rapacious commercial entities who want to sell you something — and then sell your data to other commercial entities.

We have seen two stories this week that demonstrate that, yes, an American can get lost, re-invent himself/herself and stay under the radar.

It is sort of a recurrent fantasy for some of us. One I will never act on, but like to consider.

If I wanted to opt out of the Age of Big Data … if I wanted to disappear … how would I do it?

Most of my musings usually start with “crossing the border to Mexico in the middle of a moonless night”.

OK, then what, smart guy?

I would leave behind all the markers of existence and location. No credit cards. No internet. No mobile phone,

I would carry a lot of cash — probably a lot of it in Mexican pesos, for a start — and pay for everything with that cash.

I would wear a beard and sunglasses. Maybe a hair piece.

I would go to a border town, in Mexico, and take a bus to the dullest, least-known but peaceful town, where I would walk up to a little house I bought years before through a shell company.

I would need to know more than a little Spanish. I would somehow have to blend in, if I’m not going to keep moving — and my idea is I would not.

And when I talk about any of this with friends or family, they tend to be amused. “Yeah, sure, that’s gonna work.” They figure the whole town would be talking about the American who doesn’t go out much and pays cash and speaks really bad Spanish.

The thing is, I don’t want to vanish. I am tied to relatives and friends. I won’t willingly leave.

But isn’t the idea of disappearing just a teeny bit fun?

The New York Times today printed a story about a tech-savvy guy from North Carolina who believes he has done enough to consider himself successfully “vanished”. Though he is right there, in plain sight, apparently still in the U.S. — just known by another name that he has invented for himself.

The story outlines 15 steps the man took to make this possible. It involves acting mostly through limited liability companies (three states do not require a name when creating an LLC, as they are best known).

It also involves a ramshackle “home” — a place he purchased just so that he could give its address to the department of motor vehicles. As well as VPNs for internet access, working remotely at all times and changing his phone number often — using burner phones, most of the time.

And doing some basic disguise work, in an age of ubiquitous video cameras, by cutting his beard and wearing hats and sunglasses when he is out of doors.

And then he hired a private detective to see if the latter could find him … if he had left behind some marker. Apparently, he has not. (Though I wonder about fingerprints and facial recognition equipment, and retina scans … but also his giving his real passport to authorities during a trip to Tokyo.)

The man estimates it cost him $30,000 to begin a new life, which doesn’t seem all that expensive if he continues to live in the U.S.

The other is not a sort of paranoid hobby, like the North Carolina man’s shtick. This one is a woman who left home and went to New York City at the age of 14, added nine years to her alleged age, got a fake driver’s license and also a Medicaid card with a new name on it.

She disappeared one day in 1997, upsetting her family, who had no idea where she was.

And they never would have found her, had not the woman reached out to her sister after being gone for 21 years. A period during which she located her mother on Facebook and followed her feed … a key development that led to her return to her childhood home in Baltimore, of her own volition, at age 35, bringing four children with her.

This story was reported by the Washington Post, and it seems to suggest some fake ID in a very big city is a pretty good way to leave authorities and families clueless as to what happened to her.

It helps, it seems, that she chose a new life for herself more than 20 years ago — before Big Data was as all-seeing as it seems now.

So, yes, maybe so … still possible to vanish. But in 2019, with ID demanded here, there, everywhere … it’s harder to do than ever.




0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment