BOOK REVIEW: ‘How to Disappear’ Former Skip Tracer Compiles Comprehensive Guide for Extreme Privacy Seekers

Note: I reviewed this book for on Oct. 30, 2010. I just received a review copy of Frank M. Ahearn’s latest book “The Digital Hit Man His Weapons for Combating the Digital World” and will post the review as soon as I read it

Reviewed By David M. Kinchen

Although “How to Disappear:Erase Your Digital Footprint, Leave False Trails, and Vanish without a Trace” (Lyons Press, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press, 208 pages, $16.95) by Frank M. Ahearn and Eileen C. Horan targets those who want to disappear and perhaps start over with a new identity a la the Kathleen Turner character in the 1981 film noir movie “Body Heat”, the book also is useful for those who seek to protect their privacy in a world where anyone with access to a computer can find out just about everything about you and your life.

Written by two of the world’s leading experts on finding people and helping people avoid being found, “How to Disappear” covers everything from tools for disappearing to discovering and eliminating the nearly invisible tracks and clues we tend to leave wherever we go. Learn the three keys to disappearing, all about your electronic footprints, the dangers and opportunities of social networking sites, and how to disappear from a stalker.

Frank Ahearn and his associate Eileen Horan provide field-tested methods for maintaining privacy, as well as tactics and strategies for protecting personal information and preventing identity theft. They explain and illustrate key tactics such as misinformation (destroying all the data known about you); disinformation (creating fake trails); and, finally, reformation–the act of getting you from point A to point B without leaving clues.

Ahearn illustrates every step with real-life stories of his fascinating career, from undercover work to nab thieving department store employees to a stint as a private investigator; and, later, as a career skip tracer who finds people who don’t want to be found. In 1997, when news broke of President Bill Clinton’s dalliance with a White House intern, Ahearn was hired to find her. When Oscar statuettes were stolen in Beverly Hills, Ahearn pinpointed a principal in the caper to help solve the case. When Russell Crowe threw a telephone at a hotel clerk in 2005, Ahearn located the victim and hid him from the media.

An indispensable resource not just for those determined to become utterly anonymous, but also for just about anyone in the world of on-line information, “How to Disappear” sums up Ahearn’s dual philosophy: Don’t break the law, but know how to protect yourself. Ahearn and Horan are known as the devious duo. Veteran privacy consultants in the business of helping people who want to start a new life, they run, a global skip-tracing company, and, which works with people and organizations in fulfilling their privacy needs.

Ahearn and Horan have been featured in more than fifty newspapers and magazines worldwide, including GQ, London Times, and Die Welt, and as far off as China, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Croatia, and Hungary. They have been guests on over 100 radio shows and on BBC and CNN television programs. Born in the Bronx, Ahearn divides his time between Venice Beach, California and New York City. If you can’t find him in either one of those places, visit

A few entries From the skip-tracer’s glossary: Misinformation: The act of deviating or deleting information that could be accessed by a hunter and bring them closer to locating you. Pre-text: A misleading or untrue reason given for doing something in an attempt to conceal the real reason. Pretext is about attitude, about picking up the phone and being who you claim to be. It’s about not being afraid to get arrogant or high-handed or to ask for the person on the other end of the phone to put there supervisor on the line. It’s about schmoozing. A good pretexter employs all the skills of a con artist, except that rather than taking money, we’re taking information–which is as good as gold. Social Engineering: In the world of the skip tracer (see below), this refers to the use of fraudulent means to gain access to computer systems that are protected by passwords or user IDs. Skip tracer: A person whose specialty it is to find those who have, for whatever reason, skipped town (or country), often changing their identities in the process.

To give you an idea of Ahearn’s idiosyncratic writing style, here’s an excerpt from “How to Disappear”: How Not to Disappear. There are several books and Web sites that explain how to obtain a new identity. If you are a not a criminal or international spy you do not need a new identity to safely and discreetly disappear. . . . What people fail to take into consideration is how they can test out their new identity. Do you book a trip internationally and just wing it past customs? Do you speed in your car and wait till you get pulled over and a have the cop run your new license? Perhaps you walk into social security office with your birth certificate and apply for a social security number at the age of thirty-five and explain you have been living in a cave for the past twenty years? . . . New identities are a bad idea. Imagine that you are now Mr. Vincent Vega from Palm Springs, and you’re hanging out with your lady friend and her family sipping Pina Coladas and over walks your best friend from high school. This dumb nut starts calling you by your real name, Dexter Plaidpants. Just try explaining that to all at the table–cover blown. New identities are like roulette: It is only a matter of time until your number comes is up.


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