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Tracking Expert Helps People Disappear

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Crowd of people in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Crowd of people in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) — Have you ever wished you could just take off and leave your problems behind? A man who has made a living finding people is now helping people disappear.

Frank Ahearn is an expert at tracking people down. When Monica Lewinsky was hiding, he found her. When tabloids were after George Clooney, they hired Ahearn.

“I used to wake up every day and locate 10 to 20 people a day,” said the former skip tracer turned privacy consultant. Now he’s using his expertise to help the people he used to hunt down. His book, “How To Disappear,” is for battered wives, bankrupt businessmen — anyone who needs to drop out of sight, or just drop out.

“Everybody’s got that palm tree lifestyle we want to live,” he said. “We want to be at the beach, drink the Mai Tais, you know, party and have a great life.”

The book spells out how to create false trails to throw off pursuers. But unlike in the movies, Ahearn said you don’t have to fake your death, get plastic surgery, or even change your name.

“You don’t need a new identity to disappear. And the problem is, once you get that identity, you’re just breaking so many laws, and it’s gonna catch up to you,” Ahearn said

Instead, Ahearn advises people to create their own private corporation. With a little paperwork, anyone can do it, he said, and the corporation acts on your behalf — paying bills, renting apartments, leasing cars — making it easier for you to hide.

“The corporation serves as a shell,” he said, “where you live within this shell for a lease, utilities, cable, the fundamental needs that you have. Unless the person who’s looking for you knows the corporation name, they’re not gonna find you.”

“I think anyone can be found,” said San Francisco private investigator Sam Brown. He doesn’t think much of Ahearn’s advice, mostly because he said it helps deadbeats and criminals.

“They’re avoiding what? Apprehension, they’re avoiding paying their debts, they’re avoiding the ex-wife, the ex-husband,” said Brown.

Besides, he said, in today’s information age, it’s getting harder and harder to cover your tracks — tripped up by your Netflix account, supermarket club card, or internet service.

“There will always be a trail of something,” said Brown, “something you’ve forgotten, no matter how much you want to clean up your tracks.”

“Unless you’re James Bond, you’re not perfect,” counters Ahearn. “Okay, so you’re gonna make mistakes. The goal is to make the least amount of mistakes and the minimal amount of mistakes.”

That means cutting off your old life — family, friends, habits and hobbies — anything that can give you away. And here’s another reality check: how are you going to pay for your new life of pina coladas?

“That’s the first thing off the bat when somebody contacts me is: What do you do for a living? And how are you gonna make your money? You can’t be Joe the Bus Driver in L.A. and move to San Francisco and be Joe the Bus driver.”

If you follow his directions, Ahearn says there’s a good chance you can make a clean break. But don’t expect your new life to make you happy.

“We dream that if we pick up and go everything’s gonna be great,” he said. “But you’re still who you are the minute you get there. And you’ve still gotta be who you are to a degree. So, no, disappearing doesn’t create happiness, unless you got a lot of money to cruise in the Caribbean.”

So how many people actually pick up and drop off the grid each year. Nobody knows. The FBI does not keep those stats, because, according to the agency, as long as there’s no fraud involved, it’s not illegal to disappear.

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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