Presto Chango

How to Make Yourself Disappear

As you prepare for the big plunge, Charrett advises sticking to old routines to avoid giving any hint of what's to come. "If you plant a garden every year, be sure to do so the year you leave, even if you never expect to see the fruit it bears," he says. "When you decide to go, leave everything behind. This includes your favorite books and videos, money in your accounts, automobile, pet parrot, whatever."

Not only do you have to leave possessions behind, you should cease all contact with family, friends, and lovers. Never return to your home state or any bordering state. Get into a new line of work, and give up any unusual hobbies, such as skydiving or growing bonsai trees. These things are just too easy to trace.

If people are looking for you, even your spending habits can give you away. "Maybe you wear size 11 ice skates and can't get through the winter without your CCMs," says Charrett. "As a good identity-changer, you must leave your ice skates behind. If you buy new size 11 CCMs next fall, you can be tracked down. . . . Do you donate $500 every year to a particular cause or charity? Not anymore you don't."

Tired of your old life? Create a new one by changing your identity.
illustration by Katherine Streeter
Tired of your old life? Create a new one by changing your identity.

It's also a good idea to change your physical appearance. Grow your hair or cut it. Lose or gain weight, and dress in a different, though conservative, style. Trade glasses for colored contacts. If your eyes are strong, wear nonprescription glasses. "Disguising yourself as the opposite sex is generally very effective," Charrett says. "Even when conducting a thorough 'all points' search, authorities automatically exclude individuals of the opposite sex—even when they otherwise match the profile."

Don't worry too much about biometric identifiers, such as fingerprinting and even the more exotic methods like retina scans. These only matter if they're already on file under your former identity. Otherwise, they can actually help you. "Let's say you have a person who's changed their identity, and they've never been arrested before," explains Newman. "Under their new identity they get arrested or they get fingerprinted for a job. What happens is that the fingerprint hardens their new identity because their fingerprints now are going to be under their assumed name."

If your old self already has biological markers on file, there are still ways around that. Even the more advanced biometric techniques can be fooled. Retina scanners read the pattern of blood vessels at the back of the eye, which are as unique to each person as fingerprints. Charrett suggests putting an allergen in your eyes about an hour before being tested, because swollen vessels could possibly foil the scanner.

All of these changes can mess with your head. Besides becoming paranoid that you'll be discovered, you also have to worry about suffering a complete mental breakdown, according to Charrett. "When a person can no longer perform the work they've always done and can no longer associate with the people and places they've always known, one's sense of self can erode rapidly," he says. "I've seen it happen. A person will either find a new sense of self or go insane."

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