How this book can make you Invisible

How this book can make you Invisible
Governments keep a lot of secrets from their people . . .
Why aren't the people in return allowed to keep secrets
from the government?
Sometimes life has a way of appearing as nothing more than a
string of minor and major disasters, a series of challenges that,
when considered in their totality, can overwhelm even the most
levelheaded of individuals. In fact, it's only prudent to prepare
for the worst that life has to offer: thus, life insurance, home
insurance, extra batteries, security systems, dead bolts, a little
fire extinguisher in the kitchen, and on and on. However, there's
one glaring omission in most people's planning, one gap in their
vigilance which is potentially more devastating than if they went
through life smoking in bed, shampooing with gasoline, and taking out-of-date aspirin. And this omission is their personal and
financial privacy.
So think of this book as flood insurance. If the river near you
has not yet started to rise, I can show you how to move to higher
ground. If the river is already rising, I hope at least to show you
how to build a raft. And just because the river has never flooded
before does not mean it will never flood in the future. Unexpected torrential downpours can come in many forms.
In Europe, rapes and murders are just a fraction of the number
committed in the United States. No nation on earth has more
guns per capita, and few if any have a larger percentage of the
population in prison. Besides the muggers, the robbers, and the
serial killers, you may suddenly be confronted by:
• An irate neighbor, a fellow worker, or a disgruntled
• An ex-spouse, an ex-lover, or an ex-employee.
• In-laws, outlaws, or someone mentally deranged.
• A kidnapper, a burglar, or a con man.
The mental damage from worry and fear can be even more devastating than a physical attack. This may come from:
• Stalkers, investigators, or anonymous phone calls in the
• Telephone conversations secretly taped, then passed
around. . .
• "Confidential" medical records released to your employer, your clients, or your insurance company. These
records might divulge mental problems, impotence, abortion, alcohol/drug abuse, a sexual disease, or [fill in the
Make a random list of twenty people you know. On the average,
six of them have already been sued, or will be in the future.
Lawsuits are not filed only because of accidents, negligence, separations, divorces, or contract disputes. In the United States, anyone can sue anyone else.
One of Wiley Miller's Non Sequitur cartoon strips is entitled
LEGAL MUGGING. It shows a businessman on the sidewalk of
a dark street with his hands in the air. A sign on a post reads
"CAUTION: Watch for trial attorneys." Stepping from a narrow
alley is a lawyer wearing a stocking cap, dark glasses, and holding
out a legal document.
"This is a frivolous lawsuit," says the attorney to his victim.
"You can either spend years and thousands of dollars defending
yourself, or we can settle out of court right now."
Although this was in a comic strip, what it portrays is not
comical. More than one million lawsuits are filed each year in
this country. How many of those do you think are frivolous, but
are nevertheless settled out of court? Thousands of private investigators would be out of work tomorrow if lawyers stopped
employing them to find out who has "deep pockets," that is—
who has enough money to make a lawsuit worthwhile.
By putting into practice what you will learn in the pages to
follow, you may well be able to shield yourself from lawsuits and
the resulting financial harm.
You peek out your window. Look! Reporters, photographers,
and trucks with big satellite dishes! If you think this cannot happen to you, then kindly allow me to give you a homework assignment. From this day forward, when you read your newspaper
or watch the news on TV, start searching for cases where an
unknown person is suddenly thrust into the national spotlight.
Then ask yourself, Could this possibly happen to me?
Here are just a few of the many things that could bring the
media, or worse, to your home address:
• A bomb goes off, you were in the area, the FBI thinks
you fit the profile . . .
• You win the lottery. (More tears have been shed over
winning a lottery than not winning one.)
• An Ident-a-Sketch of a the person who robbed the convenience store at 11:45 last night is flashed on TV, and
it looks just like you! And you don't have a plausible alibi for that time that anyone's going to believe.
• Your were innocently involved with the wrong people
and the 60 Minutes crew has just tracked you down.
• Someone faked your e-mail address when searching for
"young virgins" on the Internet and the postal inspectors
(yes, the Net is now in their jurisdiction) are about to
confiscate your computer.
Do not for a moment think that the information to follow is
of mere academic interest—it may useful beyond your wildest
imagination. A recent article in Newsweek, titled "Getting the
Wrong Man," gives a chilling example of something that occurs
more often than we care to think about.
"Tom Kennedy found the body of his wife, Irene, who had
been strangled and stabbed 29 times while on her daily stroll
through a park in the Boston suburb of Walpole. Then, a few
hours later, the police called at a nearby dilapidated bungalow
where Eddie Burke, a 48-year-old handyman, lived with his
mother . . . He was practically a textbook match for police profilers: a loner who knew the victim and was clearly eccentric."
[What on earth does "eccentric" mean? My best friends—with
a smile—call me eccentric. Do I, therefore, fit a certain profile?]
"Burke was visibly nervous and gave contradictory answers
when questioned by investigators."
[Wouldn't you be nervous, too?]
"There was blood on his clothes and hands. And forensic dentists would soon match his teeth with bite marks left on Mrs.
Kennedy's breast."
Burke was arrested for murder. Within twenty-four hours, the
police learned that the DNA from the saliva on Mrs. Kennedy's
chest could not have come from Burke. Did they then release
"Incredibly, they ran more tests, which again exonerated him.
In addition, blood found on Burke turned out to be feline; he
had been tending to injured cats. A palm print left on Mrs. Kennedy's thigh didn't match Burke's hand, while the bite-mark evidence proved inconclusive . . . Yet for six weeks, police kept
insisting they had the right man in j a i l . . . While he was locked
away, Burke's life was put under a microscope. He was demonized in newspapers and on TV, each story accompanied by a
menacing courtroom image of Burke. The sociopathic profiles
were fueled by details of his home's contents—X-rated videotapes, kitchen knives, the book Men Who Hate Women and the
Women Who Love Them. "They didn't mention the three Bibles
in my room,' Burke says. 'They could just as easily said I was a
religious fanatic.' "
The police claim they followed a logical course and "had the
backing of reputed scientific experts." Let us assume that is correct. The point is that even though Burke was the wrong man,
the contents of his house were published by the media.
Suppose you are suddenly arrested, even though innocent,
and the contents of your home are made public? Would anything
on the following list—if found in your house—give you cause
for concern?
• Excess cash.
• Guns and ammunition.
• Telephone records of all long-distance calls.
• Books, magazines, brochures, correspondence.
• Empty whiskey bottles or evidence of substance abuse.
• Statements from your bank, your broker, your creditcard company.
• The contents on your computer's hard drive, including
so-called deleted files, along with a list of sites you once
entered on the World Wide Web.
If the police are after you, whether you are guilty or not, what
is your first priority? Is it not time?
You need time to think, time to get certain items out of the
house, time to locate your attorney, or—heaven forbid—time to
pick up some cash, arrange transportation, and flee. This book is
designed to give you that time, and to help you keep your private
information private.
Before we continue, let me say that if someone with unlimited
funds is after you, you will eventually be found. If you doubt
this, contact a competent [repeat: competent) private investigator and say, "I wish to disappear so completely that even you
couldn't find me. Can you help me?" The six-word answer will
be, "No, because I can find anyone!"
And I agree. Repeatedly, private investigators (PIs) make this
point in their books, articles, and personal interviews. And if the
police are truly after you, their record isn't bad either. Captain
Robert L. Snow, a police officer for more than twenty-five years,
says in his book Protecting Your Life, Home, and Property that the
Indianapolis Police Department finds 98 or 99 percent of all persons reported to them as missing.
But in the private investigator section of my home library, I
find no PIs anywhere who will admit defeat under any circumstances, as long as payment is forthcoming. The closest I can come
to a failure is a certain PI who says he successfully tracked down
298 of the 299 targets he was given over his lifetime. As for the
one he missed, he eventually concluded that he was given false
information, that no such person ever existed.
The fuel that runs a private investigator's engine is M-O-NE-Y. In your present situation, a PI may discover your home
address with a single phone call, and come up with a list of your
assets the next day. The purpose of this book, then, is to:
1. Plug the immediate loopholes in your security.
2. Put you on guard, before you ever again give out your
Social Security number, home address, or correct date of
birth, to anyone other than a government agency.
3. Make it so expensive to trace you and/or your assets that
the bad guys or gals will give up before achieving their
The direct correlation between money and results cannot be
overemphasized. In the sections to come, I'll be referring to various levels of security, with a general outline as follows. However, there may be no clear-cut divisions between one level and
the next—it depends on who is after you, why, and the price he
or she is willing to pay.
Level One: Very basic, economical moves that will give you
more privacy than 98 percent of the general population. Your
telephone will be unlisted and your mailing address will not be
connected in any way to where you actually live. The opposition
might have to pay a private investigator several hundred dollars
to track you down.
Level Two: At this point your utilities and your telephone will be
in alternate names. The license plates on your vehicles will not reveal your name or true address. Your trash will be shredded. The
PI may now charge several thousand dollars to track you down.
Level Three: Welcome to my Level! You and your family have
now taken some serious privacy measures. Your home (or rental
property) will be in the name of a trust. Each vehicle will be in
the name of a limited-liability company. No bank account nor
business activity can be traced back to you. When you travel,
you will register at motels using an alternate name. The blackhat boys and/or the law firms may have pay a PI some truly
serious money to track you down. Are you worth that much to
them? If not, sleep well.
Level Four: At this level you are duplicating the federal Witness
Security Program (incorrectly called the Witness "Protection"
Program in the media) for criminals protected by the U.S. government. When the Feds do it for a felon, it's legal. When you
do it for yourself, it's illegal. Your bridges are now ashes, your
friends and relatives just a distant memory. You've canceled all
magazine and newsletter subscriptions, cut all ties with clubs,
hobbies, and religion, no longer file tax returns, and will never
again work for an employer. You may feel this is necessary if
there's a bounty on your head or a contract on your life, but at
this point, is life still worth living?
If so, keep running, because you can still be found. The PI,
however, must now have unlimited funds at his disposal, and
will call for help. Just as pinned-down soldiers on a battlefield
call in air strikes, PIs call in investigative reporters. These are the
men who dig up celebrity skeletons for tabloids such as the National Enquirer, the Globe, and the Star. Don't underestimate
them. These guys are good—the best in the business.
I recommend you start working on Level One even before
you finish reading this book. In the weeks and months to come,
raise yourself to Level Two. After that, decide whether or not
you wish to ease up to Level Three. It may look difficult at first,
but countless others have done it, and so can you. Not only is it
easier than you think, but it is fun as well, and leads to a more
stress-free life.
However, you must first ask yourself the following question:
In 1978, a short, balding man named Stanley Mark Rifkin
worked at the Security Pacific National Bank in Los Angeles.
Security Pacific thought of him as a computer programmer but
Rifkin thought of himself as a consummate thief.
On October 25 he entered the bank, crossed the lobby, and
took the elevator up to the wire transfer room. From this
room, hundreds of millions of dollars passed every day from
Security Pacific through the Federal Reserve system and on to
international banks. Rifkin, identifying himself as the bank's
computer consultant, was not challenged as he walked into the
heavily guarded room. By interviewing one of the workers, he
learned the routing instructions, transfer routines, and the day's
security code. Before he left, he memorized an employee access code from an information board on the wall. Later that
day, posing as a branch manager, he called the wire room.
"This is Mike Hansen on International."
"Okay, and the office number?" asked a friendly female voice.
"It's 286."
"And the code?"
"Code is 4739."
Now came the moment Rifkin had been living for.
"The bank," he said, speaking in a calm voice, "is Irving Trust
in New York City. Payment is to Wozchod Bank, Zurich, Switzerland. The amount is ten million two hundred thousand even."
"Okay, and what's the interoffice settlement number?"
"Let me check. I'll call you right back." He phoned another
number at the bank. Pretending to be calling from the wire
room, he asked for the settlement number. They gave it to him,
and he called the wire room again. The clerk then typed his order
into the system. Rifkin had just pulled off one of the largest bank
thefts in history. Before the day was out, he was high above the
Atlantic, bound for Europe.
In Switzerland, he purchased 250,000 raw diamonds, weighing nearly four pounds. (Raw diamonds are easy to sell and cannot be traced.) At this point it appeared that Rifkin had pulled
off the perfect crime. No one at Security Pacific even knew the
money was gone! However there are conflicting stories as to
what happened next.
Some say he had an ego problem, and couldn't help showing
the diamonds to his friends. Others say he bragged about the
heist to his lawyer and "trusted friend," assuming he was protected by the attorney-client privilege. Whatever the case, someone told the FBI. They chased him, they caught him, and he went
to prison.
My original choice for a quote at the beginning of this section
was from Poor Richard's Almanac. There, Benjamin Franklin
wrote, "Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead." Stanley should have followed Ben's advice.
However, you and I have not stolen any money, nor are we
on the run for murder, so there will be few if any instances where
if three know our secret, two must be dead. I cite the Rifkin case
not out of admiration for his cunning but as an example of stupidity.
Francis Beaumont, one of England's most popular playwrights
in the age of Shakespeare, had this to say about secrets: "All
confidence which is not absolute and entire is dangerous. There
are few occasions but where a man ought either to say all, or
conceal all, for, how little ever you have revealed of your secret
to a friend, you have already said too much if you think it not
safe to make him privy to all particulars."
Allow me to rephrase his comment, boiled down to plain language of the 2000s: Do not trust your attorney, CPA, private detective, banker, doctor, dentist, school authorities, relatives, family,
friends, or anyone else unless you would trust them with your life.
Here is my own short list of who I do and do not trust:
• Family: I trust my wife. I always trusted my parents, but
they are dead. I see no reason to confide confidential
matters in our grown children, or in their spouses, nor in
our grandchildren. I love my millionaire kid sister in
Hollywood but do not tell her my secrets. (Sorry, Sis!)
• Attorneys: I did trust one in the Canary Islands, but he
died before this book went to press. (Another one in said
islands took money from my enemies to give me incorrect advice!) I still trust an attorney in San Francisco that
I have had on retainer for the past ten years. He has
been tested and was not found wanting. Another one in
Oakland looks OK as of this writing.
• CPAs, bankers, doctors, dentists: One CPA in Texas.
None of the others.
• Private investigators: Some of my clients are PIs and look
to me for advice. There are a few good PIs, a number of
mediocre PIs, and a sizable number that are badly bent.
To date, I have never had to trust a PI. Should the need
come up in the future, I would probably choose one of
the PI/authors listed on pages 248-249 because they
have reputations too valuable to risk with a betrayal.
This book has a single theme: How to keep your private life private.
It is not about avoiding taxes nor specifically about protecting
your assets, although the latter is an added benefit. Nor is it a
call to disobey the law. I consider myself a law-abiding, taxpaying citizen of the world. Okay, perhaps the way I travel by
air is a little odd, and I do confess that I am allergic to certain
kinds of permits. However, if I mention any procedure which I
suspect might be construed as illegal in some states or provinces,
I will warn you of that fact beforehand and let you make your
own decision. (Although I've made privacy my business for decades, I'm not a lawyer. So, to repeat, don't take action without
the advice and counsel of a trained legal professional.)
For example, you may wish to operate a legitimate but anonymous business from your home. This means you may ignore the
requirements for a business license and also the resale tax permit
(assuming you live in a sales-tax state). The city will lose a small
fee when you don't pay for a license. On the other hand, the
state will gain when you pay sales taxes for supplies that might
otherwise be exempt. Other small pluses and minuses will enter
in. Depending upon the community, there may or may not be
any penalty if you are caught, other than catching up on some
payment you failed to make. So then, please note:
• My job is to explain the options.
• Your job is to make the decisions.
• Author's qualifications: My only business is privacy. I live,
eat, sleep, and breathe privacy. I have been living a private life since 1959.
• Anti-offshore: I do not suggest you leave the country, nor
do I recommend foreign corporations, trusts, or bank accounts. You can accomplish your goals right here—
cheaper, better, and safer.
• Lukewarm on corporations: With few exceptions, I will
save you the expense and trouble of forming a corporation, and I will steer you away from Delaware and Nevada.
• New alternative: I will recommend a legal entity in a certain state—one that I have never seen discussed in print—
that, formed correctly, can never be traced back to you.
No managers, no directors, no annual report. Nada.
• No ranting or raving: Well, maybe a little ranting but definitely no raving about Big Brother, jack-booted government thugs, or the Internal Revenue Service. This is a
book about Life in the Real World, not a treatise about
the constitution or the Bill of Rights and common law.
• Up-to-date advice for the year 2000 and beyond: Any book
copyrighted 1999 or earlier will be out-of-date when it
comes to court decisions about warrantless searches, articles about the Internet, recommending mail-receiving
services such as PostNet and Mail Boxes Etc., and the increasing danger in giving your correct date of birth. Although no book can be completely up-to-the-minute,
with laws and procedures frequently changing, I devote
much of my time to staying on top of anything that affects privacy issues.
Each chapter deals with basic, step-by-step information. Although I explain new terms when they are first introduced, if
you run across a word or initials you do not understand, please
consult the glossary on page 245. Many of the chapters have a
section for questions and answers at the end so if you want more
information, do review them. But otherwise, feel free to jump
ahead to the next chapter. You may decide to skip some chapters
that you feel do not apply to you. However:
Do not skip the next chapter. Your journey to invisibility must
begin with the way in which your receive your mail.
Why are you against offshore trusts, when this is
recommended by attorneys and promoters at so many
Despite all the books, Internet advertising, and island-based
seminars, I cannot recommend them. (Those that do are, of
course, often selling a product.) Many seem to overlook the
Small Business Protection Act of 1996. The code provision (IRC
Section 6048-c) says a taxpayer who receives a distribution from
a foreign trust shall "make a return" which includes the name of
the trust, the amount of the distribution, and "such other
information as the Secretary [of the Treasury] may prescribe."
When this information is supplied, all hope of secrecy is lost.
What about offshore corporations?
Same answer, even though I once used them myself. Every
year the risk of trouble increases, as reporting requirements are
amplified and tax-haven governments are subjected to increasing
pressure from the United States government. If you fill out the
required reports, you compromise your privacy. If you don't fill
them out and are caught, you can go to jail.
How about offshore banks?
You mean, to maintain secrecy? If there is one common denominator in all the reports I receive about tax havens, it is about
the increasing likelihood of offshore banks being forced by U.S.
authorities into revealing confidential information.
I buy all the latest books on privacy and security and I pay
out thousands of dollars for magazines and newsletters in this
field. Not a month goes by without reading a warning that in
such-and-such a tax haven, privacy and secrecy are being whittled away. Why go offshore when you can accomplish similar
goals right in the United States?
Are there any hidden dangers in offshore communications?
Yes, and the name of this danger is ECHELON, which is run
by the supersecret National Security Agency. The NSA, with its
forty thousand employees—including more mathematicians than
any other organization in the world!—is the mother of all snooping operations. It monitors all electronic communications that
cross national borders, including e-mail, phone calls, faxes, and
shortwave radio signals on the airline and maritime frequencies.
German author Rudolph Kippenhahn, in his new book Code
Breaking, says, "There is some evidence that the NSA also has
access to the data flow between world banks."
An article in the May 31, 1999, Business Week had this to say
about the NSA's Echelon: "Americans should know that every
time they place an international call, the NSA is listening," says
John E. Pike, a military analyst at the Federation of American
Scientists in Washington. "Just get used to the fact—Big Brother
is listening."
What Big Brother listens or watches for are key words, including all known slang words for drugs, cash, smuggling, bombs,
etc. Therefore, avoid all such words.
Example: One of my American clients is arranging for
untraceable hawala exchanges (see Chapter 14] between California and Madrid. He first mailed a list of substitute words to
his contact in Madrid, so that they can continue to use e-mail.
However, it will appear they are discussing another subject,
where words like "dollars," "pesetas," "exchange rate," and "bank"
will NOT be used.
Do not, as long as you live, ever again allow your real
name to be coupled with your home address.
Washington state resident Elizabeth Reed, 28, dated Anthony
Nitsch, Jr., 32, for about two months in the fall of 1996. Then,
concerned about his drinking, Elizabeth told Anthony the relationship was over. When she stopped taking his calls, he became
angry and began stalking and harassing her.
She continued to live at the same address.
Anonymous packages arrived at her home, one with a dead
skunk, another with a sex toy and an obscene message. Strange
items began to appear in her yard. Someone disconnected her
heat-pump fuse box and defecated on it. Her fiance came to visit
her, and when he returned to his car he discovered the tires had
been slashed.
Two years passed. Elizabeth Reed continued to live at the
same address. She went to a judge and sought a restraining order
against Anthony Nitsch, Jr. The judge refused to grant it because
Elizabeth could not prove Anthony was the person who was
harassing her.
On a warm Monday night in early June, Anthony cut the
telephone line that led into her home. Then he broke in, threatened her, and fired one shot at her from a .40 handgun.
The ending of this story is not as sad as might normally be
the case. I have before me the Tacoma News Tribune dated June
5, 1998. The headline on page three reads, "Intruder who was
shot held for $500,000 bail." Although Elizabeth Reed had failed
to move away, she was armed and ready. Nitsch missed. She did
not. "Nitsch remained in serious condition Wednesday," says the
article, "at Harborview Medical Center with five gunshot wounds
to his chest."
Mexican journalist Fernando Balderas and his wife Yolanda Figueroa wrote a book called The Boss of the Gulf: The Life and
Capture of Juan Garcia Abrego, which was published in August
1996. The book was dedicated to Mexico's federal attorney general, Antonio Lozano Gracia. At that time Fernando and Yolanda
lived, with their children Patricia, Paul, and Fernando, in an attractive home in an upscale neighborhood in Mexico City. Although nothing in the book appeared to warrant retribution, it
did discuss Mexico's drug lords and revealed bribery in high circles. What follows is from the December 9, 1996, edition of
USA Today:
MEXICO CITY—Police found journalist Fernando Balderas, his author wife, Yolanda Figueroa, and their three
children, ages 18, 13, and 8, bludgeoned to death in their
beds last week... a brutal murder that shocked even
hardened residents. Adding to the intrigue: Police say the
family was probably murdered Tuesday night, a day after
President Ernesto Zedillo fired Mexico's federal attorney
general Antonio Lozano Gracia, to whom the Figueroa's
book was dedicated.
When President Zedillo fired the guy their book was dedicated
to, they should have fled their home that very day. (Reason:
Guilt by association—especially applicable among drug lords and
crooked politicians.) Some say that if the bad guys are out to get
you, there's nothing you can do, but I disagree. You can be seen
in public but still keep your home address private.
I suspect that the Balderas family did indeed think about moving, but then decided it would be too much trouble. Trust me
on this one: Trouble or not, moving is better. However, even if
all is quiet and you are unable or unwilling to move at this time,
I urge you to take the recommended steps in this and succeeding
chapters. As you will see, there are legitimate ways to disconnect
your name from your property, your telephone, your utilities,
your licenses, and yes—even on your tax returns and your
driver's license. The place to start is with home deliveries, be
that by mail, by UPS, by FedEx or by your local pizza parlor.
If you plan to move within the year, perhaps you will stall on
some of the other suggestions. Do not, however, delay on this
one. If there is only one lesson you carry away from this book,
let it be the one listed at the beginning of this chapter:
Do not, as long as you live, ever again allow your real name to
be coupled with your home address.
If you are still not convinced, consider the case of George
Joseph Cvek, as presented in the book Diary of a D.A. by Martin
M. Frank, formerly an assistant district attorney in the Bronx. I
quote from page 168:
Included is number 1314 Virginia Avenue, where, at about 2:45
on the afternoon of January 13th, the doorbell of an apartment
rang. That ring set off one of the greatest manhunts in the history
of the New York Police Department. Although it was like the
sound of countless other doorbells, in the succeeding months it
was to echo and re-echo from Maine to Louisiana and beyond
the Mississippi to Nebraska. It was the signal for a chase where
the quarry was an unknown, unnamed individual whose description might fit millions of men in that vast area.
When the doorbell rang on that January afternoon, a young
housewife opened her apartment door to find a slim, ordinary
looking man of about twenty-eight standing at the threshold. He
was a stranger to her.
"Are you Mrs. Allen?" he asked.
"Yes, I am."
"Is your husband home?"
"No," she replied, "he isn't here now."
"Gee, I'm sorry," he said. "I know him from Norwalk, Connecticut. I thought this was his early day. Maybe I'll come back
tonight." He seemed rather well acquainted with her husband, a
route salesman in Connecticut for a bakery company.
The caller half turned to go, then stopped and apologetically
asked, "Could I have a drink of water?"
"Sure," she said, "wait here a second." Leaving him at the
door, Mrs. Allen went into the kitchen. When she returned, she
found that he had walked through the foyer into the living room
and was seated on the sofa. . . .
The caller continued to deceive Mrs. Allen, then suddenly
struck her down and prepared to rape her. At that moment, the
telephone rang. He jumped up and ran from the apartment,
slamming the door behind him. But in the years to come, more
than two hundred women were not so fortunate. Their telephones did not ring. In virtually every case, the caller gained
entrance by telling the wife he knew her husband, and after gaining entrance through subterfuge, he raped and killed her, then
burglarized the home. In each case it was the husband himself
who had unwittingly given the villain—who was eventually identified as George Joseph Cvek—information about himself and,
when asked for an address so Cvek could mail him a small gift,
gave him his home address. At that instant he sealed his wife's
death warrant.
This is but one of many chilling examples of allowing mail to
come to your home address. In fact, there are dangers not only
in receiving mail but in sending it out, as we shall see.
Every day more than one hundred thousand residential mailboxes in the United States are burglarized. This applies to mail
being received both in the city and in the country, both in private
homes and in apartment complexes. In Hammond, Indiana, before they were finally arrested, two men and a woman went from
door to door but did not knock or ring any bells. The neighbors
saw nothing more suspicious than each person depositing an advertising brochure in each mailbox. What they didn't see was
the sleight of hand when the person traded the brochure for
whatever mail was in the box.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer recently ran an article warning of
mail theft not only from home mailboxes but from mail collection boxes on the street, plus the boxes used at thousands of
apartments, condominiums, and commercial buildings in the
Northwest. It seems that for months, thieves had been using
counterfeit "arrow keys." Each arrow key provides access to
about 2,500 mail collection boxes, more than 10,000 apartments
and condominiums, and virtually all office and commercial buildings in the region. (The keys give postal workers easy access to
the mailboxes, making it easier for them to pick up and deliver
messages and packages.)
Readers were urged to stop using outside mailboxes to deposit
mail, including their own home mailboxes. Instead, they were to
deposit mail only inside a post office.
In addition to professional thieves, it was said that many others have been stealing mail: drug addicts, to support their habit;
teenagers, looking for cash; petty thieves, looking for any number
of things.
In the article, headlined "THEFT OF MAIL A PROBLEM
AT OUR DOORSTEP," U.S. Postal Inspector Jim Bordenet voiced mail security concerns.
"Thieves rifle outgoing mail for checks written to pay
bills. They then alter the checks so they can cash them
for large amounts. He suggests.people not put outgoing
mail into their own boxes, and especially advises against
using the red flag, which is a signal to thieves.
Thieves sometimes follow carriers around and steal incoming mail, he said. They're typically looking for boxes
of checks and credit-card offers."
I will spare you the flurry of follow-up articles and letters to
the editor that followed publication of the article just quoted.
Some of the questions raised were:
• Why didn't the Postal Service warn the public about
such thefts years ago?
• Why was nothing said until the thefts were exposed by
the local newspapers?
• Why—even now—is the problem not being solved?
Another article, this one from the McClatchy Newspapers, is
datelined Sacramento, March 5, and titled "Post Office Fights
Mailbox Theft."
It reports that hundreds of pieces of mail are stolen daily
in the Sacramento area. In rural areas the criminals watch
for raised red flags, the signal that outgoing mail is inside.
Others pry open "cluster boxes" at apartment complexes
or housing developments and steal everybody's mail at the
same time. In some cases they even pry open the standard
blue U.S. mail collection boxes. The article quotes Tom
Hall, a postal inspector who investigates mail theft from
Sacramento to the Oregon border: "Today, thanks to
chemicals and computers, thieves can use almost any kind
of financial information to commit a variety of financial
crimes. If you write a check to a utility and a bad guy gets
it, he can 'wash' the utility's name off and make the check
out to himself in a higher amount. With that one check,
he can also make himself a whole new set of checks under
your name." Even worse; continues the article, "some
criminals 'assume' the victim's identity and apply for
credit cards in the victim's name."
So then, deposit all outgoing mail inside a building. Usually
this will be a U.S. post office but in some cases there are mail
pickup stations inside other businesses, such as in a strip mall or
in a supermarket.
By putting these suggestions into practice, what have you accomplished? First of all, you have protected both your incoming
and your outgoing mail from random theft. Second, if you have
been targeted for any reason, an investigator might be illegally
"borrowing" the mail from your home mailbox, reading it, and
returning it the next day, apparently unopened. But if no mail
comes to your home, he will have nothing to read.
If you are presently receiving mail at home, you can stop this
immediately by turning in a forwarding address. But where
should this mail go? Not to any address you will use in the future—once you have sent out the changes of address, the mail
will trickle down and then you will close the new temporary
address. Here are some options:
1. If you presently have a PO box that can be traced back to
you, choose that address. When the forwarding comes to
a close, close the PO box.
2. If you still receive mail at a commercial mail-receiving
agency ("mail drop"), forward the mail there temporarily.
As you will see, the mail drop should be closed down fairly
3. Have it sent on to your place of business if you have one,
or perhaps to a friend who is in business.
4. Forward to a friend or relative, preferably across the country. Tell him or her to keep the magazines, toss out the
junk mail, and to remail the rest back to you at your new
address. (You haven't got one yet but be patient. It's coming, it's coming. . . . )
How to forward your mail: With the exception listed below, I
suggest you not check the little box marked "Permanent." If you
do, your name will go into the Postal Service's National Change
of Address list and this list of persons that have moved is sold to
the commercial mail-list folks and thus your name and new address will go into countless computers.
Instead, check the "Temporary" box and give a date when this
is to end. At the same time, notify the post office that you are
moving away and do not wish to have any mail forwarded. Mail
will then be returned to sender.
Exception: If you wish to throw others far off the trail, then do
file a Permanent Change of Address. I suggest the actual street
address of a mail drop in northern Alaska or—if you already live
up there—a mail drop in Florida or Hawaii. Here is an easy way
to do it:
1. If you have access to the Internet, go to,
the home page of Mail Boxes Etc., or to,
the home page of PostNet. Look up the location you want.
Or, look up one of their locations in the phone book, call
them, and ask them to give you the address at such-andsuch a location.
2. On your forwarding address card, fill out your name, the
street address, an apartment number, city, state, and ZIP.
Example: Your name is Jane Winner and you want your
ex to think you moved to Florida.
If the address you pull up on the Internet is:
MBE #0955
9970 E Osceola Pkwy
Kissimmee, FL 34743
Forward your mail to:
Jane Winner
9970 E Osceola Pkwy, Apt. 201
Kissimmee, FL 34743
Here, then, is what will happen. Your mail will be forwarded
to the address shown, but because this is a commercial mailreceiving agency (CMRA), and because the new statutes prohibit
the delivery of mail to a CMRA unless it reads PMB rather than
"apt." or "suite," the envelope will be stamped with a message
similar to the one that follows and will then be returned to the
Will your local post office, the one forwarding the mail to
Florida, know what is happening? No, because the mail does not
come back to them.
Will the person you are trying to avoid realize you didn't go
there after all? Not necessarily. The stamp on the envelope does
not say "No Such Person." It merely says the CMRA not currently accepting mail for you.
Does this make a little extra work for the United States Postal
Service? Yes, but so what? They are the ones that attacked the
CMRAs in 1999 without warning and drove the marginal operators out of business.
Although we ourselves never receive mail at a home address, two
of my clients currently receive nonpersonal mail at home for specific reasons:
Holland moved to a rural area in the summer of 1999. His
new address for receiving personal mail is at the home of a
widow in the nearest small town, seventeen miles away from
where he actually lives. She rents several rooms in her large
home. Holland, however, is a voracious reader and subscribes to
more than thirty weekly and monthly magazines. Rather than
burden the widow with this volume, he orders each new subscription in what appears to be a business name, R & R Services,
and has them come to his rural mailbox at his actual address.
He never uses "R & R" for any other purpose whatsoever.
Therefore, if his name is run through a national database of magazine subscribers, there will be no trace back to him.
Janet is a single mother with a six-month-old baby. She recently fled from Washington, D.C., to a southern state to escape
an ex-lover who was threatening to kill her. She is establishing
herself at the new location under another name. She has a new
(alternative) address at which she receives mail from her mother
and sister, as well as bank statements, telephone bills, and other
personal mail. However, she wants to make her new name
known so she receives Family Circle and Reader's Digest, as well
as small shipments of mail-order vitamins, at her home. The orders and the subscriptions have automatically put her new name
into various databases, and she receives Sweepstakes offers and
other junk mail in the new name.
"If someone wishes to look at this mail," she says, "or even
steal it, be my guest!"
Even in the past, post office boxes were insecure. Private investigators seldom failed in obtaining the information you gave
when you rented the box. U.S. Marshals and government agents
didn't fail at all. Nevertheless, I used them from time to time by
having someone else rent the box. Usually, this was a person
about to move, such as a transient who would not be listing any
forwarding address. At that time the post office did not ask for
ID checks for the extra (secondary) names. Therefore, my real
name would be connected only with the transient's former address, which was, of course, no longer valid.
Now, however, with the advent of the draconian measures
taken by the United States Postal Service (USPS) in 1999, that
privilege has ended. The reason given by the USPS for the recent
crackdown—to stop mail scams—is not the real reason. (The
crooks will always find a way.) The real reason is surveillance,
just as in the case of requiring picture ID for all air travelers.
Little by little, the government is attempting to keep track of
every citizen. There is no point in screaming, ranting, or writing
letters to your local newspaper. Just take it as a fact of life and
work around it.
I have been referring to your "new" or "alternate" address but
from this point forward it will be called your ghost address. A
ghost address is one that has no connection with your actual
place of residence. How this address is obtained will be explained
in the following chapter.
Because the secure sending and receiving of mail has become
so complicated, the question-and-answer section that follows is
the largest in this book. If you are in a hurry, however, jump to
the next chapter. You can always come back here later.
What is a "mail cover?"
This is a system used by a number of governments to check
your mail without a court order. Your mailman, or the clerk that
"boxes" your mail will be instructed to note the return addresses
and country of origin of your incoming mail. If you live a
squeaky-clean life, you may say to yourself, imitating Mad
Magazine's Alfred E. Neuman, "What? Me worry?" Read on:
Suppose you send mail to a person or company that is the
subject of a mail cover? If you list your name and return address,
you yourself could end up on a suspect list. There are at least
two obvious solutions:
1. Copy the British—eliminate a return address. Or,
2. Use some other return address, far, far away.
Recently, the postal authorities have been getting more cautious. For any parcel that weighs sixteen ounces or more, the
sender must show up in person, and the item must bear a return
address. The day may not be far off when a return address will
be required for all outgoing mail.
/ send out large volumes of mail so I use a postage meter.
Any danger there?
I don't know how large a volume you refer to, but my wife
and I used to mail up to two thousand letters a week on a regular
basis. We had a regular system, using thirty-three-cent selfadhesive stamps. First, we stuck one stamp on each finger, then
we put them on four envelopes, one, two, three, four, and repeat.
Why didn't we use a postage meter? Because each postage
meter has an identification number that ties it to a renter and to
a specific location, that's why.
Does it matter if-—unsure of the exact postage—I put on
more than enough stamps?
Judge for yourself: I know of a case in Missouri where a man
put $38 postage on a small package that weighed less than two
pounds. Destination, Los Angeles, but it didn't arrive. In view
of the excess postage, the Drug Enforcement Administration
(DEA) was called in and the package turned out to contain
$10,000 in cash. Although I do not know if the source of the
money was legal, privacy newsletters claim that the DEA "arrests" and keeps most confiscated cash, even though the owner
may never be convicted of anything. Actually, cash can be mailed
most anywhere using many envelopes and small sums per envelope. With $38 the Missourian could have bought 118 firstclass stamps. Had he then put just three one-hundred-dollar bills
in each envelope, wrapping the money with a page or two from
a magazine, he could have mailed out, not $10,000, but
$35,000. And if mailed on different days from various post offices, and with a variety of fictitious return addresses, would anyone even have a clue?
This was not the first time I heard of incorrect postage alerting
the authorities. One of the telltale signs postal inspectors look
for, in the case of letter bombs, is "excess postage." I use an
electronic scale that measures in both pounds and grams and I
double-check all outgoing mail.
At present, I receive a daily newspaper in my own name.
It goes into its own box alongside my rural mailbox. Is there
some way to at least continue to receive my daily paper, both
at my present home, and at the new one when I move?
At one time we had a Canadian newspaper delivered directly
to a holiday home under another name. No longer. Too many
cases like the one cited in Carson City's Nevada Appeal, headed,
"Minden teen appears in court, may face 15 charges." The charges
were that three teenagers burglarized houses in the Carson Valley
while the occupants were away. And how did they know the occupants were away? From "information allegedly obtained through
his job as a newspaper carrier." Nevertheless, if you cannot live
without your daily newspaper(s), then at least heed this advice:
• Cancel the newspaper that you now receive. A month
later, order a new subscription under another name.
Avoid paying the newspaper carrier in person.
• When you leave on a trip, do not have the newspapers
held. Get a friend or neighbor to pick them up. (Nevertheless, the best way is still to have the newspaper delivered to your ghost address.)
How secure is my incoming mail?
That depends on where it's corning from, what it looks like,
and who your enemies are. Under normal circumstances I have
far more confidence in regular mail (often referred to as snail
mail) than in electronic mail, because there is no possible way
to scan the interiors of all the millions of letters in the U.S. postal
system at any one time. Contrast this with electronic mail, which
can be computer-searched at every junction along the way, redflagging messages with any of hundreds or thousands of key
words such as bomb, gas, gun, rifle, money, cash, or with any
specific name including yours.
Note, however, that certain government officials do monitor
mail from tax-haven countries, especially those on the following
Andorra, Antigua, Aruba, Austria, the Bahamas, Belize, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Channel Islands,
Colohibia, Cook Islands, Gibraltar, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Marshall Islands, Nauru,
Nevis, Panama, Turks and Caicos Islands, and Vanuatu.
Also, what do your incoming letters look like? If you are in
my age bracket, you may remember when your mother dripped
hot red wax on the flap of an envelope, then pressed a seal into
the wax before it cooled. The more modern method is to seal
the flaps with clear tape. Neither is secure, and both methods
(especially the red wax seal!) draw unwanted attention to the
envelope, saying "Something valuable in here."
Further, anyone with a spray can of freon gas—sold under various trade names in spy shops—can read what's inside without
opening the envelope at all. When hit with the spray, the envelope becomes transparent. Thirty seconds later, as the gas evaporates, it returns to its normal condition, with no evidence of this
intrusion. (The defense against this is to ask the sender to address
the envelope by hand with a felt-tip pen, or with a fountain pen
that uses regular ink. The ink will run when the freon is sprayed on
the envelope, thus at least tipping you off that the mail was read.)
Methods once confined to the CIA are now common knowledge, thanks (?) to Paladin Press. They publish the CIA Flaps and
Seals Manual that carefully details "surreptitious entries of highly
protected items of mail." Using carbon tetrachloride to remove
transparent tape from an envelope is at the elementary level.
What worries the CIA and other surreptitious readers of secret
mail is not the sealed or taped envelope but the normal one.
"The most innocuous-looking envelope," says the CIA manual, "may be the one that will get the operator in the most trouble." Right! So let's talk about innocuous-looking envelopes next.
Protecting letters you mail out. Remember, the envelope should
appear normal. A junk-mail appearance is best (make sure the
one receiving it knows that!) and for that reason I prefer a standard #10 envelope with a laser-printed label. If a sealed, taped,
or otherwise obviously protected envelope is desired, enclose and
protect everything in a #9 envelope and insert that one in the
#10 envelope. If you are not familiar with envelope numbers,
note these measurements:
#10 envelope:
#9 envelope:
X 9½ inches
X 87/8 inches
To counteract the envelope's transparency when sprayed with
freon, wrap the contents of the #9 envelope with carbon paper,
if you can still find it in this modern age.
Remailing letters from other cities in the United States: From time
to time, you may wish to have it appear that you are in a certain
area. I do not say "city," since huge areas are now included in a
postmark from such cities as Denver, Dallas, and Detroit. Here
is the easiest way:
Prepare your letter, seal it in an addressed #9 envelope (available at any office-supply store), and put on the correct postage.
Enclose your letter in a #10 envelope, add a cover letter as shown
below, and a $5 bill. Note that you don't use a last name, so
there is no way to prove you were not a guest.
Sheraton El Conquistador
Attention: Concierge
I was a recent guest at your hotel, and most impressed
with your fine service. I do, however, have a small problem,
and I must ask you a favor.
During my Arizona stay, I promised to write to an associate while in Tucson. I forgot to do this, so would you kindly
help me cover my derriere by mailing the enclosed letter?
I include $5 for your trouble, and hope to thank you in
person when I return to the Sheraton El Conquistador later
this year.
Yours sincerely,
Mail your letter to "Concierge" at one of the very best hotels
in the city of your choice. (You can get the name and address
from AAA, or off the Internet.) Here is a sample of how to
address the envelope:
Sheraton El Conquistador
10000 North Oracle Road
Tucson, Arizona 85737
Note: If there is some doubt that the hotel has a concierge,
just address the letter to "Reception." (If there isn't a reception
desk, you've chosen too small a hotel.)
From now on, when you travel, pick up sample envelopes
and letterheads from luxury hotels. Staying at them is best, but
you can often drift up to the desk when they're busy with checkins and kindly ask for "a sheet of paper and an envelope." One
of each is enough, as you'll never use a specific hotel for remailing more than once.
Remailing letters from anywhere in Europe: The procedure is similar to remailing from the U.S. but with two exceptions.
First, you must ask the concierge to put on correct postage
for overseas airmail, so I suggest you enclose at least $7 or $8,
preferably $10. The ideal way to do this is to enclose the local
currency, but if not available, then U.S. bills will serve.
Tip: When you hear of a friend who's going to Europe, have him
or her bring you postage stamps for overseas airmail, and local
currency equivalents of $5 to $10 from as many countries as
possible. And if this is a really good friend, ask for letterheads
and envelopes from various hotels, picture postcards, a pad of
typing paper, and a pack of size DL envelopes from an officesupply store. You never know when this foresight might prove
to be most opportune!
Second, European envelopes and stationery are not the same
size as in the United States and Canada, so using 8½ X 11 inch
paper and a #10 envelope may be a giveaway. Here are the European sizes:
A4 paper
210 X 297 mm (about 81/4 X 12 inches)
DL envelopes
110 X 220 mm (about 43/8 X 83/4 inches)
Personal envelopes 120 X 176 mm (43/4 X 7 inches)
You can fake the size A4 paper. Just buy legal size 11 ½ X
14 inch paper and cut it with a paper cutter (not by hand) to
8½ X 12 inches. Or, if you're into European remailing big-time,
have a print shop cut sheets to these specifications. The envelopes you'll have to order.
If you write to a law firm, trust company, or bank—especially
overseas—it might be better not to identify the office or institution in the address. Instead, use an individual name, someone
that works there. If you don't know any of the names, address
the letter to "Office Manager" or "Secretary," avoiding any mention of a bank, law office, or trust company.
. . . a verbal phantom, a shadow of a shade.
More than half the people who come to me for help, wishing to
keep various assets invisible to others, see no problem in having
their home address known. Yes, some may be able to get by, but
for others with this kind of attitude, it can be a matter of life
and death.
An extreme viewpoint? Mike Ketcher of Burnsville, Minnesota, editor of The Financial Privacy Report, certainly doesn't
think so. He hired Yon Soon Yoon, a divorced woman, to
work in his office. Yon Soon's ex-husband, Jae Choe, had been
harassing her for years. When Mike hired Yon Soon, Choe was
furious. Eventually he went on a rampage, shooting Yon Soon,
their fourteen-year-old son, Joohn, and two policemen, after
which he killed himself. The publisher of the newsletter, Daniel
Rosenthal, sums up the two important lessons learned, as follows:
FIRST, if you think the police are there to protect you, let
me tell you differently. Yon Soon had a restraining order against
Choe. So did we, at our home and our office. But the police
ignored our repeated requests to enforce these restraining orders,
despite Choe's continual violations and threats. On several occasions they literally laughed at our requests for enforcement.
SECOND, when the police don't work, privacy DOES work.
The only person in our company that was truly safe was Mike
Ketcher. He was safe because he kept his personal affairs so private that Mr. Choe couldn't find him.
Let me repeat that last part once more: Mike Ketcher was
safe because he kept his personal affairs so private that Mr. Choe
couldn't find him.
In the context of this book, a ghost address refers to a future
address you will use that has no connection to where you really
live. Although I will usually speak of this address in the singular,
you may wish to have multiple ghost addresses. In my own case,
I use one address for my clients, a second address for bank statements, utilities, and telephone bills, and a third address for my
tax returns. For my driver's license in a faraway state I use a
fourth address. I have a fifth address for the companies that own
my cars and my boat, and my sixth address is a CMRA address
in Canada, where commercial mail-receiving agencies are still
private. These are in addition to my two permanent addresses
on Spain's Fuerteventura Island. (If you ever happen to vacation
in the Canary Islands, don't bother trying to track me down in
"Morro Jable, LP de GC." You could grow old and die before
you succeed. . . .)
1. All incoming mail, including from your mother or your
2. The Internal Revenue Service.
3. Your driver's license.
4. Any real estate you own.
5. Any loans you have made to others,
6. All licenses for your pets. (A PIs favorite!)
7. Hunting and fishing licenses.
8. Your library card.
9. Your voter's registration. (Some prefer not to vote.)
10. All insurance policies.
11. All utilities: garbage pickup, electric, gas, water.
12. Any membership records, as with your church.
13. Your doctor, dentist, and chiropractor.
14. Your attorney and your accountant.
15. Your pilot's license and airplane registration.
16. All LLCs (see Chapter 12) use to title your vehicles, etc17. All purchases, especially where a guarantee is involved.
18. Social Security and Medicare.
19. Rental: home, storage unit, car, tools or whatever.
20. Cable TV. (Another PI favorite!) Be sure the service is
not in your name, and that monthly bills go to your ghost
Until recently, one small step toward privacy was to rent an
address at a commercial mail-receiving agency such as PakMail,
PostNet, or Mail Boxes Etc. However, that has now changed.
In the spring of 1999, a small news item from the Associated
Press was printed on the inside pages of newspapers from coast
to coast and sent chills into the hearts of more than a million
readers. Under new postal regulations intended to stamp out
mail fraud, anonymity was about to disappear for anyone who
was renting—or would rent in the future—a private mailbox
from a places like PostNet and Mail Boxes Etc. From this time
onward, not only would government-issued picture ID be required (kept on file) but a special identifier, called a PMB number, would have to be included in the address. This, of course,
would tip off stalkers, ex-partners, and freaks and geeks of all
persuasions that the addressee was using an alternate address.
I quickly obtained and read the official thirteen-page government edict. For all practical purposes, it was no longer possible
to use these private mailbox services to protect your privacy.
Therefore, I sent the following letter to more than one hundred
of my clients that were using a certain address. [Names have
been changed.]
As you know, my mail-receiving address until now has been
Martin & Martin, 500 N. Columbia Road, Suite 20, Grand
Forks, ND 58201. The "Martin" refers to my attorney in another state and the mail was of course sent on to an undisclosed location. The N. Columbia Road address was a
telephone answering service run from the same location for the
past eighteen years by a tough old lady named Maggy. As a
sideline, she had 30 mailboxes, mostly for illegal aliens that
work on farms in the area. She thought that since she was so
small, she would slip through the cracks, but no such luck.
Rather than cooperate with what she calls the Postal Service's
"Gestapo tactics," she is closing down her mail service. All
mail received on or after August 23 will be returned to
sender—not by Maggy but by the Grand Forks Post Office.
When I heard this news, I flew to Winnipeg, rented a car,
and made a quick trip to down to Grand Forks to wind up
my affairs with Maggy and to arrange for a new mail drop.
I am going to describe what I did in the hope that this may
give you some ideas as well. The first step was to make a
mental list of small businesses that receive mail for at least
several different persons. This included but was not limited to
accountants, attorneys, clinics (medical, chiropractic, etc.),
real-estate offices, used-car dealers, barbershops, bookstores,
coffee shops, bars, contractors, martial-arts studios, tax consultants, RV parks, day-care centers, and mom-and-pop motels.
The next step was to start driving around to look for such
businesses. In less than half a mile I came across a real-estate
office with three little cabins in the rear. Two of them appeared
to be lived in, but the third one was obviously used for storage.
I introduced myself to Jim, the owner. I explained my circumstances and referred him to Maggy at the mail drop. I
also offered to have him call my attorney in California if he
needed a further reference. (He did not check with either person.)
"I have the perfect setup," he said with a smile. "Cabin
340 back there is just for storage, but it has its own mailbox.
C'mon back, I'll show you." Unseen from the main street was
a row of rural mailboxes lined up on a wooden crossbar. Ail
were small, old, bent, and dirty. "I get mail here," he said,
pointing to one of the boxes, "for all seventeen of my salesmen!." I said he probably needed a larger box, and he said he
certainly did. . . .
Bottom line: I said I would put up new, larger mailboxes
for both us, and what could I do for him besides that? Jim
was fascinated about my work as a privacy consultant and
expressed concern about all the things that he owned in his
own name. I am now his consultant and will help him make
some needed changes. I hope the above account has given you
some ideas of your own. My new business address is as shown
below, and all mail should be addressed exactly that way.
Do not use my name when you address the envelope.
R, M&S
[street address, no suite number]
Grand Forks, ND 58201
In the months that followed, address changes came pouring
in. No one had any questions about how to find a new address.
Apparently the foregoing example was sufficient.
There is a reason for the use of three letters on the top line
of the new (ghost) address. If—heaven forbid!—someone should
send me a letter by registered mail, the person chosen to show
up at the post office will be one of three persons I know in Grand
Forks. Their last names start with R, M, or S. If they have to
show ID, they will identify themselves as one of the three associates in the address. The three-initial address has been working well ever since, with no problems. I highly recommend this
system for at least one of your ghost addresses.
Check the yellow pages for small offices that offer business services. Some of the categories might be Accountants, Advertising,
Bookkeeping, Consulting, Insurance, Delivery Services, Office &
Desk Space Rental, and Delivery Services. Don't call them, go
in person. Discuss whatever services they offer, and then, as
you're leaving, imitate Peter Falk in the old Columbo shows:
"Oh, by the way, do you happen to accept mail here for any
of your clients?" If they do not, move on. If, however, they say,
"Well, only for three or four . . ." see if they will take you on. If
they agree, you can almost certainly be added to their list without showing ID. These small services sort mail by name alone,
without a box number added. The ideal address is one on a street
that also has private residences—the type of street address you
will need for such things as a library card or a driver's license.
An out-of-state address is Level Three privacy at its best. For
this, you will need the help of someone you trust. When your
friend receives mail for you at his home or business address, he
will mail it on to you in a plain envelope. Such an address will
be a necessity if you obtain an out-of-state driver's license because you will need an address in that same state.
Even if you are not yet prepared to use an out-of-state address, keep it in mind for the future. It works best if you know
a certain area well in another state—perhaps because you used
to live there, or visit relatives there. (More will be said about
this in Chapters 12 and 13.)
Only you yourself can answer. Hopefully, when you made the
arrangements, you gave an address other than your own, and no
telephone number. However, have they gotten to know you? Do
they recognize your car? If so, might they have seen it in front
of your home? What follows is a chilling example of what unfortunately goes on every day, not only at commercial mail drops
but even at some of the ghost addresses.
Let's call her Sally Overstreet. She is a newspaper reporter
who has twice moved to avoid an ex-lover who has been stalking
her for years. Unknown to Sally, her stalker is now working with
a private investigator, a.k.a. a gumshoe or private eye.
The PI shows up at her ghost address. He is wearing a UPS
uniform and carries a box addressed to Sally Overstreet. The
return address is that of a major New York publisher. The "UPS"
man says he must pick up a certified check for $200 before leaving the box. The next day is a Saturday—or a holiday—and the
UPS man insists the box is something Ms. Overstreet has to have
TODAY. Could the folks at the ghost address kindly tell him
where Ms. Overstreet can be reached? How about a telephone
number? Where does she work, maybe the box can be delivered
there? This ruse often works, which is why it remains so popular.
The PI in the uniform need not appear to be from the UPS.
Perhaps it is from FedEx, Brink's Security, or Flowers R Us. The
return address and the story that comes with it can be anything.
The object is the same, to find anyone at your mailing address
that knows how to locate you.
There are two ways to protect yourself from this deception.
One is to make sure that no one at your ghost address knows
anything about you. The other is to use persons who, although
they know you, will positively protect you. If the latter, then
make sure they know about the various scams that may be used
in an attempt to deceive them.
The hardest part of keeping your actual home address a secret is
to educate your family to never, ever give out your home address
to other than relatives and close friends. And even then . . . not
always, for they may innocently pass on your address to others.
Even private investigators and policemen may have problems
within the family.
Geraldine Adams, a private investigator in a southern state,
specializes in tracking down corporate burglaries. (A stolen notebook computer with corporate files can fetch up to $50,000.)
She had recently been responsible for a police raid and two arrests and as a result, threats had been made on her life: Both she
and her husband Tom, a self-employed accountant, took these
threats seriously, sold their home in the suburbs, and moved to
a new and supposedly secret apartment in the city. They also
changed banks and used a telephone answering service for receiving mail. One day Geraldine returned home and was stunned
to find in the mail a box of new checks that her husband had
ordered from the local bank. Imprinted on every check was the
Adams's new residence address! (She destroyed the checks, said
some unkind words to her husband, and ordered new checks
herself from Checks in the Mail.)
Mateo, a police detective in Miami, was hated by innumerable bad guys he'd helped put away. For that reason, he was obsessive about keeping his home address secret. One day, while
he was at work, his pregnant wife started to hemorrhage. When
she could not locate her husband, she called 9-1-1. An ambulance took her to Emergency and when asked, rather than give
their alternate address, she gave her actual home address. (For
what she should have done, see the section Calls to 9-1-1 later
in this chapter.)
A month later, as a result of this indiscretion, Mateo sold their
home and moved.
With one exception, there is no number or mailbox at any of
our homes on either side of the Atlantic. There may be some
local laws about displaying house numbers, but if so, I have never
known it to be enforced. The reason we do not give anyone our
house number is that eventually someone will write it down. Then
they may use the address to send a thank-you note and the mail
person will discover (1) who lives at that address and (2) that
there is no mailbox.
Some friends of ours did let the number remain, on a house
they purchased. They neglected to warn a visiting aunt that they
never received mail at home. At Christmastime, she sent them
a gift subscription to Robb Report. Guess what address she
used. . . .
If you delete the number on your house but still need to have
others find it, here's a little trick. If guests are coming, tell them
that once they pass a certain landmark or cross street, "Watch
for a house on the right with a pink flamingo on the lawn."
(Don't forget to go out and plant the bird before they arrive.
Extract it after they leave. They may never find the place again.)
I have a cartoon tacked on my office wall that shows a middleaged couple in their living room, dressed to go out. The front
door is open, and four large suitcases are sitting in the entrance.
The husband is pouring gasoline on the carpet. The wife, who
holds a can of gasoline in her left hand, is standing along one
wall, talking to their daughter on the telephone. She says, "Oh,
that sounds lovely, dear, but I'm afraid your father and I have
already made plans." Although arson is not recommended, the
following solution is.
I learned this one from a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) agent I met while staying in a motel that was
near a flooded area. Two years ago he bought a $98,995 motor
home under another name, and did not license it. This was because he didn't purchase the RV for travel purposes but for his
personal residence that would only occasionally be moved. (He
thus saved not only the license fees and road tax, but an
$8,513.57 sales tax as well.) For $12 he got a fifteen-day permit
to move it to a rural location in another state. Once or twice a
year he moves it, each time getting a temporary permit. Try to
find out where this agent actually lives!
What should I do if someone sends me a registered letter?
Although some paranoid types refuse all registered mail, I
am usually curious enough to accept it. However, I never sign
the name that was used in the address. If there is no return
receipt requested, I just scribble some meaningless lines (see
Chapter 7). If a return receipt is requested, then I write Not
Here. I have practiced the "Not-Here" signature enough times so
that at first glance it just looks like a normal signature. Not once
has a postal employee even bothered to look at how I signed the
card. When the sender receives his card back and discovers the
signature reads "Not Here," he will assume someone else had
to sign because I was away. . . and perhaps I have not yet
received it.
We do use our home address on our tax returns, but isn't
that information confidential?
Louis R. Mizell, Jr., a former special agent and intelligence
officer with the U.S. Department of State and a prolific author,
tells the story of Lee Willis, a lowly clerk with the Internal Revenue Service. Willis had been stalking his ex-girlfriend for sixteen
months. She thought she was safe because her home address was
kept secret, her telephone number was kept secret, and she made
sure her friends and neighbors kept a lookout for the stalker.
Although fifty-six thousand IRS employees have access to
taxpayer files, Willis was not one of them. He did, however,
persuade a coworker to run a search for him illegally. The exgirlfriend was filing her tax returns under her true address! Willis
raced to her apartment building. The lobby was locked, but he
pressed all the buzzers and one of the neighbors let him in. At
the last moment, the girl discovered he was in the building,
called the police, and they arrested him. When they then
searched Willis's car, they found a stun gun, rope, latex gloves,
duct tape, and a knife.
Does that answer your question? Let's say each of the fifty-
six thousand IRS employees with access to the records has five
close friends, and each of these friends has five close friends of
his own. Are you willing to bet your life that not one of these
1.4 million would ever commit an illegal act, or coerce another
into doing so?
Is it OK to put my true home address on the bags I check
when making a trip by air?
Am I not getting through here? "Do not, as long as you live,
ever again allow your real name to be coupled with your home
address." This includes the address on baggage tags. Baggage handlers are just as tempted by money as anyone else, and some
burglars pay well for the name and address of someone who has
just left on a trip. Better yet, do not check any bags at all. (See
Chapter 16.)
Why would I want an out-of-state driver's license?
As a result of the stalking and murder of an actress a few
years ago (the murderer got her address from the Department
of Motor Vehicles), California passed a law designed to keep the
information on one's drivers license private. But is it? Not according to a news broadcast on Fox TV. "The state of California,"
said the commentator, "earns $62 million a year selling the information on drivers' licenses to attorneys, investigators, employers, and financial institutions." As for the other forty-nine
states, the general public has access to the records.
If, therefore, a private investigator wants some fast information about you, he may first try the Internet Department
of Motor Vehicles. (See the Web site at
dmv.htm.) For $20, he can search any one state, to bring up
your address and date of birth. If he assumes you are licensed in
the state where you live, his search will come up blank. He may
then search the bordering states at the same price of $20 per
state. If you are not there either, he may assume you do not have
a license and therefore not continue with that particular search.
If you have a choice, use a distant state for your driver's li-
cense. As for whether or not to have matching out-of-state license plates, see Chapter 13.
Do I need a passport even though I have no plans to
travel overseas?
Absolutely! If you do not have a passport, apply for one as
soon as you have an acceptable ghost address. Use it for ID instead of your driver's license when cashing checks, identifying
yourself at the airport, etc. Remember, a passport does not show
your address or your Social Security number.
Shy and unready men are great betrayers of secrets; for
there are few wants more urgent for the moment than the
want of something to say.
George Joseph Phillips, who lives in the 600 block of South D
Street in Tacoma, Washington, is a photographer. His nightmare
began when he called Washington Energy Services Co. to get a
new furnace and water heater installed. When work began, an
employee spotted some darkroom chemicals and, apparently unfamiliar with darkroom supplies, told his boss he saw chemicals
in the home that he felt might be used to manufacture drugs. A
company official then notified the police. Please pay more than
the usual attention to what followed, according to an article
about Phillips's lawsuit in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer titled "Utility's house call became a nightmare":
". . . Phillips claims that after the company reported its suspicions to police, a member of the Police Department asked the
company to gather information from Phillips' home so police
could obtain a search warrant."
The article goes on to report Phillips's claim that the employees—yes, the ones Phillips was paying to install the furnace
and water heater—then tried to take "pictures of the home's
interior, searched through Phillips's personal effects and opened
dozens of boxes of light-sensitive paper." Further, he suspects
they also searched his computer files because his computer was
broken and beyond repair after the search. Whether or not this
was an illegal and unconstitutional search—and I think it was—
let's benefit from this shall we? The next time a worker enters
your home, think beforehand about what could possibly give him
a false impression. Then, when you let him in, stick with him.
The following is based on information from the January 1994
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, now in the public domain. This
applies to any home that federal agents would like to search, but
for lack of evidence are unable to obtain a warrant. Here is how
it works:
A van that appears to be from a well-known courier service
pulls into your driveway and the driver, with a package in hand,
rings your bell. He asks for a certain person and when you say
no such person lives at this address, he asks to use your telephone
"to call the company." If you allow him to do it, and if—while
in your home—he observes anything that might be illegal, he may
return within a few hours. This time he'll be with police officers
who might have a warrant to search your home, based on what
the "deliveryman" observed earlier.
You and I are law-abiding persons, with nothing to hide. Nevertheless, why invite strangers into your home? Just say no, and
give the location of the nearest pay phone. Or, if you need an
excuse, here are several:
• "My husband," says the wife, "told me never to allow
strangers into the house when he's not here."
• "The phone's not working right now."
• "Our only phone line is tied into the Internet."
Sometimes, of course, no warrant is needed, as the following
section explains.
The only sure way to avoid having someone send you an envelope or a package by courier is to never, ever, let anyone other
than your closest friends know where you really live. The result
is that, should a uniformed courier show up on your doorstep—
or even a clown with balloons—you automatically know that he
or she doesn't belong there.
In fact, if you see someone coming up the walk—or observe
them through the peephole I hope you have in your door—and
do not know them, why open at all? When I was younger, cars
were stolen, not hijacked, but improvements in car alarms have
brought about a change. The same is starting to be true with
house burglaries, now that locks and burglar alarms have improved. Thugs may just ring your doorbell. When you open, they
slam their way in. Housejacking startled in New York some years
ago, and it will soon be coming to a city near you.
Now then, just in case you consider some of my advice to be
extreme—and I confess that many do—I am willing to discuss
some options. I don't recommend them, but better half an ounce
of prevention than none at all.
Home delivery: Remember the cardinal rule? "Do not, as long as
you live, ever again allow your real name to be coupled with
your home address." If then, you are going to have a delivery
made to where you really live, it must not be in your name. All
courier companies keep a national database of names and addresses and countless thousands of their employees can run a
search of your name. PIs know this, and many have contacts
inside these companies.
If, in fact, you have ever received a letter or package at your
present address and under your real name, the only way to protect your privacy is to move. Once this move has been made,
and if you are determined to have delivery made at your home,
then it must be in another name. When you sign for the courier,
you sign the other name.
You may get by with no problems doing this, as long as you
do not order expensive items from out of state. If you do, however, keep in mind that in states with a sales tax, it is not uncommon for irate neighbors to call the tax department and report
that the people next door are buying such-and-such to avoid the
state's sales tax. (You do know, do you not, that you are obligated to "voluntarily" pay the local sales tax on merchandise purchased from out of state?)
The logical solution to anonymity with courier services would
seem to be to have your parcels come into one of their nearby
offices and just pick them up there. Unfortunately, these companies do not employ logic. Whereas they never ask for ID at a
private home, they absolutely demand it if you stop by one of
their offices to pick anything up. I have argued this point in vain
with the various home offices, pointing out that if I send a package in a certain name, I will sign a waiver to the effect that they
may deliver to any person asking for it in that name. After all,
this is similar to item number eight on all FedEx labels, which
reads RELEASE SIGNATURE. Sign to authorize delivery without obtaining signature. In fact, if you really wish to remain incognito,
have the sender sign on the line for this release and when you
see the FedEx truck arrive, do not answer the door.
But do not pick up at their office. I sent an e-mail to the
FedEx main office, pleading for permission to send a letter to
one of my clients who would not present ID when he picked it
up at an office in Memphis. I received this reply, short but not
Thank you for your inquiry, FedEx requires a valid consignee
name and phone number for shipments that are held for pickup. More hold for pick-up information can be found on our
website at:
http://fedex. com/us/services/conditions/domestic/hold. html
Thank you for your interest in FedEx.
Susan Carr
FedEx Webmaster
Mail-Drop Pickup: Although USPS regulations require two forms
of ID in order to receive mail at a commercial mail-receiving
agency, FedEx, UPS, and other couriers services are not bound
by these regulations. So then, you can receive a shipment in your
name or in a business name without showing ID. Here's how it
Assume I live in Piano, Texas. I wish to have a friend from
New York City send me a small box that will not be identified
with me in any way. Not by my name, and not by my address.
I look up Mail Boxes Etc. in the yellow pages, choose one of the
six offices listed, and have my wife make the call. The conversation goes like this:
"Hello, this is Mary Johnson with Triple-R Services in New
York. I wish to send a small box to your address, for pickup by
one of our salesman traveling through. Will that be satisfactory?"
"No problem—in whose name will it be?"
"We'll just send it to your address in the name of Triple-R
Services. Anyone that asks for a package in that name can pick
it up."
"There is a small pickup fee, of course . . ."
"No problem."
I then call my friend, who ships the package. The following
week I stop by and pick up the box. (I had my wife make the call
so that when I ask for the box, the manager does not recognize my
rather odd accent and connect it with the "New York" caller.) Or,
I can send anyone else around on my behalf, anyone at all.
If no one knows where you live, it is extremely unlikely that
police will ever show up at your door. If, therefore, you see what
appear to be policemen coming up your walk (or seen through
your peephole), do not open the door. Call the police department, or even 9-1-1 on your cell phone, to check them out.
Several years ago, two men who identified themselves as police
officers entered a home in a Los Angeles suburb and tied up the
couple who lived there. Both wore dark clothing and caps with
the word "POLICE" on the brow. They then stole a thousand
dollars in cash and a laptop computer.
"Unfortunately, this happens too often," said LAPD spokesman Lt. Anthony Alba, "but generally on the eastside or the
southside of town, where recent immigrants might not be familiar
with our law-enforcement officials. This one's a bit different." He
referred to the fact that the victims were from a relatively quiet
street in a predominantly middle-class neighborhood.
Later, two Los Angeles men suspected of committing more
than eighty home-invasion robberies were arrested and a press
conference was held. Among the more than one hundred items
confiscated from the men's home were night-vision goggles, official Los Angeles police badges, handcuffs, five handguns, a
sawed-off shotgun, an assault rifle, and hundreds of rounds of
In summary, a ghost address will give you not only protection
but peace of mind as well. No longer will you have to wonder
about who is coming to your door. If it is not someone you
recognize, then—since no one else has this address—they have
no business there. The postman? Ignore him! Woman dressed in
a FedEx uniform? Ignore her! Two or three guys with leather
jackets? Don't even think of answering the door! (See how easy
it is, once you eliminate all traces of your home address?)
Can a bounty hunter legally break into my home?
If you ever post bail via a bondsman, and fail to show up in
court, then the answer is YES, INDEED. There have been a
number of articles and programs about this fact. As reported on
the CBS program 60 Minutes, a bounty hunter—unlike the
police—can search whatever he likes without a warrant. He can
break down doors, read mail, boot up computers, copy keys,
whatever. The justification for all this is that anyone arranging
bail through a bondsman signs a contract, and the bounty hunter
is merely fulfilling the fine print in said contract. So if any of you
readers ever forfeit bail, you'd better make sure your home
address is really private.
A more likely danger is that, knowingly or unknowingly, you
invite someone into your home that has forfeited bail. This might
be a relative, a close friend, maybe even your brother, or grown
son or daughter. You might wish to give this some thought, the
next time a certain someone "stops by." In some cases, there is
a danger even in knowing the persons the bounty hunters are
after. One person interviewed on the 60 Minutes program told
of a couple being held and grilled for eleven hours by bounty
hunters intent on getting enough information to track down
someone this couple knew.
If someone pounds on your door and yells "Special Agent!"
you are about to meet one or more bounty hunters in person.
Do not be fooled by the fact they may wear uniforms, carry
badges, and at first glance appear to be with the FBI or the ATF.
Or, they may get you to open the door by dressing as an
employee of UPS, FedEx, or the U.S. Postal Service. In one case,
the hunters determined that one particular tough quarry—who
was wise to all normal ruses—had a young daughter whose
birthday was coming up. They waited until that day, then sent
in a clown with balloons. He passed muster with the closedcircuit video, the door was opened, and you can guess the rest.
We are about to move to another state. Is it safe to use a
mover such as Allied, Bekins, or Mayflower?
Not if you value your privacy. Most—if not all—interstate
moving services keep computer records and PIs know and use
this. Keep in mind that even though you give the movers a different name, the computers can be searched by address as well.
If, therefore, an investigator tracks down your present address
and discovers you have moved, he will have an accomplice check
the records to see what name you used, and the destination street
When we move—which is more often than my wife would
like—I pay a driver to rent the largest size Ryder truck in his
name. I then look under "Movers" in the yellow pages. There is
usually a subsection called "Student Movers," self-employed
husky young men that load and unload trucks for an hourly
wage. They load the truck, the driver drives it, and at the destination another set of student movers unloads it. My driver then
either drops off the truck in a nearby city, or drives it back to
the city of origin. Ryder puts everything into their computers,
but what do they have? Certainly not my name, and neither the
previous street address nor the new one. Incidentally, you will
often save a bundle of money with this method.
An alternative solution is to arrange for the Mother of All
Moving Sales. Then buy a one-ton pickup and a fifth-wheel
travel trailer. License each in a separate company, as discussed
in Chapter 12, and be on your way in total privacy.
What about the cleaning lady or the carpet cleaner?
At the very least, use someone that your friends have used
for years and will recommend without reservations. However, if
you have secrets to protect, this precaution may not be enough.
PIs have been known to offer serious money to obtain trash from
a home office before it has been shredded.
My next suggestion may be worth far more to you than the
price you paid for this book. Use someone who is an unusually
active member of the Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Unlike those from mainstream religions, you will seldom
if ever find a longtime member of these three religions in jail
unless—as in some countries—they are there for their faith.
These people believe their Creator is watching them and most
would rather die than steal. The only problem is, will they want
to clean your home or your carpet?
Of the three groups, I am least familiar with the Adventists.
I suggest you contact the pastor of a nearby SDA church, explain
what you are looking for, and ask if any members do cleaning
work. If they do, tactfully ask how long they have been Adventists and how active they are in the church.
If you contact the Mormons, note that they refer to one another as "LDS," or Latter-day Saints. Howard Hughes used Mormons for bodyguards and trusted them completely. I would also
trust certain ones in financial matters, such as for hawala banking
(see Chapter 14). By "certain ones," I mean those that have demonstrated their faith by being missionaries in a foreign land for
two years. The only problem here is that not many LDS are into
cleaning. They lean more toward commercial enterprises.
A little-known fact about Jehovah's Witnesses is that in many
cities they do 80 percent of the nightly cleaning in office buildings and an even higher percentage in clinics. They also do much
of the cleaning in upscale homes where security is especially important. There are three reasons for this:
1. They prefer to work late at night or very early in the morning so they are free to attend three meetings a week and
three conventions a year. They usually clean for a flat rate,
work fast, and earn from $20 to $40 an hour.
2. A number of them have carpet-cleaning businesses and
many will accept any honorable work, however humble.
3. They are so well-known for honesty that word of mouth
keeps them in constant demand in the janitorial field.
Although we would be happy to employ LDS or Mormons
in any of our homes, in actual practice we usually end up with
Witnesses. Although they call their church buildings Kingdom
Halls, we look them up in the yellow pages under "Churches."
Over the years, we have learned that the best time to call a
Kingdom Hall is between 6:45 and 7:10 on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. This is just before they have one of their meetings. Ask to speak to one of the elders. If they are busy, leave
your number and have them call back. When an elder comes on
the line, do not use a title such as pastor or Reverend—they do
not use titles. Just explain what you need.
There is no need to be embarrassed about calling. NonWitness persons often call Kingdom Halls to ask who is looking
for work. (Besides janitorial, they are in demand where large
sums of money are being handled.) If you are unusually concerned about privacy, say that you prefer a worker who is a
"pioneer." This is the term Witnesses use for those who put most
of their time in the Bible-teaching work. They cannot be pioneers unless they have an excellent reputation both within and
without their congregation. And not to worry—they won't
preach to you while on the job!
If any of you readers know of another religious group that is
also widely known for honesty and integrity and often do cleaning
work, please let me know. Perhaps I can include them in the
next edition.
What about letting a baby-sitter into our home?
If the baby-sitter is Grandma, there should be no problem.
Other than that, tune your radio into the Dr. Laura Schlessinger
Show. Better yet, call Dr. Laura. Ask her what she thinks about
abandoning your little trolls to a sitter. (Best to be sitting down
for the answer.)
Even if you survive the phone call and are determined to call
in a sitter, do you still harbor vague fears? Then spend about $60
for a voice-activated tape recorder with multiple pickup microphones. You may hear phone calls, boyfriends coming to visit,
or sounds of child abuse. A better solution is to install a nannycam and see what goes on in living color. Perhaps she is checking
out your computer or going through your drawers!
Actually, however, if you suspect the sitter may need electronic surveillance, your fears are probably justified. Find someone else or bring in Grandma.
Satisfaction Guaranteed or Double Your Garbage Back
This is a short but vital chapter, absolutely essential in order to
achieve your goal. Let's start out with an opportunity for you to
play detective. See if you can solve the mystery.
A bilingual private investigator in San Jose, California, takes
a call from a law firm in San Diego. They wish to locate a certain
Victor R—in order to serve a subpoena in a civil lawsuit. They
have only three pieces of information:
1. Victor, who was born in Ameca, Jalisco, is staying with
friends from his home town. They live "somewhere" near
Lake Tahoe, on the California-Nevada border.
2. Victor has a younger brother named Fernando who rents
a one-bedroom unit in a sixty-four-unit apartment complex in San Jose. However, the PI is not to contact Fernando because if he does, Fernando will tip off his brother.
Worse, the lawyers want fast results and yet they put a limit
on what the PI may spend. If he needs any helpers, he will have
to use slave labor. The intrepid PI takes the job, despite the
following drawbacks:
• If Victor is with friends, there is no way to track him
down via rental agreement, telephone, or utilities.
• There are more than ten thousand Latinos in the Lake
Tahoe area and nearly 80 percent of them come from
the same place: Ameca, Jalisco (Mexico).
• A quick check shows that there is no telephone at Fernando's apartment.
Our intrepid PI is on the job that very evening, prepared for
action. What he wants is every bit of the garbage and trash that
leaves Fernando's apartment for the next thirty days. He observes
that there are two large Dumpsters near the entrance of the
parking lot, and learns that they are dumped between 3 and 4
A.M. every day. There is no uniformity in the bags the residents
are using. Some are paper, some are white plastic bags from the
supermarkets, and some are large black trash bags. The PI knows
of a Guatemalan family where three teenagers are desperate for
work, any kind of work, even diving into Dumpsters.
Here is where you get to play detective.
How will his Guatemalan friends know which garbage belongs to Fernando?
[Take five, see if you can guess the answer. This is not rocket
Okay, check your answer with what happened next. Late that
evening, the PI went from door to door, calling at each of the
sixteen apartments that were on Fernando's floor. He wore a
uniform with a name tag and presented each renter with a free
supply of thirty trash bags, speaking Spanish or English as the
occasion warranted.
"This is part of an experiment by our company," he said with
a disarming smile. "The idea is to see if these extra-strong bags
will cause less spillage when our trucks unload at the processing
plant. If you and your neighbors use these bags for the next thirty
days, we may continue to furnish them at no charge."
A young, pregnant woman answered the door at Fernando's
apartment. He gave her the pitch and handed her the bags.
"Muchas gracias," she said. "Muy amable."
"No hay de que. Que tenga un buen dia." Have a nice day.
Then the three Guatemalans got their assignment. They were
to take turns drifting past the Dumpsters both morning and evening, checking to see if there was a bag from Fernando's apartment. For every bag they brought in, the PI would pay them $20
cash. If he found what he was looking for, there would be a $100
In the next two weeks, they brought in nine bags and were
paid $180. Two days later they brought in the bag that paid a
$50 bonus—Fernando had a cell phone, and he had tossed the
statement in the trash after tearing it up. Pieced together with
tape, it showed six long-distance calls to the same number at
Zephyr Cove on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. That was all it
would take to track down Victor, at a cost of $230 to the kids
and $96 for the bags.
Have you have already guessed how the kids knew which bags
to pick up?
Yes, it was just as you thought. At fifteen doors, the PI gave
away dark green bags. At Fernando's door, he handed over dark
blue bags.
That was the windup. Here comes the pitch.
To paraphrase Johnnie Cochran:
If it can be read
Then you must shred.
Trash is not the remains of food. That is garbage. Trash is everything else. Unfortunately, the two may be mixed unless it is coming from an office building. Trash is to a detective what a gold
nugget is to a prospector. Just imagine—if you dare—what investigators would have learned about you and your family if they
had secretly gone through your trash for the last ninety days. We
shall assume they started with a blank sheet, having no idea as
to the occupants of your home. To put a picture together, they
would have watched for any of the items in the following list. If
anything were torn up, it would have been pieced back together.
• Bank statements with your name, address, account number, etc.
• Telephone bills with your number, and the long-distance
calls you made.
• Utility and other bills, showing the name and address
you use for those.
• Credit-card statements and receipts, invoices, automatic
teller receipts.
• Paycheck and/or money order stubs.
• Empty bottles from prescription medicine, with your
doctor's name.
• Personal and business letters. All address labels.
• Scraps of paper that might reveal a name or phone number.
• Matchbooks. Inside covers checked for phone numbers.
• Anything to indicate drug use, including triangular scraps
of paper.
• Itemized grocery and pharmacy slips, for evidence of alcohol, illness, condoms, birth-control pills, or anything to
indicate homosexual activity.
• Classified ads from newspapers, to see if anything is circled.
• Magazines, travel brochures, or anything that would indicate interest in weapons, strange practices, or overseas
What else can you think of, in your particular case? Or that
of your friends, relatives, or even your children?
Do you have a weekly arrangement for a woman to come in
and clean? Does she have access to the trash?
If you work in an office, who handles the trash? Did you know
that in some cases, janitors are bribed to turn trash from a specific office over to private investigators? Or—worse!—government agents?
Most likely, if you do everything else right, no one will be
able to sift through your trash because they cannot find you in
the first place. But if they do (perhaps by following you home),
then make sure all papers have been shredded and that there is
nothing further to be revealed from your trash.
By utilities I mean the companies that furnish electricity, garbage
pickup, water and sewer connections, and natural or propane gas.
(Telephones will be discussed in Chapter 8.) Never give your
true name—much less your SSN or date of birth!—to a utility
company, nor to any other private company that will furnish a
service at your actual residence.
Rather, if you own your home in the name of a trust, give
each company the name of the trust and insist that the name in
the company database is in the name of the trust only. In fact,
do not give them your own name under any condition. Try a
fictitious one, or use the wife's maiden name. Even then, this
should just be her middle initial plus last name. Do not furnish
her Social Security number or date of birth.
A quick and dirty method of setting up the utility accounts
on short notice is to use a nominee, someone that will act on
your behalf. (See Chapter 9.) Usually, the utility company will
demand a cash deposit in lieu of being able to check your credit
by using your Social Security number. Fine, give them a money
order or a bank check for the deposit. It will be returned to you
after one year of on-time payments. Make sure that the bills
never come to your home address. Give them your ghost address,
explaining that (a) you do not have a mailbox at the street address and (b) all bills are paid from your "business" (ghost) address.
What has been accomplished? Just this: If a private investigator—acting on behalf of a stalker or working with a law firm
or insurance company—starts searching for you, one of the first
places he will check (after cable TV) will be the utility companies. If your name is in any database, the PI will obtain the address. But as long as your name never shows up, the search will
be in vain.
How can I get rid of trash other than by shredding it?
If you have a fireplace or a wood-burning stove, perhaps you
can burn it. Otherwise, toss your statements, bills, etc. into a
box that is reserved for this purpose. Be sure to include all
envelopes that indicate your name and ghost address. (Don't
forget the junk-mail offers.) Then cut through the addresses and
put one half of each address in one pile, the other half in a second
pile. Bundle them up and toss the piles in separate public trash
My Social Security number? If you insist. . . 078-051120.
In 1973, George Norman left Denver, Colorado, in a borrowed
car. He was skipping out on an impending two-year prison
sentence for embezzling some $500,000 from the now-defunct
Rocky Mountain Bank. Over the years he ran this "starter money"
into $50 million by legal means, dabbling in oil in Houston and
starting software companies in Oregon and Utah.
Although he knew that U.S. marshals were after him, rather
than move to Mexico or Canada he stayed in the United States,
relying on alternate names to protect him. Some of the names
he used were George Larson, Max Morris, George Irving, Frick
Jensen, Gunner Isoz, J. Blankman, and Dr. James Hill.
Had private parties been employing detectives to pursue him,
the money would have run out before many years had passed.
However, with government agents, money does not run out.
Twenty-three years passed before Norman, for whatever reason,
felt compelled to give out a Social Security number. Rather than
use his own, or invent one, he used the number of a person he
knew was dead. This Social Security number came up on a government computer as that of Tom Dangelis, red-flagged as
George Norman's wife's Donna's deceased grandfather! The result was this headline in the Sunday, December 1, 1996 Los
Yes, Norman needed catching, and they caught him. But the
point is, privacy isn't only for criminals, it's also desirable for
white-hat folks like you and me, and this story certainly illustrates the point about not using someone else's SSN. It also tells
us, as I say in chapter 1, that when the chips go down for whatever reason, your first priority may be to gain time to sort things
However, a Social Security number is not the only way to
quickly track you down—your date of birth is another:
No matter how common your name, you can be quickly identified in a database by coupling either your name or your birth
date with your address. Keeping your true home address a secret
has already been discussed. As for a birth date, I seldom give out
any date whatsoever.
For instance, just a few days ago I stopped in at a shopping
mall to have my eyes tested. The doctor's assistant handed me a
long form to fill out, asking among other things my address, telephone number, Social Security number, and date of birth. I explained that I did hot live in the area, did not give out my SSN,
and my age was in the "early seventies." No objection was raised.
During the exam, the doctor asked me what I did for a living.
"I'm a writer."
"Oh? What do you write?"
"Articles and books about keeping your private life private.
Which is why I didn't give you a Social Security number or a
date of birth."
"Oh well," replied the doctor, "except for insurance cases, I
don't need that stuff on the form anyway!" (But they don't tell
you that when they hand you the form, right?)
My next stop was nearby, at one of those national chains that
have optical shops in malls. I picked out the two frames I wanted
and the young salesclerk started to fill in the form.
"Address?" she said.
"No local address, I live in Spain." After a puzzled look, she
wrote down the address of the store itself.
"Telephone number?"
"Sorry, no telephone." She wrote down the number of the
"Date of birth?"
"Why on earth," I said, "would the purchase of two pairs of
glasses require a date of birth?"
"The date of birth is how we identify our customers."
"I do not wish to be identified." Long pause. Then she left it
blank. The next question of the form was for a Social Security
number but at that point the girl just shrugged and didn't even
ask me.
Personally, I enjoy these challenges, but some of my clients
do not. In fact, they hate confrontations of any kind. Often, if
filling in a form yourself, you can just write "legal age." Another
alternative is to give a fictitious month and day, and a year a bit
before or after the real one. If you feel obligated to give a date
of birth, choose one that is easy to remember, such as a national
holiday. Make yourself a few years younger at the same time.
The Privacy Act of 1974 (Pub. L. 93-579, I section 7) requires
that any federal, state, or local government agency that requests
your Social Security number must tell you four things:
1. Whether disclosure of your SSN is required or optional.
2. What statute or other authority requires this number.
3. How they will use your SSN, once they have it.
4. What will happen if you do not provide them with your
So then, if you are asked for your SSN by any federal, state,
or local government agency (including any state university that
accepts federal funds), look for the Privacy Act Statement. If it
isn't there, ask to see it before you give your number. (Failure
to provide a SSN will not prevent you from getting a passport,
for example.) Since the subject of this book is privacy, not tax
evasion, I see no problem in furnishing your SSN to the Internal
Revenue Service.
Public Law 104-208, passed in 1996, imposes an unprecedented threat regarding driver's licenses. Section 656 provides
that after October 1, 2000, federal agencies may not accept for
any identification-related purpose a driver's license issued by a
state unless the license contains a Social Security account number that can be read visually or by electronic means. (Because of
strong public objections, Congress has just placed a one-year
moratorium on implementation of this provision, pushing it
ahead to October 1, 2001.)
It appears that a few states—for now—will continue to allow
an "alternate number" based on your SSN. The state has a formula for converting that number back into the SSN. Thus the
SSN is at least hidden from most nongovernmental agencies that
will ask to see, or even photocopy, your driver's license. Check
with your local Department of Motor Vehicles (in some states
called the Department of Safety or something similar] for additional information.
Actually, apart from the state agency that issues driver's licenses, there's not much of a problem when dealing with government agencies. It's the private organizations that can give you
industrial-strength depression. The low-level clerk behind the
counter expects you to fill out that form completely. After all,
"everyone else does," and it's "the company policy." So let's consider some of these private agencies or organizations:
If you work for wages, the IRS requires the employer to get your
SSN. Sometimes they will ask for it before you're hired, so they
can check your credit and criminal (if any) record. Tell them
you'll give your SSN if and when actually hired for the job. if
this is not acceptable, ask yourself, "How badly do I want this
If you do take the job, know that your name, address, and
Social Security number must by law go into the database for the
National Directory of New Hires within twenty calendar days.
This applies to virtually every person who is hired in the United
States. The only wiggle room here is with the address. Remember the rule? "Do not, as long as you live, ever again allow your
real name to be coupled with your home address." Therefore,
you will give your employer only your ghost address.
In some cases, you may be able to work as an independent
contractor and thus avoid giving out your Social Security
number. This is easier than it used to be because in 1998, the
IRS burden-of-proof rules were changed in the independent contractor's favor. If you think you might qualify as an independent
contractor, consult a CPA.
If you qualify for Medicare and wish to use it, you'll need to
furnish your true SSN. Other than that, I know of no law that
requires your SSN to be an ID number. Insurance companies can
often be persuaded to use another number in lieu of the SSN.
True, the insurance companies do send information to the Medical Information Bureau (MIB), but I've been told the MIB does
not use SNNs as identifiers, nor do they report SSNs when making reports.
Remember, when a private investigator has an associate
search for your records in the Medical Information Bureau, many
identical names may come up. His first choice for picking you
out will be your date of birth, and his second choice will be
whatever address he may have for you (if any). The very last
thing you want on your record is a consultation that indicates a
nervous disorder, a psychiatric problem, or a sexually transmitted
disease. For these, pay cash and use a false name. Better yet, pop
over into Canada or Mexico. If you can afford it, skip Medicare
altogether and just pay all bills in cash. No personal information
needed for that.
If you must have a U.S. bank account, open it in a business name
or in that of another person. When cashing checks, do not use
your driver's license for identification. Rather, use your passport
• It does not show your Social Security number.
• It does not show any address for you, not even the state
or country in which you live.
• Unlike the Department of Motor Vehicles (or whatever
name it has in your state), you cannot easily be traced
with your passport number.
Occasionally, after presenting my passport, I have been asked
for my driver's license. I reply that I do not use my driver's
license for ID. In one small town, the bank teller confessed that
she had never seen a passport before! I had to point out where
the number was, so she could write it on the third-party check
I was cashing.
The emphasis on the last five letters is intentional, because some
of them do indeed act as lords. A false SSN will not usually work
here, as landlords like to check credit records and in some cases
there is a statewide database that is in effect a blacklist of undesirable tenants. How badly do you want to live in the Bel-Air
penthouse apartment, or (as the case may be) in that 1958
Rick-A-Tee mobile home?
You may be tempted to threaten the landlord with legal action such as discrimination, but in this case remember: Sun beats
wind. Ask him or her to kindly call your previous landlord (if
you dare). Or offer an extra-large deposit, interest-free, which is
to be returned after one year if you prove to be the model tenant
you say you are.
A Social Security number is normally required for the IRS reporting forms. One way around this is never actually to buy real
estate. Rent, lease, or take options. Another is to purchase and
sell in the name of an LLC. Your accountant may suggest you
get a tax identification number (TIN) for the LLC. This is a
number that is obtained from the IRS by filling out and submitting Form SS-4. It is used instead of a Social Security number so
if you have a TIN, use that. A better solution, however, is to
have a minority member of the LLC furnish his or her SSN. (If
a taxable gain may result when the property is sold, discuss with
your accountant how best to handle this.)
A federal court of appeals has ruled that using a false SSN to
obtain a driver's license is illegal. Other than that, there appears
to be no legal penalty for giving a wrong number as long as there
is no intent to:
(a) deceive a government agency,
(b) commit fraud, or
(c) obtain a specific benefit.
If, then, you are someday asked for your SSN in an innocuous
circumstance where you know this number will not be checked,
you may be tempted to transpose two digits in the last four.
(Never transpose any digits in the first three because.these are
state ID numbers.) "If they ever ask," you might tell yourself,
"I'll just say it was an accident."
However, I do not recommend this. You have no way of
knowing who the real number belongs to. What if it identifies a
drug dealer, a child pornographer, or someone who died in 1975?
What I do recommend is that you either give your true number when absolutely required, or else no number at all. Nevertheless, knowing that you may someday be tempted to give a
false number, here are three ways to come up with a Social
Security number which, although false, will not identify you with
anyone else.
1. Invent a number that lists the state of your choice in the
first field, followed by 00 in the second field, as there are
no legitimate SSNs with all zeroes in any field.
2. Start the number with 987-65- and then pick a number
for the last four digits between 4320 and 4329. These are
the numbers allowed for use in advertisements.
3. Fifty years ago, new wallets with a celluloid window insert
came with a sample Social Security card included, and this
number was always 078-05-1120. You might, therefore,
jot this number down and keep it your wallet or purse for
emergency use.
There is a web site at
you can check to see if a Social Security number has ever been
issued. Those listed for items one and two, above, show them to
be invalid. However, when I ran the third number at this site,
this was the response:
SSN 078-05-1120 was VALIDLY ISSUED between 1934 and
1951 in NY.
So then, if you give that number as your own but fear it might
be checked, "remember" that you were in New York at the time.
It would also be helpful to look at least sixty-four years old, as
SSNs were seldom issued to children in those years.
Very important: Never use any of the above numbers with a
government agency. Even lowly clerks will recognize them.
Who knows when you will:
(a) lose your purse or wallet,
(b) have it stolen, or
(c) have the contents searched, following a traffic stop?
Therefore, do not carry your Social Security card with you,
nor any document that lists your SSN. (Since you will never
again use your driver's license for identification, leave it in your
car.) If you carry a health-insurance card or are under Medicare,
I suggest you photocopy the card and block out the SSN. You
can give your SSN to the health-care provider orally, if and when
In some cases it may be extremely difficult to obtain credit without revealing your number, so you'll have to ask yourself a question: "How desperately do I need this credit?" The correct answer
should be, "Not that desperately!" In the Computer Privacy Handbook, author Andre Bacard quotes his grandfather's opinion of
"I'm 80 years old and free because I never owed a dime.
Young people are addicted to credit. Mark my words, Andre.
Credit will lead to a police state in America. I hope I die before then."
My Scottish father and my Norwegian mother ran their lives
the same way, quoting Proverbs 22:7 to my sister and me: "The
borrower is servant to the lender." The advice was sound. I pass
it on to you.
If you truly wish to become invisible, never apply for personal
credit. (There is occasionally a business exception, but credit in
this case should be extended only to your corporation or limitedliability company.) We raised our children to pay cash or go
without, we recommend the same to all our friends, and we
stand by our own example even when discussing the International Dream: "Owning Your Own Home."
Incidentally, home ownership is overrated. It is usually cheaper
to rent or lease your living quarters. Further, should disaster
strike from whatever direction, as a renter you can move before
the sun rises tomorrow morning. The homeowner, on the other
hand, will dawdle and procrastinate, and in some cases this delay
can be fatal.
Until my wife and I were in our fifties, we rented, period.
When we finally did build our first home on Lanzarote Island,
perched on a cliff fifteen hundred feet above the Atlantic, we
followed the Spanish custom and paid cash for every brick and
rock and block. Unlike the Spanish way of thinking, however,
we were mentally prepared to walk away and leave it if we had
to. Since then we've built homes both there and in North Amer-
ica, always for cash, and only because we can afford this totally
unnecessary luxury.
When the day comes that we can't afford to walk (or run)
away and leave a house behind, we'll sell it, stash the cash, and
go back to renting. In, as always, another name.
Isn't giving out a false SSN a federal offense according to
U.S. Code: Title 42, Section 408?
Before preparing this chapter I read 42 U.S.C 408 and also
Case 94-5721 in the United States Court of Appeals for the
Fourth Circuit: United States of America v. Eunice Arnetta Harris
Sparks. I am not an attorney, so this is just a layman's opinion:
There does not seem to be any basis for a court case if there
is no intent to deceive, and if no benefit is obtained. (In the above
court case, the defendant purchased a car on credit, gave a false
SSN, and then failed to make the payments.)
Can I get by without a passport, and still maintain my privacy?
Yes of course . . . if you never travel by air, never pay in a
store by check, never cash a check at a bank, never receive a
registered letter, and are never otherwise called upon to prove
your age or identity. Since this may not be practical for you, let's
discuss another aspect of drivers' licenses.
A recent news program on national television discussed the
sale of pictures that go with state drivers' licenses. The buyer is
a company called Image Data. What had previously been kept
secret was now made public (i.e., that the source of Image Data's
financing came from the United States Secret Service). Image
Data says the only use for these pictures will be for businesses
that accept checks. They will scan your driver's license and check
the picture on the screen to be sure it is really you. Two questions arise:
(1) What use does the U.S. Secret Service have in mind for
these pictures?
(2) Why was Image Data attempting to hide the U.S. Secret
Service connection?
I cannot answer these questions. What I can do, however, is
to continue to urge you not to use your driver's license for anything other than showing it to a policeman if you are stopped
for a violation. (And do all within your power never to be
Remember, for the past twenty years, most states have been
selling the data from driver's licenses. This includes your height,
weight, and "home address," none of which shows up on a passport. Also, as I have said before, if an investigator wishes to check
you out, one of the first places he will check is the DMV in the
state in which you live. I therefore say—once again—one of the
very best ways to maintain your privacy is to obtain a passport
and use it for identification.
What if a Social Security number is required for a hunting
or fishing license?
Many states do require a Social Security number for registering a boat or buying a hunting or fishing license. The boat, of
course, can be registered in the name of a limited-liability company (see Chapter 12). You may wish to hunt or fish in another
state—one that does not require an SSN. The nonresident license
will cost you more, but if saving money is important, meat and
fish are available at the supermarket.
Can I just apply for a new Social Security number?
Many books have been published with advice about how to
illegally obtain a new Social Security number. Some authors
recommend you tell some wild story about how you were living
in the jungles of New Guinea and just got back. More often, it
is suggested you comb old newspapers for children who died
young, and obtain—or fake—their birth certificate. These books
are out-of-date because, as of January 1, 2000, the Social Security Administration—with only three exceptions—will no longer
issue Social Security cards to anyone other than newborn infants.
The exceptions are:
1. Those relocated with new identities under the Federal
Witness Security program.
2. Individuals who can prove they were victims of "identity
theft" when criminals used their number repeatedly to get
credit cards, make loans, and engage in other financial
3. Abused women who are hiding from husbands, exhusbands, or former lovers. Until the latter part of 1999,
only about 150 new numbers were granted each year.
However, as of the year 2000, the Social Security Administration expects to grant new numbers much more freely.
In addition to original documents establishing your age,
identity, and U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status, you
will be asked for both your old and new names if you have
changed your name. You must also present evidence
showing you have custody of children for whom you are
requesting new numbers and evidence you may have documenting the harassment or abuse. The best evidence of
abuse will come from third parties such as police, medical
facilities, or doctors. Other evidence may include court restraining orders, letters from shelters, family members,
friends, counselors, or others who have knowledge of the
domestic violence or abuse. (For additional information
about new numbers for abused women, go to the agency's
Web site,]
Can I avoid giving my Social Security number on the basis
of Revelation, Chapter 13?
I assume you are referring to the belief, held sincerely by
some, that a Social Security number is the "mark of the beast."
Is it true that in the past, several persons have won court cases
objecting on religious grounds to state requirements for an SSN
as a condition to receiving a driver's license. In Leahy v. District
of Columbia, the circuit court upheld John C. Leahy's religious
objection to providing his Social Security number in order to get
a driver's license.
Later, five plaintiffs sued the City of Los Angeles on religious
objection grounds, objecting to the state's requirement that
driver's license applicants must provide a social security number
as a condition of getting a license. They won the case in the state
superior court, but I have since heard the state appealed that
An October 25, 1997, headline in the Los Angeles Times said,
"Religious Objections to DMV Upheld." The subtitle was, "Judge
says five men do not need Social Security numbers to get licenses. They contend that the identification is the satanic 'mark
of the beast.' " The article, written by staff writer John Dart,
reads in part:
In the first court decision to declare that a driver's license
applicant can refuse to give the Department of Motor Vehicles a Social Security number for religious reasons, a Los
Angeles Superior Court has ruled that the DMV must
accommodate five men who contend that the numbers are
the "mark of the beast" in the Bible's Book of Revelation.
In handing down the decision, Superior Court Judge Diane Wayne said last week that the state agency could use
another method of identification in light of the men's "sincerely held religious convictions . . . that anyone who uses
his or her Social Security number is in danger of not receiving eternal life."
If you really, truly believe that the use of a Social Security
number violates your religious beliefs, then take your stand. If
you go to jail—and some have—you will be suffering for what
you feel is a righteous cause. But if you are thinking of challenging the authorities and just using religion as an excuse, then I
urge you to back off. Join the rest of us who do furnish the
number when absolutely necessary . . . but never otherwise.
How can we maintain our privacy when we start having
children, and especially when they start in school?
You are required to obtain a Social Security number for each
child that you claim as a dependent on your tax return. The obvious solution is not to claim them as dependents.
In the public school system, the authorities demand an SSN
from every student. The solution here is either home schooling
or a private school. At at no time do I ever say privacy is cheap,
at least to begin with. (If a lawsuit—or worse—is someday
avoided by the measures you have taken, then it will have been
economical after all.)
Friendly tip: Raise your children to be self-employed when they
leave home, so that their names will never, ever, go into the
National Directory for New Hires. And just think of all the
money you'll save by not sending them to college! (I am a university dropout, just like Bill Gates. I don't know about Gates,
but I myself have never regretted dropping out back in the
1940s. Not for a day, an hour, or a minute.)
Why be difficult, when with a bit of effort, you can be
Anyone can sign your name. If your attorney, CPA, or anyone else
warns you that you cannot legally sign another person's name,
ask them to prove it. (They will be unable to do so.) The only
caveat is that the person's name you are about to sign must authorize this by telephone at the time of signature.
Example: You have the tax return for your Wyoming corporation, Oliver's Oddities, ready to mail on the due date. Problem:
you forgot that your cousin Oliver, who is substituting for you
as the sole director, will have to sign. Although Oliver is currently on an Arctic fishing trip, you reach him by telephone at
the Frontier Lodge on Great Slave Lake.
"Oliver, we need to mail the tax return to the IRS today. OK
if I sign your name as president?"
"Sure, why not?"
That's it. Go ahead and sign his name. All the IRS wants to
see is a signature. My only suggestion here is that, when Oliver
returns, have him sign an acknowledgment affirming for the private corporate records that permission was given via a telephone
call the same day. Clip this to your copy of the return.
Example: Your husband John is off hunting elk in the Rocky
Mountains when an unforeseen emergency leaves you short of
cash for Saturday night bingo. In the morning's mail comes his
Social Security check. You cannot reach John because he is
camping out and doesn't have a cell phone. Question: Can you
sign his name and deposit his check in your joint account?
Yes, because you know that, if any question comes up later,
he will acknowledge your signature as his own. Naturally, you
sign the check before you go to the bank. (Note: Many husbands
and wives practice signing each other's signatures for just such
purposes as this, and some are skilled enough to fool any banker
in the land.)
Warning: If, instead of going hunting, John ran off with that
cute little secretary from the office, he will not want you to sign
his name, in which case, repeat after me:
"DO . . . NOT. . . SIGN!"
You can use any number of different signatures, including illegible
ones. In fact, among European businessmen, illegible is the order
of the day. I used to work with a banker in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. His name was Hector Adelfonso de la Torre Romero y
Ortega. This was his signature:
"But why," I'm often asked, "would anyone want an illegible signature?" Well, for signing letters to your friends, you do not want
one, but why not have an alternative, illegible signature you can
reproduce at will? Here are several reasons why such signatures
are used so widely in Europe:
• If a copy of a secret letter comes to light, the identity of
the signer will not be evident.
• For faxes, the signature is recognized only by those with
the right to know.
• Bank accounts can be in the name of another person or
in the name of a legal entity, and the one receiving such
a check will have no clue as to the signer. (Note: There
should be no problem, in any event, with the bank itself.
Only the smallest of banks actually check signatures.)
Why would you, a model citizen and taxpayer, ever temporarily
need another name? The reasons given in many books include
overwhelming debts, threatened vengeance by wrathful in-laws,
a marriage gone bad, or getting on a Mafia hit list. But circumstances and situations can change in a heartbeat, and thousands
of persons living a tranquil life one day have resorted to flight
the next. The fact that you are right and the charges are wrong
may be meaningless—just ask any lawyer if he can get you justice. The stock answer is, "How much justice can you afford?"
By the way, let's not call your second name an "alias"; that's
only for the criminal types. What you want is a perfectly respectable alternate name, an assumed name, a nom de plume,
nom de guerre, also called a pseudonym. (These can be used
almost anywhere, as long as there is no intent to defraud.) Have
you ever thought about being in the movies, even as an "extra"?
Then you'll want a stage name. Or perhaps you'd like to be a
writer, like Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain? If so, your jour-
ney will begin with the first step, choosing a pen name. (Women
often use their maiden names in business and either men or
women can adapt the British custom of using a hyphenated
name. If Hillary Clinton did this, she would write her name Hillary Rodham-Clinton and in an alphabetical listing such a name
would be under "R.") However, a pen name can be any name
you like.
For privacy, nothing beats a common name because it is so
hard to identify which one belongs to you. (Just ask any PI.) If
your name is, for example, Meinhard Leuchtenmueller, you will
want to use a much more common name where possible. Suppose you will be working out of an address in Minneapolis. Why
not use something like M. Anderson for your mail-order business? (There are more than ten thousand M. Andersons in the
United States, most of them in the upper Midwest.) Or, if you
work out of Miami or Los Angeles, you might try M. Hernandez.
Check the local telephone directories for the most common
names in your area.
A surprising number of people—even in America—have a desire
for some sort of title that will make them feel important. If they
wish, they can call themselves a doctor, a lawyer, a CPA, or a
captain with Northwest Airlines. That is, in the United States.
(Do not try this in Europe!) In the Land of the Free, it is not
what you call yourself but what you practice. If you are a "CPA,"
do not advise anyone on taxes. If you pose as a lawyer, do not
give any opinions on the law.
For many, the title of choice will be "doctor." Here are some
guidelines for wanna-be doctors:
Do not give advice. Explain that you are not "that kind" of a
doctor. Maybe you deal only with viruses from Chad. Also, you
will certainly be truthful when—if called upon for some emer-
gency—you say you are not in "practice" and do not therefore
carry malpractice insurance. Frank Abagnale, Jr., in his intriguing
book Catch Me If You Can, says that when passing himself off
as a doctor in the state of Georgia, he had a standard answer for
anyone who asked what kind of doctor he was.
"I'm not practicing right now," he said, identifying himself as
a pediatrician. "My practice is in California and I've taken a leave
of absence for one year to audit some research projects at Emory
University and to make some investments."
However, Abagnale did not always stick to his standard answer. On one occasion, an attractive brunette mentioned an
"odd, tight feeling" in her chest. He did examine her privately.
His diagnosis was that her brassiere was too small.
Do not do as he did unless you are willing to risk both civil
and criminal charges of assault.
It is permissible to act the part. Subscribe to a couple of medical
magazines and carry one around. Wear a smock with a stethoscope in the pocket.
"You can even join the county medical society" says Jack Luger, in his book Counterfeit I.D. Made Easy. He says you can
sjmply explain that you are not licensed in the state because
you're doing research rather than holding a practice and that the
most that can happen is they'll refuse to accept you.
As this book goes to press, the state of Wyoming still allows you
to incorporate in the name of a person, with no corporate identifier such as Inc. or Ltd. at the end of the name. If you choose
to go this route, however, I suggest you act quickly. The Wyoming legislature has a nasty habit of changing the rules with no
advance notice, and making them retroactive. (For further details, see Chapter 10.)
From a long article in the Los Angeles Times, February 8, 1999,
under the subtitle "Some Fear Seeking Care":
It's 10 p.m. Do you know where your medical records
are? . . . Your medical records can turn up in places you'd
never imagine, read by people you've never met. . . . It's
hard to believe that in a country where video rental records are protected by law, medical records are not.. ..
A survey commissioned by the California HealthCare
Foundation ... found that one in six Americans engages
in "privacy protected behaviors," such as paying out of
pocket for care otherwise covered by insurance, lying to
their doctor about their medical history or being afraid to
get care.. . .
LaTanya Sweeney, an assistant professor of public policy at Mellon University in Pittsburgh, demonstrated how
easy it is to pierce the privacy in so-called anonymous
medical records. Even when names have been stripped off
records that contain date of birth, sex, race and diagnostics, she can readily re-identify the individual by crossreferencing with a $20 voter registration list. . . .
In one instance, she looked at data from the city of
Cambridge, Mass., population 54,000, and was able to
identify former Gov. William Weld because only five people in the city—and only one in his ZIP Code—had his
date of birth.
The conclusions that some people may draw from articles like
this are:
• Do not give the doctor a complete medical history.
• Change the birth date. Use a false Social Security number.
• Get off voter rolls and never return.
]If you
have an e-mail account, you are most likely getting offers
to purchase either fake driver's licenses or computer programs
that will generate fake ID. Or, if you search the Internet for
"Fake ID," you will come up with an endless supply of offers.
Because my clients kept asking me about these Web sites, I
started sending in money orders to check them out. Sometimes
I received a grossly inferior product. Other times I received nothing at all. Eventually I stopped losing time and money this way.
Lee Lapin, author of How to Get Anything on Anybody—The
Newsletter, came to the same conclusion. In his September 1999
issue, referring to fake ID offers he wrote, in capital letters, "AS
How can I change my name legally?
This is seldom recommended. After all, you may use one or
more additional names and still retain your legal name. However,
to answer the question: When you legally change your name,
you abandon your present name and choose a new one of your
liking. I suggest you choose a common name, one that will be
shared with thousands of others. In the USA, 25 percent of men
of retirement age have one of the following names: John,
William, James, Charles, or George. As for a last name, why not
pick a family name from the Mayflower? Here are some of the
more common names, culled from a complete list kept by
Christopher Jones, Master, A.D. 1620:
Alden, Browne, Carter, Clarke, Cooke, Fuller, Martin, Priest,
Rogers, Thompson, Turner, Warren, White, and Williams.
The usual rules apply (i.e., the new name may not be the
same as that of a famous person, nor can there be intent to
defraud). There are two methods to do this:
The use method: You simply begin using your new name
everywhere. This may involve changing your driver's license,
your bank accounts, and all other areas where your present name
appears. Be prepared to spend some serious time with this. The
biggest stumbling block may be at the DMV. At the very least,
you will need to fill out a form for this purpose before receiving
your new driver's license. Often you will be asked for an original
document such as a birth or marriage certificate. Remember, this
use method requires no lawyer, no trip to the courthouse, and is
not legally registered anywhere.
The court method: State statutes regarding legal name changes
vary, so if you dislike the requirements in one state, check those
in another. A lawyer is not necessary, so do not use one; they
keep records in their files. Various books on name changes are
available and you may find one or more of these at your local
library. A date will be set for a court appearance, and the judge
will question you to make sure you are not changing your name
for a deceitful purpose. If no such reason emerges, you can
expect approval of your new name, and this name change will
be valid in all fifty states and the District of Columbia.
Remember, you have left a paper trail. There is a file in some
file cabinet that contains the name you were born with.
Warning: Some name-changers have been known to bribe an
employee to take their old file and accidentally "misfile" it inside
another, thicker file—some old,case that's long since been
settled. Although that does solve the "paper trail" problem, do
not do it. It is a criminal action. Some doing this have been
caught. Further, it is not necessary. I have already outlined ways
to use alternate names in a hundred percent legal way. Reread
this chapter again.
What do you think about fake passports?
In 1992 I was offered a passport from the "Dominion of Melchizedek." I turned it down. (As you know, Melchizedek was the
King of Salem, mentioned in Genesis. No country was ever
named for him.) Less than a year later, I read about one of the
promoters being arrested at Incline Village, on the Nevada side
of Lake Tahoe. What surprised me wasn't that he was arrested—
I expected that—but that before being caught he'd sold
thousands of the fake Melchizedek passports at inflated prices.
Another "country" currently being touted is Sealand.
Remember the murder of Gianni Versace? An article in the
Seattle Post-Intelligencer headlined "Cunanan shaved his head,
grew a beard," discussed Miami Beach houseboat owner Torsten
Franz Reineck. I quote from paragraph eight:
Reineck, 49, claims to be from an unrecognized nation
called the Principality of Sealand, according to law enforcement authorities. The Miami Herald reported yesterday
that Reineck claims to be a diplomat from Sealand, which
issues its own passports. He drives a car bearing diplomatic plates from the make-believe principality, the paper
I never recommend false passports, not even from former
nations such as British Honduras [now Belize]. Nor fake license
plates. All this does is draw attention to yourself, which you do
not need.
What if someone like Sears demands my name before they
will sell me a large item?
First, allow me to describe my own experience with Sears. Less
than a year ago, my wife and I went to a Sears store to buy an upright vacuum. The first hint of incompetence came when I asked
the salesperson if I could speak to someone who thoroughly understood the differences between the models. Puffing out a more
than ample breast, she assured me that she was that person.
"OK, fine. How many motors does this Whispertone upright
"Hey, Anna!" she yelled, at a woman three aisles over. "How
many motors in this red one?" Anna told her there were two, as
I suspected. So much for this clerk's expertise. But the "red one"
looked good so I said I'd take it, and would she kindly take the
cash and ring it up as we were in a hurry? Here is the conversation that followed:
"Name, address, and telephone number?" she said, chubby
fingers poised over the computer keyboard at the cash register.
"We live in the Canary Islands and have no local address.
Besides, this is cash, remember?"
"Doesn't matter, the computer won't accept the sale without
a name, address, and telephone number."
"You mean to tell me you refuse to sell me a vacuum cleaner
unless I identify myself?"
"That's right, I can't sell it without putting a name, address,
and telephone number into the computer."
"Call your supervisor."
The supervisor appeared out of nowhere, got the picture at a
glance, and whispered to the clerk, "Type in Sears and pick any
name whatever." So she typed in "Sears," choose the name "Dennis Searson" and as far as Sears is concerned, Dennis bought a
vacuum that day. I went back to the shipping department,
handed in the slip, and three minutes later the vacuum came out
on a hand truck.
"Dennis Searson?" said the young man, looking around.
"Here!" I said. And that was how we got our vacuum cleaner.
And now to answer your question: Don't make waves, as I
did. (For me, making a fuss is just a hobby, but my wife is still
embarrassed when I say, "Call your supervisor.") Just memorize
a fake name, address, and telephone number that you can rattle
off with ease. Or go through an old file of business cards, pick a
name you like, and carry the card. When you asked for your
name, address, and phone number, just have the clerk copy off
the information on the card.
I don't have any old business cards. Where can I quickly
find some?
Go to a restaurant where they have a box or bowl for business
for business cards. (You drop your card in, with the object of
winning a free meal for two if the card is picked in a drawing.)
I know of no law that prohibits you from reaching in there and
grabbing a handful. Be discreet, of course. . . .
Question: What do the police call an illegal wiretap?
Answer: A "confidential informant."
In 1977, California millionaire Gary Allen Bandy purchased land
near the rural community of Gardiner on Washington state's
Olympic Peninsula. He then proceeded to build a castle and
other medieval buildings, bringing in artists to carve intricate
Norwegian trolls on wooden posts. He was subsequently featured
in the National Enquirer as an eccentric millionaire surrounded
by his medieval buildings and trolls.
In 1991, a son was born to Gary and his wife Eva. Later, they
separated, and in 1995, divorce proceedings were begun. Eva
hired attorney Natalie De Maar. Gary hired attorney Steven
Fields. Bitter charges flew back and forth as Gary and Eva battled
for custody of son Geoff, then four.
Eva Bandy rented a home in the upscale community of Gig
Harbor, at the northern end of the Tacoma Narrows bridge. The
owner lived just across the street. His name was James Wilburn
and he was a private investigator. What followed next was the
subject of an article in the Peninsula Daily News:
Bandy's attorney, Steven Fields, was leaving a voice mail
message for Eva Bandy's attorney, Natalie De Maar. He
was using the speakerphone. Sitting in his office was
Bandy and another attorney. Fields thought he disconnected the speakerphone and proceeded to have a conversation with Bandy.
What Fields failed to realize was that the speakerphone was
not disconnected. Therefore, when Bandy admitted that he had
hired an investigator to put a wiretap on his wife's phone, his
words were being recorded on attorney Natalie De Maar's answering machine tape. The tape eventually wound up in the
hands of the FBI, who then raided Bandy's home at Gardiner
Beach and his 50-foot yacht at a nearby marina. A week later,
Bandy was arrested while on a trip through Idaho.
What have we learned so far?
1. Some PIs will bug cars and residences if the pay is right.
2. Some lawyers cannot be trusted with confidential information.
3. When it comes to speakerphones and answering machines,
(to paraphrase Murphy's law), any mistake that can be
made will be made, and at the worst possible moment.
We can learn more. Gary Allen Bandy was sentenced to two
months in prison and five years of probation. He was also fined
$21,138. He will be subject to drug and alcohol testing, and as a
convicted felon, will be prohibited from possessing any firearms.
Attorney Steven Fields did not go to jail. There are no laws
against stupidity.
The private investigator did not go to jail. The article did not
say if he turned state's evidence, so I can only state a general truth:
No matter how much you trust an attorney, a doctor, a CPA or a
private investigator, when a prosecutor starts talking jail time,
these and other professionals may give you up in a heartbeat. (The
G. Gordon Liddy types are a disappearing species.)
"Telephone security" is an oxymoron because a telephone conversation is never secure. It goes over hard lines, may be beamed
up and down from satellites, or travel via digital or analog radio
waves, and it can be intercepted. There are other ways to communicate, and thousands of privacy seekers in Europe and North
America have come to the same conclusion. So here is my very
best advice to you, right from the start: Get rid of your telephones.
If, however, you cannot imagine life without a telephone,
then let us proceed to Plan B. Here are some of the questions
you will have to answer, sooner or later:
• In what name will your telephone be (un)listed?
• Hard-line, cordless, cellular, and/or satellite?
• Incoming calls: forwarded from an 800 number, or from
another location? Or via an alphanumeric pager?
• Will you use an answering machine and if so, with what
• Should you consider VHF-FM radio? Voice mail?
• What if—horror of horrors—you must call 9-1-1?
An unlisted number is no longer the protection it used to be.
Many unlisted telephone numbers now appear on the Internet
as well as on the ubiquitous CD-ROM directories, and these
allow for reverse searches.
Example: Your wife gets the telephone in her maiden name,
Harriet Helpless. It is unlisted and has call-blocking. Nevertheless, from time to times she calls toll-free numbers. All toll free
numbers have Automatic Number Identification (ANI) and these
numbers are captured. Eventually this number will be in various
databases. Then, if this number is given out to the wrong person,
he or she will type the number into a ProPhone or PhoneDisc
program, or check on the Internet, and come up with both her
name and street address.
It may boggle your mind to know how many CD-ROM directories are out there, with thousands more being sold in the
time it takes to read this section. In fact, if you have a CD-ROM
drive on your computer, you, too, should purchase a phone directory from your favorite discount price club, if you haven't
already done so. The two best CD-ROM phonebooks are
PhoneDisc PowerFinder (800-284-8353 or 301-657-8548) and
SelectPhone Deluxe from ProPhone (800-992-3766). SelectPhone is the most user-friendly, but a recent survey showed that
a majority of private detectives use PhoneDisc. Either is fine, and
I use both. Be sure to get the latest edition, as they are updated
Alternatively, if you are on the Net, similar information is
available at
The conclusion, then, about unlisted numbers, is that they
are not secure. Always remember that if you give out a telephone
number that is on a land line, a reverse search may reveal whatever name you used to obtain the service, plus the street address.
Therefore, never give out such a number to those not entitled
to have it.
If you list your telephone in an alternate name . . .
Use a common name that is the same as that of many other
people, so that you cannot be singled out. I like first names like
John, Robert, Mary, and Elizabeth, with surnames like Johnson,
Cohen, McDonald, Anderson, and Brown. Never use a middle
name or initial. To see why, pick any combination of the
foregoing (Mary Johnson, John McDonald, et al.) and do a search
on your CD-ROM phonebook. Watch the hundreds if not
thousands of duplicate names scroll by, which means your telephone name has a better chance of being lost in the clutter.
Note: How not to answer the telephone: Until the present moment,
you or members of your family may have been answering the
telephone with phrases such as:
"Buddy Barrington here."
"This is the Barrington residence."
"Hi, this is Betty!"
"Barrington's Invisible Inc."
However, what if the telephone company is calling, or a private detective is on the line, or a process server with a subpoena
that has your name on that document in his inside sport coat
pocket? A simple "Hello" or "Good morning" will suffice, or a
repetition of the last four digits of the telephone number. If that
stifles your spirit, try
"Hello from the Garden City, how may I help you?," or
"Hi there, it's a great day here in Butte, Montana, let's talk]"
Let the caller be the one to mention a name, and when necessary, answer with a question. Let's say you're Buddy Barrington
but the phone is in the name of John Johnson, the car's in the
name of Ole Olson, and the house and utilities are in the name
of The Tin Man Trust.
Caller A: "Good morning! How are you today, sir?"
You say: "What are you selling?" (When "How-are-you?"
rather than your name, follows "Hello," you know it's a salesperson.)
Caller B: "May I speak to Mrs. Johnson, please?"
You say: "What is this in reference to, please?"
Caller B: "This is Cora with the Crystal County Sheriff's Department." Don't panic. Don't speak; wait for more information.
Caller B: "We're sponsoring the Crystal County Crusade
Against Crime, and for a small donation you can—"
You say: "Mrs. Johnson won't be here for at least two months,
but thank you for calling, good-bye."
Practice beforehand and in time you'll stop getting sweaty
hands and an accelerated heartbeat.
We've all heard instructions like "Please leave a message for
Buddy, Betty, or Little Boseefus." Not cool. A simple "Please
leave your name, number and message at the sound of the beep"
will do fine.
Some of our antisocial friends do not want messages left by
anyone other than friends who know them. If we call Betty and
Buddy, this is the message we get:
"Hello, glad you called the home of B, B, and Little B. We
never answer in person. Please leave your first, middle, and last
name, Social Security number, date of birth, street address, and
telephone number. Sorry, but if you fail to leave complete information, your call will not be returned—beeeeep!"
If we call Nick and Amy, we get another message:
"Congratulations, you've just reached the Niccolo Machiavelli
Misinformation Centre. Since we never answer in person, be sure
to leave your name and number. After we've doctored the tape,
your message will implicate you in a KKK plot to assassinate
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and this will be
brought to the attention of the FBI—beeeeep!"
Friends of these two couples know they can go ahead and
leave a message anyway.
If you are not yet willing or able to move to a new location, you
may still contact the telephone company to say you are moving
away. (If asked, tell them you are moving to Mexico City or to
London.) Set a date for the service to be discontinued.
A few days or weeks later, order a new telephone, which will
of course have different numbers. If you are using a nominee—
an alternative person—have him or her make the call. This person will not admit to having had service before.
Since no credit history is available, the telephone company
will ask for a cash deposit to ensure payment. Stop by their offices or mail in a money order for the requested amount—usually
a few hundred dollars. Assuming you pay your bills on time,
expect your deposit to be returned to you at the end of one year.
Various companies sell units that filter out unwanted calls. One
of the original ones was a unit called LineMinder, sold by LM
Communications, 997 Senate Drive, Centerville, Ohio 45459.
Before your telephone rings, the LineMinder intercepts the call
and replies in a recorded voice:
"Hello, this is LineMinder, please enter your security code."
Your friends, of course, will know the code because you have
given it to them, but strangers will not. If the caller enters a
wrong number or no number at all, the recorded voice says "Security violation" and terminates the call.
When the correct code is entered, LineMinder responds,
"Thank you, now ringing," and then, for the first time, you hear
your phone ring.
I recently tested a similar unit, the Ad-Tec TS-300 TeleScreen, from the Edge Co. P.O. Box 826, Brattleboro, VT
053202 for $44.95 (1-800-732-9976). It is similar to the
LineMinder. When your telephone number is dialed, a female
voice asks the caller to please punch in the four-digit security
number. Once again, unless the correct number is then entered,
the call will not go through. The four-digit code can be set to
any number, and you can change it at will. However, the only
ring comes from the Tele-Screen unit itself. The ringer on your
telephone stays silent, and the ring from the Tele-Screen is not
very loud. There must be some solution to this problem but it
will be difficult to call the manufacturer because they are made
somewhere in Taiwan.
About two years ago, ABC television's Good Morning America
ran a feature about the extreme dangers inherent in the use of
cheap cordless phones. Charles Gibson quoted authorities that
say 65 percent of all Americans have a cordless phone in the
house and "90 percent of all conversations can be listened to."
And many are! One unhappy cordless owner, interviewed in
shadow, said he was suing the manufacturer, because the instruction booklet said his cordless phone was "secure." He was also
suing the dealer, because the salesman confirmed the information
that conversations would be secure. Believing what he heard and
read, he then used this phone to talk about intimate details of
his life with his lawyer, his doctor, and others. When a friend
finally confessed to him that neighbors were scanning every conversation—and laughing!—he was so embarrassed that he sold
his home and moved away.
In one sense, the ABC television program was incomplete.
Suppose you watched that program and, as a result, decided not
to use your cordless phone for any sensitive conversations in the
future. Let's say you decide to make a really secret call to your
friend George (knowing that a certain party would sue both you
and George for slander if it was overheard).
Although there is only one line in your home (i.e., you have
just one telephone number), you have two phone jacks, one for
the cordless phone in the kitchen and the other for a normal
phone in your bedroom. To avoid the cordless, you use the
phone in the bedroom to make your call. Are you safe? Not
The base unit of many older cordless phones broadcasts the
incoming half of the conversation no matter which phone is
picked up, so although the neighbors may not hear what you say,
they'll certainly be able to hear every word from George, and
will fill in the blanks!
If you still want cordless, purchase an upscale digital (not
analog) model that transmits in the 800 or 900 MHz range. Although these can be scanned, they are reasonably secure because
both base and handset units talk to each other in a digital code,
randomly set to one of more than 65,000 codes. When I queried
international scanner expert Keith C—— about the 800/900
MHz phones, he replied:
"The spread-spectrum stuff is really hard to pick up—
nearly impossible. There is also less of a chance of interference from other phones. The 900 MHz cordless phone
band has quite a mix of equipment on it. Some of the
digital systems would be nearly impossible to listen in on.
However, there are also cheap analog phones on the 900
band so it's buyer beware. Do not be fooled by the claim
of digital security codes. Analog units can have this and
use the code just to establish the connection between the
base and handset. It just prevents unauthorized use of
your phone line."
Later, Keith said:
"The real question is who wants to listen? NSA could
monitor any of these easily. A private detective can probably pick up your call just from windowpane vibrations in
your home and may violate the law and eavesdrop. There
is sophisticated military type stuff that can capture your
keyboard strokes on your computer unless it is tempesthardened, and high-end eavesdropping equipment like
this may be used by law enforcement and the Mafia to
serve their purposes. If you are worried about a kid with
a baby monitor or Bearcat scanner, then the 900 MHz
spread-spectrum phones probably offer enough security."
Keep in mind, then, that digital codes operate only between
the base and the handset, not from the line to the base unit. If,
therefore, your telephone line is tapped, digital security will be
of no help.
When you make a sensitive call, do you make sure the person at
the other end is on a secure line? Earlier this year, I made a
sensitive telephone call to a certain person who lives in a large
trailer court on one of the islands in Puget Sound, Washington.
As the conversation grew more serious, she said, "Just a minute,
Jack, I'm going to switch to a more secure telephone." [Oh-oh!]
When she came back on the line, I learned she had been on a
portable phone, and now thought all was well because she was
using a hard-line telephone on the same line. When I asked her
how old the portable phone was, she said about six years. Fortunately, she and her husband also have another line for the fax
machine so she called me back on that line, and agreed to toss
the portable telephone in the trash. And listen to this: She then
told me she knew her calls were being monitored. She said there
were some "militia types" in the trailer court, and that some of
the neighbors had made comments about conversations she'd
had on the portable phone] Obviously I should have asked her,
"Are you on a portable telephone?" If she said no, then I should
have asked here, "Is there a portable phone on the same line?"
A more serious problem arises when you call someone whose
telephone—unknown to them—is tapped. In that case, no matter what preventive measures have been taken, you have a problem. ...
Two years ago, when I needed a cell phone on the West Coast,
I had a bad experience with AT&T. I was told that unless I furnished a Social Security number, I could not have a telephone
under any condition whatsoever.
"No Social Security number," said a man named Pedro, at an
AT&T office, "no telephone. That's our policy."
I demanded that Pedro call his superior. He did, and got the
same answer. He then called one of AT&Ts regional offices and
got through to someone who said his name was "George."
George said I could indeed have a cell phone . . . in return for a
$10,000 bank cashier's check. Pedro, stunned, again called his
superior. He in turn put a call through to a friend in AT&T's
administration headquarters. There, he was informed that no one
there was named George. (This was not a surprise. Little people
with authority often demand total identification from you but
use false names themselves to avoid responsibility.)
And as for requiring a $10,000 deposit, Pedro's boss was told
that such a thing could not have happened, impossible. "Either
we get a Social Security number," said the AT&T man, "or your
man gets no phone. End of story."
I then called my attorney in San Francisco. He said there was
nothing he could do personally. "However," he said, "you can
always call AT&T's legal department in either Seattle or Los
Angeles and threaten them with a lawsuit for discrimination. Just
don't tell 'em I said to do this."
The next day I did call (using a prepaid phone card at a pay
phone). I spoke to some woman who gave me a first and last
name which I assumed were both fakes. She also told me some
facts of life in a tone of voice that suggested she might have been
trained by F. Lee Bailey. The essence of the message was that
AT&T was not a public utility.
"Other companies offer similar services—go to them," she
said. "Either that, or take us to court, and lose your case."
It was now time for Plan B. I went to Air Touch Cellular,
gave them a bank cashier's check for $1,000 for a security deposit (in lieu of a Social Security number), and they handed me
a new phone on the spot. This cell phone cannot be traced back
to me. The bills go to a remote address in Minnesota and are
paid from there by money order. This phone is never turned on
except when I do so to call out. Therefore, it is almost impossible
to locate the phone, should anyone try to do so. (When a cell
phone is left on, it sends out a continuous signal identifying the
nearest cell tower.) The service includes voice mail, so I use this
number when a telephone number is required for some form.
Here is a simpler way: Get a nominee—someone who is willing to use his Social Security number, pay him $100 (or whatever it takes) for the effort, and have this person get the
telephone, giving one of your ghost addresses so you receive the
bills. (Make sure that mail will be received in his name, along
with whatever other names you are using there.)
As this book goes to press, AT&T is offering "Prepaid Wireless" to those that have poor credit. Costs are higher, but some
offices do not require a Social Security number. (Since managers
do not always agree, check with your local AT&T provider about
the SSN requirement.) They do ask for a telephone number but
the manager I spoke with insisted they do not check this number
since the customer must prepay all calls anyway.
Nevertheless, in view of my previous experience, I cannot in
good conscience recommend AT&T. If they do offer a prepaid
service, other companies will offer it as well. Ask around.
It is often thought that cell phones are reasonably secure because
U.S. law prohibits the sale or import of scanners that do not have
some of the frequencies blocked. However, there is no such law
in Canada. The result is that PIs and others smuggle in unblocked
scanners, and thus the danger remains. However, if you yourself
are thinking of obtaining an unblocked scanner for yourselves,
please note:
Many scanners sold in Canada are blocked because they were
manufactured in the United States. I recently spoke with the
manager of a RadioShack store in Surrey, BC. He said the scanners in his store all came in from Radio Shack in the States and
were therefore blocked, even though Canadian law does not prohibit him from carrying unblocked Unidens if he wishes to do
so. One store that does sell unblocked scanners is Durham Radio
Sales and Service Inc., 350 Wentworth Street East, Unit #7,
Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. Phone 905-436-2100. If you are on
the Net, try
I checked with the owner of this store. He will sell to me
across the counter, but will not ship to the States since the
United States prohibits such imports. I then checked with UPS,
to see if I might ship one of the scanners to a certain address
south of the border as a "gift" and list it as a walkie-talkie. They
handed me a copy of the form that must be filled out. A signature is required after these words: "I certify that all of the information given above is true and complete."
I was not prepared to sign this false statement, much less try
to sneak a scanner across the border. In fact, when I did cross
the border—sans scanner—the Customs officer asked me what I
had purchased in Canada, and I named the items. When it appeared I could then drive on, he suddenly barked, "Did you buy
anything else?" I was relieved to be able to say truthfully that no,
I had not.
Later, I managed to track down a Canadian electronics expert
on the Internet. He recommended I purchase a perfectly legal
(cell-blocked) Uniden Sportcat 150. He claimed it would do a
good job receiving cellular on "image" frequencies. (This means
that in addition to broadcasting on the assigned frequency, the
phone may accidentally send a second signal on another—unauthorized—frequency. Image frequencies show up when good de-
sign is compromised in the name of cutting costs.) The scanner
will pick up cell phone frequencies quite by accident on frequencies assigned for other purposes. (Cellular phones are not
transmitting on frequencies they are not assigned to. Rather, the
scanner picks up the chosen frequency and the cell frequency
simultaneously. I was told that if I searched the 800 MHz band,
I would hear cellular.)
I then located a Sportcat on the Internet for $159.95 plus
shipping, in order to test his claims. Once I figured out how to
run it, I scanned the unblocked area of the 800 MHz range. Yes,
it did indeed pick up cell-phone conversations—including one
by my wife!
This does not mean that the bad guys are out there night and
day, searching for your cell-phone conversations. It does mean,
however, that you should think twice before having any sensitive
conversations, and in any event you should never identify yourself by your full name.
The Los Angeles Times, in a recent article discussing so-called
privacy protection for the next-generation digital cellular telephones, had this to say:
Bruce Schneier, a well-known expert on code breaking,
and other researchers, have found a way to easily monitor
any numbers dialed on a digital telephone, such as credit
card numbers or passwords. In addition, they say, voice
conversations can easily be deciphered. The findings could
be a setback for the telecommunications industry, which
has touted the security features of the new digital cellular
and PCS systems.
Yes, cell phones can be traced to your general location, as
O. J. Simpson found out when he was in the white Bronco. But
if the police and/or a federal agency are about to go after you,
then you've got better things to do than to read this section. Skip
straight to Section 10, Anonymous travel in North America, and
study the part about crossing the border.
Beginning not later than October 1, 2001, wireless carriers
must—in theory—pinpoint the location of each caller to within
388 feet. Whether they can actually do that in rural areas with
few cell towers remains to be seen. In any event, I often prefer
a cellular phone to a hard line for the very real reason that it is
not tied to a physical location. In fact, you may wish to use a pager
in tandem with your cellular telephone. (As long as your cell
phone is turned off, it cannot be targeted.)
• Give out only your pager number.
• When you receive an alphanumeric message that you
wish to respond to, turn on your cell phone and call
Among other things, this will solve the problem of having
your batteries run down when your cell phone is on all the time.
Pagers (also called beepers): Many pager companies are not
as strict as the telephone companies, but if they are, there is
always the alternative of using another person's name. Two companies worth considering are PageNet and SkyTel. The alphanumeric pagers don't just beep; they send a visual message to
your pager wherever you may be.
Persons wishing to contact you call an 800 number with a live
operator. They give the message to the operator, who types it
into a computer, from which it is sent to the pager. If you happen to have a SkyCell 2-Way, the sender can give you multiple
choices and you can respond by number.
You'll see these advertised in yachting magazines. They were
developed for oceangoing ships, but some airlines use them now
for passengers, and you and I can use them anywhere, even in
an isolated mountain valley or in a trackless desert. Many of them
cost thousands of dollars and the rates are often three dollars per
minute. However, there is a new six-ounce satellite model coming out—Ericsson's 888-World—that lists for $299. It is said to
work in forty-eight countries. It uses the newer GSM cellular
network and bills international calls at one to two dollars per
minute. ICO Global also has a small unit in the works that may
incorporate a pager into the telephone. For detailed information
in this rapidly changing field, pick up the latest issue of Power &
Motoryacht magazine.
For years I have been carrying a pair of Standard HX250S VHF
radios—the marine equivalent of a CB radio, but without the
clutter. The FCC used to require a license to run these radios,
but at the present time no license is required.
Almost any VHF-FM radio can be special-ordered with a
scrambler that encrypts the transmissions. They must be ordered
in pairs and are popular among commercial fishermen who wish
to keep others from knowing what the catch is and where it's
located. You, however, do not want a scrambler because:
• All Coast Guard stations automatically unscramble all
conversations, and
• If a normal conversation is overheard, it won't attract attention, whereas a scrambled message may do just that,
and in any event,
• If you are stopped and searched for any reason, you
might pass off a regular radio as one you normally use
when "renting a fishing boat," but can you imagine explaining a scrambler by saying you are a commercial fisherman?
These radios are legal to use from boat to boat, or from boat
to shore, but not from land to land. The Coast Guard monitors
VHF calls, especially channels 9 and 16, so use other channels.
Even if they do overhear you, they may not try to locate you as
long as you avoid buzzwords like bomb, drugs, rape, and cash.
Should you decide to use a VHF-FM in whatever location,
remember that just one party speaks at a time. You push a
button when you are speaking, and release it when you finish.
You would decide beforehand which channel to use, avoiding
9 and 16. The correct form is to first state the name of the
boat you are calling, followed by your boat name, like "Pretty
Baby, this is Liquid Assets." You would then wait for an answer. Under no circumstances will I admit that any of the following conversations have ever taken place while tooling south
on 1-5, leading the way for a friend behind me in a Ryder
Lower in power but completely legal are the new UHF,
½- watt Motorola TalkAbout radios that provide dependable
two-way communication up to two miles. Check with your local
RadioShack store.
Note: When you shop at Radio Shack, ignore their pleas for
a "last name" and/or "the last four digits" of your telephone number. If you tell them you do not want your name in their computer, they will still allow you to hand over your money.
(Despite many of customer complaints about this, most Radio
Shack stores continue this irritating practice.)
However, some clerks do get obnoxious if you bring something back for a refund. When I recently returned some expensive audio cables (having found cheaper ones at Wal-Mart) and
presented my sales receipt, the clerk asked for my name.
"I do not wish to have my name in your computer."
"We cannot refund money without a name. Your name?"
"John Johnson," I said—one of my standard generic names.
I made one up.
"Telephone number?" What would he ask for next, a Social
Security number?
"No telephone."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I. . . do . . . not . . . have . . .a . . . telephone," I said through
clenched teeth.
I got my refund, and a Radio Shack employee had created yet
another case of customer ill will.
If you can get a voice-mail number (VMN) in a system not tied
into your home telephone, by all means do it, preferably using
a simple name and an out-of-state address. Use your real number
only for close friends and relatives, and the VMN for everyone
else. (Voice-mail systems vary not only from state to state but
from town to town, so I cannot give you any overall advice. This
one you must research on your own.)
Using your voice-mail number: For a library card, give your
ghost address and the VMN. When the lady at the used bookstore gives you credit for old books you turn in, and asks for your
telephone number, cheerfully give her your VMN. (Unlike at
RadioShack, you will not be asked for your name, nor will the
telephone number go into a national database. They just use it
in a single computer for identification.) When you take your old
Jaguar to the dealer to find that bug in the electrical system, give
the service manager your VMN. When you buy that round-trip
ticket to the Turks and Caicos Islands, give the travel agent your
VMN. But if you go to a clinic for an AIDS test, don't give them
any number at all. You will call them.
You've seen them advertised everywhere, but prices vary widely.
PostNet and Target stores charge between 19 and 25 cents a
minute, and some BP gas stations have a card for 17 cents a
minute. (There have been a number of scam operations, selling
prepaid cards that do not work, so be sure to purchase only from
a legitimate source.) In addition to using them when traveling,
use them from home for sensitive calls. Since you must first dial
an 800 number, no record will go on your bill, nor will your
number show up on Caller ID.
Avoid any card that has this sticker on it:
URGENT! Your card cannot be used until you call us. Call
now from your home phone to confirm you have received
your card [followed by an 800 number].
The issuing company wants you to call from home telephone so they can capture the number and then sell it to telemarketing companies. Even if there is no sticker, never renew,
because you will have to furnish a credit-card number. Buy a
new card.
Unfortunately, prepaid phone cards do not work for toll-free
destination numbers. (A PI once tried to explain to me why this
is so, but I don't think he understood it himself.) If you plan to
call a sensitive 800 or 888 number such as to the FBI or IRS,
first call from a pay phone or a cellular phone. Tell them a friend
wants to call in from Europe and needs a regular number since
the 800 doesn't work from overseas. Then, another day, call the
regular number from your home, using the calling card.
Do not carry the card itself. If one of these cards is traced
back to you, all numbers called from that card can be obtained
from the issuing company. Copy the correct 800 number but
alter the last two digits. Use the same system for all cards, such
as adding or subtracting some easy-to-remember two-digit number. Write this altered number down and then destroy the card.
I carry several such numbers in my wallet, jotted down along
with other numbers and abbreviated notations that will make no
sense to anyone else. For ultra-ultraprivacy, use separate cards
for separate sensitive calls, so that if the calls on one card become
known, there will be no crossover to the second party.
Warning: Do not fall for the latest phone-card trick being used
by PIs. If the private investigator has your mailing address but
does not know where you actually live, he or she may mail you
a "free phone card." And yes, it will indeed have free minutes—
lots of free minutes. Where's the catch? These cards are issued
by a company that then furnishes the PI with the number of
every single call you make using that card!
When you call 911, your true address shows up on the operator's
monitor, along with whatever name your telephone is in. If it is
listed in another name, will you be able to give a reason for this
when the police arrive? (Even if the call was for an ambulance,
the police usually arrive first.) To illustrate both the problem
and the solution, consider the recent experience we had in a
western state.
I was sitting at my computer, making a last-minute revision
for this book, when I happened to glance out the window. Here
came Walter, one of my neighbors, dragging his big black dog
on a leash, racing up to my door. He started pounding on it
before I could get there to open it.
"A horse just fell on Julie," he exclaimed, pointing to the east
pasture, "and she broke her leg! Call 9-1-11"
At this particular home I unfortunately do have a hard line,
used only to receive incoming faxes from a forwarded 800 number, but of course I can call out in an emergency, and Walter
knew it. Thoughts raced through my aging brain:
If / call 911 on the hard line, my call blocking will not work.
The name the telephone is in (not mine) will show up, and my
address as well (the home is not in my name either). They will
ask my name and where I live, compare it with the readout on
the computer screen, and the conversation will be recorded and
filed. While I stood at the door, hesitating not more than a second, Walt spread his hands out and shouted, "JACK, CALL
I grabbed my cell phone out of its charging unit and called
"This is 911," said a female voice, adding the name of the
"I'm calling from a cell phone and—"
"Yes, I know. What is the emergency?"
"A lady just had an accident with her horse and broke her
"Where is the location?" [I described the general location of
the pasture.]
"How old is this lady?"
"I don't know, maybe fifty or sixty."
"Where are you now?" (I named the road and said I would
wait there here to direct the emergency vehicle.)
"What is your name and where do you live?"
"One moment please, something has just—" and at this point
I punched the power off on my cell phone.
I went to the street and was there to direct the emergency
vehicle in on the proper lane. A neighbor was already on the
scene with a blanket, so I evaporated before any of the crew
could ask me if I was the one that called.
Some say that the 911 system may not be able to bring a
cell phone name and number onto the screen, but I suspect that
in some areas it can. However, even if the number did come up,
the only details the telephone company could have provided
would have been a common name with no Social Security number, plus a mailing address in another state.
Earlier in this chapter, I discussed the case of a police detective's wife who called 911 and thus revealed their true address.
They then had to sell their home and move. But did she have
any options? I think so, and you would do well to review these
with other members of your family.
1. If they had a cell phone (and they should have!), she could
have used that to make the call to 911.
2. If they had normal police and fire telephone numbers
listed by the telephone, she could have called one of them
and they would have passed on the information. Or, she
could have called the hospital, or dialed zero for the operator.
3. Had prior arrangements been set up, she could have called
a friend who would in turn call 911 from her home, directing the ambulance to such-and-such an address where
the Detective's wife was visiting.
4. When checking in at the hospital, she could have given
their ghost address, adding that she was just house-sitting
for a friend when the emergency came up.
Suppose a private investigator wants to hear you talking to your
lawyer (or mistress, or whoever). He may place a conference call,
recording every word. Here is how it works. The first call would
go to you, and when you answer, the PI punches HOLD and then
speed-dials your lawyer. You start saying "Hello? Hello?" Then
your lawyer comes on the line. He recognizes your voice. Each
of you may then assume the other person placed the call, and
start to chat!
Remedy: When a call comes in from a sensitive party, and
there is some confusion about who called whom, ask. If neither
called the other, you have just had a heads-up that someone is
after one or both of you.
Is there ANY alternative to calling 9-1-1 in the case of an
Yes, call another number. Put a sticker on each of your
telephones with the numbers of the nearest offices for the state
highway patrol and the fire department. As long as you have callblocking on your telephone, neither the patrol nor the fire station
should be able to capture any information. You will, of course,
have to reveal your address if you want police or an ambulance
to respond, but not the name in which your telephone is listed.
In fact, Captain Robert L. Snow, in his book Protecting Your
Life, Home and Property, discuss this same option although for
another reason. He says that if you live in a high-crime area and
call 9-1-1 on a hot summer weekend and/or a busy day, there
may be a delay in getting a policeman to your home. He says
there have been cases where police dispatchers have listened as
a caller was murdered before the police arrived.
Some persons under these circumstances have called the fire
department and reported a fire. "This should be done only in
desperate situations," says Snow, "since there will likely be some
legal consequences later because of calling in a false fire alarm. . . .
But if you have absolutely no doubt there is an intruder who
knows you're in the home and is trying to get in anyway, there's
a very good chance you will be raped, beaten, and/or murdered.
At a time like this you can't really worry about legal niceties.
There's not much point in being completely law-abiding if you're
How safe are public telephones?
Some of them, especially at the bigger airports and bus terminals, are tapped. There shouldn't be any problem using one
at a restaurant or bar, as long as it's not in an area known for
prostitution or drug dealing. Pay with coins or use a prepaid
calling card. But be careful whom you call—the telephone at the
other end may be tapped.
Sometimes I hear clicking noises on my telephone. I
brought in a detective to check for bugs and he said there
weren't any, but what if he was wrong? How can I be sure
my telephone isn't tapped?
If the government is after you, they will do the tap at a central
office and no detective will ever track that one down. In fact, a
little test might be to have Detective A install the best tap he
knows, and then see if Detective B can find it. (Let me know if
you do that; I've got $20 that says Detective B will miss it.) Here
is the best advice you'll ever get about telephone security. Have
a little label stuck on every telephone that says, THIS LINE IS
Can you recommend a hacker-proof answering machine?
There is no such thing! If I were an electronics engineer, that
would be my first project, to invent a secure answering machine.
One PI I know with six agents says this is numero uno on his
wish list—a number where his agents could call in to leave and
pick up messages in absolute secrecy.
The truth—sad to say—is that a number of companies sell
answering-machine code breakers that can break into a machine
in about ninety seconds. Also, government agents have some interesting equipment, as outlined in Manhunter, a book by U.S.
Marshal John Pascucci. He was in England, trying to get Scotland
Yard to put a tap on a certain producer's phone. They refused.
"After we struck out on the phone tap," says Pascucci, "I
called the producer's house to see if he had an answering machine. He did. So I had my computer guys make me a list of all
possible three-digit access codes. Finally we hit the right number
and started monitoring his messages."
How can I turn off the "redial" feature on my telephone?
You mean, so no one can check your telephone in your absence, to see who you last called? Although this feature cannot
be turned off, it can be easily defeated. When you finish your
call, hang up. Then pick up the receiver, listen for the dial tone,
and punch in a single digit. Then hang up. If anyone checks the
"last number called," all they will find is that single digit.
Can international telephone calls be monitored without a
Of course, because they are beamed by microwave, and there
is no law against monitoring microwave transmissions. The National Security Agency (NSA) does this all the time.
I am in serious need of privacy but I also need a monitored burglar alarm, which requires a telephone line. Any suggestions?
For serious privacy, I advocate having no hard-line telephone
in your home at all. As for burglar alarms, even if the telephone
lines are buried and not easily accessible, crooks can find a way
around this. One way is to locate a junction box and cut the
service to an entire neighborhood . . . including yours. Alarms
are available that connect your alarm system to the monitoring
center by radio waves—no way to cut those out. Also, as I said
earlier, keep a cell phone close by, in case you need to call the
How can I send a fax without having my machine print a
Many stand-alone models do print a heading, and this cannot
be turned off. You may wish to set the machine to print an x or
a zero for everything. Or, insert an address in a land far, far away.
Be sure to set the fax's internal clock to a time zone that will
match the foreign address.
If you send faxes from your computer, you should be able to
set it so that there is no heading whatsoever. Use the fax machine
for receiving only.
Warning: According to the Telephone Consumer Protection
Act of 1991, it is unlawful for any person to send a fax unless the
fax clearly contains information that includes (1] the date and
time it was sent, (2) the name of the person or business sending
the fax, and (3) the telephone number of the sending machine.
However, in my opinion as a layman, not a lawyer, the warning can be taken as a very mild one. The above law is violated
thousands of times a minute and I have never heard of it ever
being enforced. (If any reader knows otherwise, please contact
me with the details.)
If I have Caller ID, will it always show the true number of
an incoming call?
Usually, but not always. There are hundreds of telephone
companies out there, and each operates differently. For example,
suppose you live in Los Angeles. Vito, a caller who lives near
you, might have a friend in New York temporarily forward his
telephone to your number. Then, when Vito calls the New York
number and it forwards on to your telephone, your caller screen
may show the New York number.
More commonly, you may get false readings when called by
any government agency. Although this is supposed to be a secret,
Mickey Hawkins, head of the FBI office in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in an
interview for an article in the July 5, 1999 Los Angeles Times, is
quoted as saying, "We use a device that gives a different number."
What wouldn't I give to get my hands on a similar device. . . .
There is, however, one way to indicate you are calling from
a location other than your own. The hard part is to find the
location; the rest is easy. If you have a faraway friend who'll put
in an extra line for you with call forwarding (offer to pay his
complete basic phone bill every month), have the phone jack for
that line hidden in a closet there. Your friend uses a phone at
that phone jack just long enough to forward all calls to your
home number, then unplugs it. You will, of course, pay longdistance charges from your friend's home to yours.
What is a "trap line"?
A trap line is a toll-free number used by private investigators
to identify the location you are calling from. As soon as the target
makes a call, the company providing this service contacts the PI
to report the number and location of the incoming call. Remember, since the trap line number starts with either 800 or 888,
you cannot block the transmission of information.
If you are the target and the PI has only your mail drop, he
may send you a convincing postcard or letter, asking you to either call him or send a fax. If you call or fax from home, he's
got you.
Or, perhaps he does not have an address for you but he does
have a telephone number for a friend or relative. He will call
them while they are away at work, hoping for an answering machine. If there is one, he will leave a message—have so-and-so
call me before tomorrow midnight! "Urgent, there is a deadline,
can't wait!"
On the other hand, in the case of a dispute between husband
and wife, the wife may go to a PI to find out if hubby really is
"working late," or "on a business trip." In this case the PI knows
his address and home telephone number, but he wants to know
where the husband is at the times he is absent. Assume the husband carries a beeper. The wife gives this number to the PI and
explains how to mark it urgent. During the next suspicious absence, the PI calls the beeper and gives the trap line number.
Perhaps the husband was supposed to be on a trip to Sacramento, but the call comes in from the Kit-Kat club north of
Panic comes suddenly like thunder from a blue sky. No
shrewdness can foresee and no talent avert it.
As you know, an attorney filing a lawsuit may name anyone he
pleases. For instance, if he is suing a corporation, he may name
the directors, the officers, and even the part-time secretary who
writes the checks.
No matter how innocent you are, if you are named, you have
to defend yourself, and that costs time, money, and extreme aggravation.
So then, if you wish to remain invisible, your name must not
surface anywhere. Is that difficult? Yes! But is it impossible? No,
but you cannot do this alone. When panic strikes like thunder,
you will want a nominee to take the strike!
The dictionary definition of nominee is, "A person named, or
designated, by another, to any office, duty, or position; one nominated, or proposed, by others for office or for election to office."
As used here, a nominee is someone who will do your bidding
like a puppet on a string. (No, don't name your dog J. Pierpont
Morgan and use him—the nominee must be able to either sign
documents or give oral or written permission to you to sign for
Further information about running a low-profile business—or
even one that is invisible—will be covered in Chapter 15. What
will be discussed here is the selection of a nominee.
A nominee is someone you "nominate" to take your place.
This could be another person who takes your place as the apparent owner or manager of a company you own. More often, it
will be a person who—on your behalf—opens a bank account,
obtains a cellular telephone, or signs up for your utilities.
Who might be an ideal candidate? You may already have
someone in mind, but if not, here are a few suggestions:
• A homeless person who has not filed a tax return since
Truman beat Dewey.
• That illegal Guatemalan whom a friend hired to take
care of the kids.
• The town drunk, who sobers up just long enough to sign
some "papers" in return for a case of Thunderbird.
• A relative or close friend who will do this as a favor.
• Someone who owes you money, is not in a position to
pay you back, and would act as nominee in return for
clearing the loan.
On the other hand, here is who not to use:
• Do not use a lover or a mistress—when the affair goes
sour, he or she will see you drawn and quartered!
• Do not use an unwilling candidate. Example: "Look, Bill,
either I name you as a member and you give me a notarized power of attorney, or I'll tell your parents about the
time the police nailed you in that XXX movie place."
This is blackmail.
Whatever the case, you should choose someone who has no
assets, otherwise known as "judgment-proof." Then, when a lawyer discovers there are no assets to recover, no lawsuit will be
Age: From time to time I do use a young person, especially if
from Spain or Mexico. However, all else being equal, older is
better and really old is best. There are several problems involved
in using young persons.
For one thing, although broke now, they may get their ducks
in a row and start making money. Or they might inherit money
when their parents or grandparents die. Or they might be injured
in an accident and receive tens of thousands of dollars in compensation. At that point, they would not be judgment-proof.
Is a nominee something I should consider, even though I
am not in business?
Yes, of course. A nominee can help you make a smooth
transition to privacy. Imagine, for example, that you decide to
move to another location, even if close by. You ask your aunt
Bertha from Presque Isle, Maine, to travel to your area and help
out. Here is what she can do:
• Sign the new lease.
• Get all utilities in her name.
• Order normal telephones, a cell phone, and a pager.
• Get a ghost address that is to serve for both you and her.
(It will actually be yours only.)
Where required, a deposit will be paid rather than giving a
Social Security number. Have her open a new account and turn
the account over to you. From this point forward you will send
all deposits by mail.
If you die before she does, she will own the account. But
that's fair, is it not? However, if you are worried about her untimely death, then using her as the sole member of a limitedliability company may solve any complications that otherwise
might arise in such a case, as she could leave the membership to
you in her will. (See Chapter 12.)
To have is nothing. To keep is all.
Before writing about trusts I searched the Internet for any reference whatsoever to forming a revocable trust (or "living trust")
solely for purposes of privacy. Thousands of references to revocable trusts (inter vivos) scrolled across my computer, brought
up by Magellan, Yahoo!, AltaVista, Excite, Elnet Galaxy,
InfoSeek, WebCrawler, and Lycos. I can and do read small print
rapidly, but after three hours and forty-two minutes I called it
Unless my skills at Boolean searches need an update, not one
attorney out there in cyberspace discusses privacy as the principal
reason for the formation of a revocable trust. (By revocable I
mean you can change your mind and cancel the whole deal.)
Abandoning the Net, I next rechecked the indexes of those
rare books in my library that happen to have an index. One book
on asset protection does have an index and it does list two references under the word "Privacy." The first reference doesn't
apply to secret ownership of assets within the United States,
however, and the other, on page 117, merely says, "Deploy your
assets and investments in a way that requires the least amount
of detailed information on your tax returns."
So I, a nonlawyer, am on my own here. If you already understand terms like grantor, trustor, settlor, trustee, and beneficiary, you may wish to skip the information that follows.
Otherwise, if your knowledge about trusts is a little fuzzy, then
perhaps the following will help. But, remember, all I can provide
is my best understanding as a layman, which is no substitute for
professional legal advice.
A living trust is a legal document that resembles a will. It contains your instructions for the distribution of the your assets
when you die. By "assets," I refer to your home, vehicles, bank
accounts, stocks and bonds, copyrights, and so on. Trusts can be
broadly categorized as either testamentary trusts or living (inter
vivos) trusts. A testamentary trust is created within a will and
takes effect only at death. A living trust is a trust that you create
during your lifetime, and that is what we are discussing here.
Besides keeping your affairs private during your lifetime, if all
your assets are in a living trust when you die, you completely
avoid probate and thus your privacy extends beyond the grave.
The reason that a trust is so private is that it is never recorded
with any county, city, state, or federal authority. There is a document in your lawyer's office and one for your files. That's it.
Think of a trust as a holding pen, a place where you put your
assets before they are released—after death—to the people or
organizations that you designate. Because you and the trust are
separate legal entities, anything you transfer from you to the trust
becomes property of the trust. The trust then holds the property
for your benefit, or for the benefit of those whom you designate.
It consists of four components:
• The grantor, who creates the trust. That's you and/or
your wife.
• The beneficiaries, who will eventually receive the assets.
This is often your spouse, and after the death of your
spouse, your children.
• The assets, which are the properties transferred to the
• The trustee, who is the person or entity that manages
the trust's assets and distributes the property according
to terms established by the grantor. Even though you are
the grantor, you can also be the trustee, and thus be in
charge of all assets in the trust. When you die, of course,
someone else must take charge, in order to pass the assets on to the beneficiaries
The trust here being discussed is a revocable trust, which
means you can change it at any time.
Let's say your name is Grant and you wish to prepare a document ("trust") that will hold property just as if it were in your
own name. First, make a rough draft on your own, based on what
you hope to accomplish. Then, take it to your lawyer for review.
(Call him "counselor" or refer to him as your "attorney," since
lawyers dislike the word "lawyer.")
Tell him or her you want a simple, revocable trust solely for
privacy, both a short form and a long form, and would he please
look over your rough draft? (You don't need a draft, of course,
but you save money by not having him start from scratch.) He
asks you a few questions. (I just named you "Grant Settler" and
gave you a wife, "Trudy.")
Grant, who's going to form this, you and your wife?
"Yes, Trudy and me."
And if both of you should die, who will get whatever the trust
"My niece Benita Ficiary."
Who will be in charge of putting things into the trust, and taking
things out?
"Me and Trudy, is that OK?"
That's fine. And should you both die, who should then take
charge of the trust?
"Um, let's put Gordon Goodfriend."
And if Gordon dies?
"Well, put, uh, let's see. Mary Secondcousin." (In the unlikely
event that all the beneficiaries die, the assets would then pass
into the estate.)
No problema. I'll have it ready Tuesday. A hundred fifty will
cover it. Oh say, we need a name. How about "Settler Family
Trust"? (Does this lawyer have a room-temperature IQ?)
"No, do not, repeat, NOT, use my name. Let's name it after
Trudy's late great-grandfather and call it the Wladyslaw Truszowsky
Family Trust." (You reach for a pen to write out the name.)
Listen, Grant, maybe there's someone still alive somewhere with
that name, and there's a chance this could cause you trouble. (Ohoh, the attorney now earns a brownie point.) Where were you
bom, Trudy?
"On a farm," says Trudy, "north of Moonshine Junction,
Montana. But the general store burned down in 1952 and now
the town doesn't exist anymore."
All the better] Let's call this the "Moonshine Junction Trust."
"Yeah, that has a nice ring to it," you answer. "See you Tuesday then, counselor. Have a good day."
The lawyer will give you both a short-term and a long-term
form of the trust. The long form is to keep in your files. The
short form, with less information, is what you will present (when
asked) to your bank, at the Motor Vehicles Department, at the
title company, or wherever. The purpose for this is to prove that
you are a trustee and have the authority to sign on your own.
"Do not assume anything," I tell my clients, "when you put a
title into a trust." That's what I tell others and that's what I
generally practice, but last year I was caught. A certain "leading
lawyer" in a Western city was to act on my behalf in the purchase
of some rural acreage. I clearly explained my viewpoint on privacy and that the title deed must be in the name of my trust
only. The actual cotrustee (me) was not to be listed. (Sometimes
I get by with this, sometimes not—but if not, I expected him to
call me for instructions.)
Nevertheless when the title was recorded, it appeared my
name was listed as trustee. I flew in to this city and went straight
to the county courthouse, where I asked the clerk in the assessor's office to check the property list on her computer for anything owned by a "J. J. Luna." Ten seconds later my name was
on the screen: J. J. Luna, trustee, R—Trust!
When I stormed into the lawyer's office I got stonewalled—
he said it certainly wasn't his fault, he "had to list the trustee,
everybody knows that!" If I wanted the land retitled, I'd have to
pay him at his usual hourly rate. Hah!
Here is what any dimwit so-called lawyer not more than two
tacos short of a combo plate would have done, if told at the
courthouse that they had to list a trustee:
1. He would mumble something about incomplete data and
2. He would then call me with these suggestions:
(a) Allow him to list the alternate trustee (in this case my
wife, using her maiden name), or
(b) Suggest I get a new cotrustee and list that one, or
(c) Have him title the land with one of my other legal
entities, or
(d) Furnish the name of a temporary nominee—perhaps
3. Until he had my answer, he would have done nothing.
The only reason I do not list this lawyer's name is that although I transferred the land into another name (on my own),
he knows the location and thus the details. But other than with
this poor excuse for a lawyer, I've had no problem with any of
our trusts.
Don't let lawyers or authors confuse you with obscure terms. A
revocable trust, when formed mainly for purposes of privacy, is
simple. If your lawyer confuses you and tells you never mind the
details, you may wish to change lawyers. Points to remember:
• Although not a do-it-yourself project, this is not, or
should not be, expensive. Maybe $250 tops.
• There are no annual fees.
• There is no record other than the "short form" copies
you choose to give to your bank, the DMV, or a title
• You can revoke (cancel) the trust at any time.
• It does not affect your tax return; you treat the asset as
your own.
• There are ancillary benefits in case of death, which your
lawyer will explain.
There is of course no asset protection with a revocable trust,
nor are there any tax savings, but we are here discussing privacy
If you want protection and savings added in, then we'll fastforward to my absolute favorite kind of irrevocable (unchangeable) trust.
Although little known just five years ago, this unique entity's
fifteen minutes of fame is fast approaching. Unlike the assets in
a revocable trust, once you make a donation to a charitable remainder unitrust the assets are beyond the reach of anyone. If
you are sued and a judgment is filed against you, or even if you
file for bankruptcy, the assets cannot be touched because this is
an irrevocable trust—you can never change it. You'll get tax-free
capital gains (if applicable) and a huge tax deduction. The trust
will earn tax-free income and will pay you a high rate of interest
for as long as you (and a surviving mate, if any) live.
Although setting up a charitable remainder unitrust is not a
do-it-yourself project, if you have highly appreciated assets, the
legal fee, which may be about $3,000, is worth it. (See Chapter
15, the mail-order business from Nevada.) Just be sure you use
an experienced lawyer who has already set up many such trusts.
For the annual tax returns (no tax is ever due), find a CPA who
has references from others who have similar trusts. It is vital that
the calculation of the annual amount withdrawn is correct.
What about "common law" trusts—are they for real?
I am sometimes asked about "constitutional" or "common law"
trusts. Some think that they can legally avoid paying income
taxes by using these trusts, and cite various United States
Supreme Court decisions in support of their position. There is
no legal foundation for any such claims. About three years ago,
an article in the Colorado Lawyer reported that the IRS was
conducting a nationwide program to examine these trusts. Not
a good sign, folks. Forget about common law trusts.
What about "unorganized business trusts"?
The infamous UBTs? Same answer.
Don't ask the barber whether you need a haircut.
Do not ask lawyer whether you need a corporation, nor take the
advice in just any book. You could spend $10,000 on books
about corporations and incorporating, and take three months off
work to study the laws of the fifty states and the District of
Columbia. At the end of that time you might be even more
confused than you were at the beginning, so here is how I'm
going to cover the subject of corporations in this chapter:
First, I'll define what a corporation is, in the simplest way I
can (oversimplified where necessary), just to be sure you have
the general idea of what a corporation is, and isn't. 7 will discuss
the standard or "C" corporation only because with the advent of
limited-liability companies, "S" corporations are en route to the
Second, I'll cite examples where even the "experts" display
their ignorance. This will encourage you to press on, learn this
section by heart, and at the next cocktail party you can maybe
even tell an F. Lee Bailey-type of lawyer a thing or two about
the very best states in America for privacy.
Third, I'll explain how I myself have used corporations to
accomplish what otherwise couldn't have been legally done, and
then I'll cite examples of how others have been able to attain
specific goals via corporations and limited-liability companies.
Fourth, I'll discuss which state is the best for incorporating,
and review my reasons for not recommending Delaware or Nevada.
Fifth and final: The moment of decision! By this time you'll
have decided if I've walked the walk or just talked the talk. If
the former, then you'll want to pay attention to what follows.
Note: Much of what I say about corporations could also apply to
limited-liability companies (called LLCs—see Chapter 12). Just
keep in mind that both of these legal entities are like the puppet
I am about to describe. Think of a corporation as a brother whose
twin fraternal sister is an LLC. Both persons are very similar,
same family, same traits. It's just that under certain circumstances the anatomical differences must be considered.
OK, fasten your seat belt and let's roll.
A corporation is like a legal person who is born in a specific place,
called a domicile. The domicile is the state where the corporation was registered. For example, if you form a corporation in
Illinois, you can do business with it in Florida. However, you will
register it there as a "foreign" corporation because the domicile
does not change. It remains in Illinois.
A director is appointed and this director can tell this legal
person what to do. In other words, the corporation is like a mindless puppet, and thus needs a director to pull the strings. The
puppet can be owned by other persons, or by other legal entities,
or by the director. (If it is not owned by one director, then the
owners—called shareholders—can fire the director and hire another one to pull the strings.)
This puppet can do most anything you can, and often—as
we'll see—it can do things that you cannot. Further, if someone
tries to bomb you back to the Stone Age it's the puppet that
gets zipped into a body bag. Or, if someone sues and gets a
judgment for $500,000, the only money at risk is what's in the
puppet's pocket. Your private assets are safe. We are talking serious privacy here.
The above assumes you have capitalized your corporation
with a reasonable amount of money, kept proper books and
minutes, and have not mingled your own funds in with the company. Otherwise, in legalese, you may be accused of undercapitalization, and/or maintaining the company as your alter ego.
Should such be the case, someone suing you might thus be able
to "pierce the corporate veil."
This is one area where a limited-liability company has a huge
advantage over the corporation, since bookwork and protocol are
far simpler with an LLC.
I've met a few good lawyers in the Canary Islands and many bad
ones, which parallels my experiences with American attorneys.
The U.S. has the most competent attorneys working side by side
with the least competent, and the latter outnumber the former
666 to 1. In fact, given a choice between the most competent
paralegal and the least competent lawyer, I'll take the paralegal
in a heartbeat, so let's have a little chat about U.S. lawyers, along
with other experts real or imagined.
In 1988, I flew from the Canaries to Nevada to set up two
corporations in that state. [I no longer recommend Nevada, but
at that time it was satisfactory.] In Carson City I met with one
of the city's leading attorneys to have his office act as the resident
agent, rather than going through one of the "incorporation mills."
In the course of a low-cost lunch at the Carson Nugget Casino,
I asked this lawyer if he'd kindly name a few of the more unusual
uses for the many Nevada corporations he'd formed over a long
lifetime. That is, uses other than the ones in all the books. (Liability protection, tax savings, prestige, continuity, etc.) Well. . .
this lawyer couldn't think of any unusual uses, not one! I won't
name him here because I've since put this same question to other
American lawyers and they pretty much don't have any original
ideas either! In fact, a year ago I asked an old-time corporate
attorney in Albuquerque (licensed also in Utah, Wyoming, and
New York) how many clients he'd had over the years who
formed a corporation specifically for the purpose of privacy.
"Uh, I guess maybe . . . um . . . none."
"None at all?" I said. "I can scarcely believe it."
"Well, maybe it was my fault," he admitted. "To tell the truth,
I never thought about it, never gave anyone a chance. Just told
'em they had to list this, list that, put down everything . . ."
Guess which attorney I didn't use in Albuquerque? But let's
not leave out experts and accountants. An astronomical number
of accountants—especially CPAs—know far less about corporations than they claim to know, and few authors come out well
when they write about incorporating. Here is a recent example.
My good friends Pat and Patty Lindquist, who build houses
under their own name, asked me to recommend a good beginner's guidebook to teach them about corporations in general. I
said I'd pick one up. A few weeks later I happened to be staying
at the Waterfront Plaza Hotel in Oakland, on Jack London
Square. I had some free time so I walked across the square to
the Barnes & Noble bookstore there, to check out the business
section. The best of the worst, on the subject of incorporating,
was a well-known book by a recognized author.
I bought this book, the newest ninth edition, but before I gave
it to my friends, I flipped through it. On page 22, it reads, "All
corporations must have a word like Company, Corporation, Incorporated, or their abbreviations in their titles." I have personally formed forty-seven corporations in the United States with
none of those words at the end. It can still be done in this current
year 2000. As for other advice, on page 39, the author says that
both savings and checking accounts "require the impression of
your corporate seal." This is simply not so—ask any banker. Also,
on the same page, the author days, "Start your corporate checks
with high numbers, like 626 or 340. It makes your corporation
look like it's been established for years."
For years? With a three-digit number like 626 or 340? I currently start all my company bank accounts with at least a high
four-digit number and often with 15,001 or higher. This is an
easy way to "age" your company.
On page 45, referring to limited-liability companies, the author says, "LLCs require at least two members . . . so if you are
a single entrepreneur or professional, you may wish to form an
S corporation instead." Many states allow one-member LLCs,
and S corporations [a tax option where corporate income flows
through to the owners] are dying.
Nevertheless, I do not mean to put the author down. On the
contrary, if all you want is an introduction to the garden-variety
uses of corporations, then I recommend the book. I merely add
this caveat: skip her comments on check numbers, corporate
seals, and LLCs.
Speaking of LLCs, be very cautious about getting information on these companies from just any lawyer. Why do I say
this? Because of bad experiences with lawyers who hold themselves out to be experts in a certain field, and yet lack crucial
knowledge in that very field! A personal experience will serve as
an example:
Four years ago, I needed to clarify a point of marine law before forming an LLC that would take ownership of a small yacht.
It was to be based in Point Roberts, Washington, which sits on
a little tip of land jutting into Puget Sound from British Columbia. I therefore made some calls to legal organizations in the
Seattle area, asking for the absolute expert in marine law in the
Northwest. It was agreed that my man was a certain attorney
near the Canadian border. I called this lawyer to discuss what I
planned to do, but at the instant I said ownership would be taken
with a limited-liability company he interrupted me.
"You mean a corporation."
"No," I said, "it has to be an LLC."
"Same thing as a corporation."
When I tried to correct him, did he admit he might be a wee
tad behind the times? No! He insisted that there was positively
no such thing in the state of Washington. The next day I made
a copy of the Washington LLC statutes that I had in my files
(they took effect October 1, 1994) and sent this to him by priority mail, asking for his comments. No answer was ever forthcoming, nor is one expected—one class you will not find in many
law schools is Common Courtesy 101.
There are many uses for corporations and LLCs that your lawyer
has never heard of, but which may spark an idea of your own.
The two examples that follow are culled from my clients in
Europe who use American corporations and LLC for various
reasons—usually privacy. Over the years, I formed more than
1400 U.S. legal entities for them and the principals involved
apply equally well for those of you who live in the United States.
If any of the true experiences that follow inspire you to come
up with your own unusual use, please let me know. I may incorporate your idea in the next edition of this book.
First, allow me to explain the difference between United
States and European corporations. In the U.S., corporations are
tied not just to the country but to an individual state or the
District of Columbia, thus giving you a choice of fifty-one different sets of statutes and regulations. Not so in continental Europe, where there's but one choice per country, none of which
is appetizing. Often, $10,000 or more has to be posted permanently as a cash bond, and getting the right kind of name may
be impossible. There are literally thousands of names acceptable
in the United States that are verboten overseas, and as you read
along in this section, I urge you to think not only about unusual
uses, but unusual corporate names as well.
Can't get no respect
My client Lazlo K. from Budapest started purchasing some sort
of product from Russia (I didn't ask for details) and exporting it
in containers. One container was shipped to Mombasa, Kenya,
on the east coast of Africa.
The port authorities wanted a large bribe to get the container
released, higher than the Hungarian was willing to pay. The container therefore sat on the dock for five long months. There was
no political solution, as Hungary gets no respect in the international world of commerce. Finally, in desperation, the bribe was
paid. This wiped out most of the profit on the shipment, and
there was more bad news—with the original order, Lazlo had
committed himself to sending two more containers to Kenya!
Can this story have a happy ending?
Yes, but only because I formed in the United States, on his
behalf, the New York International Container and Air Freight Corporation, with Lazlo as sole director. He then shipped the next
two containers, not in his own name, but in the name of the
New York International Container and Air Freight Corporation.
The two containers arrived in Mombasa, Kenya, and the Hungarian flew in a day later. This time his first visit was not to the
port area but to the American consulate. He presented his shipping papers, identified himself as the director of the New York
International Container and Air Freight Corporation and explained some previous problems he had had with port authorities. The American consul made just one phone call on his
behalf, and the containers were off the dock within forty-eight
Lesson to be learned: If you, like Rodney Dangerfield, "can't
get no respect" in the business world, consider an upscale name.
(The example just mentioned would have worked equally well
as a limited-liability company.)
When conversation among friends starts to drag, I sometimes pep
it up with this, the strangest corporate-name case I've come
across so far. Here's the story: At the end of February 1992 I
received a faxed order from Achim Eckel, a client in Germany
who had previously purchased several U.S. corporations. In his
previous orders he'd used routine German-language names with
"A.G." as the corporate identifier, but this time was different.
The name section of the order blank was filled in with five words,
as follows:
I thought an error had been made in this last order, so I faxed
Eckel back for confirmation. Did he perhaps mean the corporate
name was EUROPEAN BANCORP, but he, Dr. Achim Eckel, was
to be listed as director? Or perhaps some punctuation was missing? Back came the answer: Form the corporation as showm. No
punctuation. No listed director.
OK, no problem, even though I failed to understand the logic
behind the name. (Looking back, I wonder how I missed it.)
Later on, I got the story from a man who knew my client well,
but first, some brief background about Germany and Germans.
The basic laws that existed in Adolf Hitler's Germany are still
the laws of Germany today—most of the laws did not change
after World War II. And one of Hitler's laws, passed in the
1930s, was that no German could call himself a doctor unless he
was a doctor. If he did, the penalty for the first offense was one
year in jail. Therefore, no German would ever call himself a
doctor without the proper degree, right? Uh, not necessarily.
It may be difficult, if you are American-born, to understand
the German craving for a title, but for some Germans it is an
obsession. In fact, I've earned enough to pay for a few semesters
at the University of Heidelberg by forming corporations with the
word "University" in the name. The German client then gives
himself a work contract and prints up new business cards with
PROFESSOR before his name!
The absolute best title, however, is doctor, and if a German
is a doctor, I never fail to address him as such. Even there, I was
caught off base once. A fax came in from Berlin with some urgent questions about bearer shares. It was from a Doctor Doctor
Klein, someone new. I hurriedly answered his questions, addressing him, of course, as Dr. Klein, as I thought the second "doctor"
was a typo. Big mistake. Back came a fax within a minute. Message:
"Sir, I am not Doctor Klein. I am Doctor Doctor Klein!"
He claimed to have titles in two fields, and thus must be properly addressed as "Doctor Doctor." That was the way I addressed
him in all future faxes, although I've privately wondered if he
might not be a candidate for two years in a German jail—one
year for each "doctor."
Now, after hearing more about the German psyche than you
wanted to know, we return to the strange case of the EUROPEAN
BANCORP DOCTOR ACHIM ECKEL corporation. As I learned
later, Achim Eckel never was and never would be a doctor. Nor
did he wish to call himself a doctor and run the very real risk of
a year in jail. The U.S. corporation solved his problem. He sits
in his office in Berlin. The telephone rings and he picks up the
receiver. Notice the accent and the pause when he identifies his
"EUROPEAN BANCORP!" [pause]. "Dr. Achim Befell"
Would you not then address him as Doctor Eckel? Of course
you would, and—not knowing the history—so would I. Happily,
there is no law in Germany to condemn Eckel if it is only other
persons who call him a doctor.
Lesson to be learned: Would you like to be called "Judge"? Or
"King," or "President for-life"? Now you know one way to go
about it.
As you know, ads have been running for decades advertising lowcost incorporation in Delaware and, to a lesser extent, in Nevada.
Hundreds of thousands of corporations have been domiciled in
these two states, many for as little as "$19 plus costs." For this
reason alone I dislike these two states. Yes, I know that many
huge corporations are based in one of these two states, but the
usual implication is that anything from Delaware or Nevada is
some sort of Mickey Mouse operation. Just ask any judge, private
investigator, or courthouse clerk.
Delaware has an income tax, so if you plan to accept income
in the state of domicile, Delaware is out. True, Nevada has no
corporate income tax as this is written, but they have been quietly raising fees for years, and now have both a franchise and an
employee tax. Some Nevada incorporators claim that Nevada is
the only state that does not give information to the IRS. Of
course they don't. Nevada does not have a state income tax, so
what would there be to report? Neither do Alaska, Florida, Wyoming, South Dakota, New Hampshire, or Texas.
For privacy and—in some cases, tax savings—Wyoming is
presently the state of choice for a corporation. Directors need
not be listed in the articles of incorporation and, unlike Delaware
and Nevada, Wyoming does not require a corporate identifier.
As has been previously mentioned, you can name your corporation (for example) "Johnny Johnson" [no "Inc."] and no one
will know this is a corporation unless you choose to tell them.
Now then, let's talk about money. Are Delaware and Nevada
really "low-cost"? Certainly not Nevada. Many incorporators fail
to mention the additional fee for the Nevada state form for listing
directors. Some do not to mention the franchise fee. One prominent Nevada incorporator does a brutal hard sell for an "office
plan" (i.e., an address and telephone number for the corporation
in Carson City). The cost for a two-year contract is $250 per
month. Then, when the customer realizes he doesn't need or
want that, and stops paying, he is promptly sued via their inhouse lawyer!
According to one of my clients in Livermore, California, the
post office has on occasion refused to deliver mail to corporations
with Nevada addresses unless the company files a special form
identifying every corporate officer with his or her home address.
Further, the Nevada state offices now have a 900 number for
tracking down the names of corporate officers. The cost is just
As for Delaware, advertised low costs include neither a corporate kit nor other extras, and the companies make money in
the long run by charging high annual fees for the required resident agent.
If you are going to incorporate at all, and if you plan to do
business with the corporation in your home state, then the logical choice may be to incorporate in the state where you live.
This is because, if you use an out-of-state corporation in your
home state and wish to have liability protection, you will need
to register that corporation in your own state anyway. Thus, you
will be paying annual fees to two states.
However, I know of only two unusually good reasons to use
a corporation rather than a limited-liability company. One is for
the tax savings and perks (such as a medical plan) available with
a C corporation ("C" is an option with the IRS where the corporation is taxed separately), and the other is to use a name with
no ending (Inc., LLC, etc.) to reveal that it is a legal entity rather
than a real person. This latter option is not available to limitedliability companies. They must end in LC or LLC, or similar.
Otherwise, for purposes of privacy, flexibility, and minimum
bookkeeping, I strongly recommend a limited-liability company.
It may take some searching, but there's a lid for every
Mary L——was a schoolteacher who lived with her husband and
four children near Seattle, Washington. In the early 1990s, Mary
purchased a gray Volkswagen Fox. In all innocence, she titled
the car in her own name. Not in her wildest dreams—or nightmares!—could Mary have foreseen the bitter consequences of
driving a car with plates that would show up in the computer
with her first name, middle initial, and last name.
Years passed. Unexpectedly, Mary fell in love with one of her
students, a thirteen-year-old boy. Despite being married, she was
unable to control her emotions. One thing led to another and
Mary found herself pregnant. In 1977, the affair became known.
She was arrested, jailed, and sentenced to eighty-nine months in
prison. Given her lack of a criminal record and the fact she posed
no threat to society, Mary was released on parole. One of the
conditions of the parole was that she would not contact her
young lover without permission from the authorities.
Mary carried a pager. The father of her future child, unable—
or unwilling—to stay away from Mary, sent her a page with the
number of a pay phone. She called him back. That same evening
she picked him up in her little gray Volkswagen Fox.
They went to a late movie, Wag the Dog. Then Mary parked
her Volkswagen along a street near her home and they talked
into the early-morning hours. Mary had already packed and had
hidden money and her passport in the car. They apparently made
plans to flee Seattle together and to make a new life far, far away.
At that point, was there any obstacle to their plans? The parole board had no idea that Mary was violating parole. She was
not wanted by the police. No one else knew of their plans to
flee. Nor was society in danger.
[Imagine background music to the movie Jaws.]
At 2:45 A.M., Seattle policeman Todd Harris was on a routine
patrol. He passed a car that was parked along the curb. The
parking lights were on. The windows were steamed up, but it
appeared there were two occupants.
There was no sign of misbehavior. Nevertheless, Harris noted
the Washington license plate number as he drove by. As he continued on his patrol, he ran the number through his computer
to make sure the car had not been reported stolen. Several blocks
later the name of the registered owner came onto the screen.
The car was legally registered and was not stolen, but he recognized the name from reading about the case in the newspapers.
Mary K. LeTourneau.
Officer Harris returned, and asked for ID. The two occupants
were Mary and the boy.
The boy was taken home. Mary was taken to the station, then
arrested for violation of parole. On Friday, February 6, 1998, the
judge revoked her parole and sentenced her to serve the full eightynine months. Leaving aside the morality of meeting with the father
of her child, here is the lesson I want you to draw from this story: At
the time Mary titled the car, there was not—could not have
been—the slightest indication of the troubles that lay ahead. But
who among us can guarantee that quiet waters will never see a
storm? [See my own experiences in Chapter 13.)
After the LeTourneau sentencing, I sent a notice to all my
clients in the United States and Canada with this headline:
You will often hear that a limited-liability company is something "new," but this refers only to the United States. In Europe,
LLCs have been used for more than a century and, as mentioned
previously, I myself formed my first one in Spain in 1972. As I
said in Chapter 10, "Think of a corporation as a brother whose
twin fraternal sister is an LLC. Both persons are very similar,
same family, same traits. It's just that under certain circumstances the anatomical differences must be considered." So then,
let's discuss anatomical differences as applied strictly to limitedliability companies.
Think of an LLC primarily as a partnership, but without the
liability and (now hear this!) without the necessity of actually
having a partner. It also resembles a corporation but without
many of the onerous bookkeeping details and annual meetings.
I've gone over the LLC statutes in virtually every state, and
by no means are they all the same. California, Illinois, and New
York have outrageously high fees and are not recommended except in the most dire circumstances. Neither are any of the wellknown states used for incorporation—the LLC laws are entirely
different. I have discovered several states that—although unsuitable for incorporating, are ideal for LLCs, because the only information required in the Articles of Organization is:
1. The name of the company,
2. The name and address of the resident agent (to be explained shortly), and
3. The duration of the LLC.
These states do not require the names of members or managers. (Managers, in any case, are not recommended.) The principal office can be anywhere in the world, and a street address
is not needed. There need be no mention of capitalization,
whether one dollar or a billion.
Further, only a single member is required, not two—as is the
case in so many states, and there are no annual reports. Thus,
changes in membership take place in total darkness. Neither are
there any annual fees. Compare this with California's annual
$800 (minimum) franchise taxi
At this writing, the state I use for all LLCs—both my own and
for my clients—is New Mexico. If you use a lawyer to form the
company, figure the cost to vary between $1,500 and $3,000,
assuming the lawyer will do it at all. Many will not, as they do
not feel qualified to answer your questions and draft a proper
operating agreement. An attorney from Florida sent me a video
offering his services in setting up limited-liability companies, and
quoted a price of $2,000, which is about average. However, he
calls them Limited Liability "Corporations," which makes me
wonder about his competence in this field.
The laws in all states require that both corporations and limitedliability companies have a resident agent in that state who can
receive official communications and send them on promptly to
the owner or manager of the company. This must be a real street
address, not a mail-receiving agency. (If the resident agent resigns—perhaps for nonpayment of his annual fee—then a new
resident agent must be found within a short time. If not, the
state will dissolve the company.)
Lawyers can form LLCs in any state because they use one of
two national resident-agent companies, either CT Corporation
or Network (formerly Prentice Hall). Both companies charge attorneys $120 plus fees and costs to file Articles of Organization,
plus $165 per year to act as resident agents.
However, in the appendix at the back of this book I list two
trustworthy sources for obtaining New Mexico LLCs. I've used
both of them for the past eleven years and have total confidence
in them. (The second one, "M.M.M.," charges me less than a
hundred dollars a year per company.)
At first, many of my clients seem confused when I tell them
about limited-liability companies. I understand this. When LLCs
first started to be used in the U.S., many lawyers were confused.
But for the purposes of privacy, the use of an LLC can be remarkably simple. When formed correctly, here are the two pages
you will receive:
This official-appearing document with the state seal,
signed by the both the chairman and the director of the
State Corporation Commission, contains this information:
• Name of the LLC
• Official number in the state records
• The effective starting date
No one has ever asked me for this document. Either frame
it and hang it on your office wall, or file it.
This is the working document. It contains the following
information, all of which is of public record. The organizer
(which may or may not be a lawyer) prepares these articles, and often lists a manager, members, true addresses,
and other information which is not required by the state.
However, any organizer I refer you to will be privacyoriented and will include only the following information
in the Articles of Organization:
• The name of the LLC.
• The latest date upon which the company is to dissolve
(usually fifty years in advance).
• The street address of the company's initial registered
office and the name and street address of the company's resident agent. [Both addresses will be the same,
that of your agent in the state capital.]
• The address of the company's principal place of business. [This is not a requirement in New Mexico, but a
good organizer includes it for an extremely important
reason. You must list any address in the world other
than the state where the LLC is registered because otherwise, it will be assumed to be an in-state company
and thus subject to NM state employment laws, with
forms to be filed.]
Make copies of the Articles of Organization and have them
ready to present when registering your new car, plane,
boat, travel trailer, or snowmobile. (See Chapter 13 for
detailed, step-by-step instructions.)
There are unusual advantages to holding a copyright for a song,
play, book, or work of art in the name of an LLC. Remember:
• The LLC name need not show up on any tax return.
The income is listed on your personal tax return. No K-2
forms are required if there are no partners.
• If you wish to transfer future income to anyone else,
merely transfer ownership of the LLC. (Just a simple letter for the "files" should be sufficient.)
• If you wish to bring the income into a corporation or
any other legal entity, merely transfer the ownership.
If you wish to pass ownership on to your children, leave your
sole membership to them in your will.
This is where an LLC really shines, especially if you live in a state
with a sales tax. Remember, the Articles of Organization do not
name the owner. If ever there was a case where possession was
nine-tenths of the law, possession of the Articles of Organization
is it. The LLC is owned by whoever you say owns it—who can
prove different? The state does not know. The organizer does not
know. No one knows unless you tell them! No shares are transferred because an LLC does not have shares. No report is ever
made to the state on transfers because there is no annual report.
An obvious question is, "What if someone does not believe
you?" I can only say that in nearly thirty years of using LLCs, I
have never been asked to prove that I owned one, nor has any
client to my knowledge. However, if such a question ever came
up, I might offer to prepare and have notarized a statement that
I am the sole member (assuming that to be the case). Or, more
likely, I would pick a nominee and hand him the LLC, telling
him he was "Owner for a Day." To avoid any future question
about this, I would draft a simple letter for the files to show the
ownership was then transferred back to me. We would both sign.
However, there is almost no chance such a situation will ever
come up. In this respect, having the Articles of Organization in
your hand is similar to having a check in your hand that is made
out to "Cash."
If you have multiple legal entities such as corporations, trusts,
and other LLCs, do you see how easy it is to transfer ownership?
If you buy a new pickup and later transfer it to a company you
own, you take the Articles out of your personal file and drop
them into the company file. Later, if you decide it would be
better to have your trust own it, you switch the Articles to the
trust file. If your brother-in-law wants to buy the car later, you
hand him the Articles and take the cash. Here are the only
changes that need be made:
1. Insurance company: change the name of the principal
2. Department of Motor Vehicles: change of address (for receiving the annual registration notice).
Although a pickup is being used as an example, the same
principles apply to real estate, boats, loans, options, or whatever.
In summary:
1. The article is purchased, received, or acquired in the name
of an LLC.
2. Whoever owns the LLC owns the article.
3. Ownership is transferred by handing (or mailing) the LLC
to the new owner, along with a letter acknowledging that
4. There is no public record for any of these changes. No sales
taxes need be paid because the legal owner is still the same,
the original LLC.
In the previous example, the pickup is never sold. Therefore,
there are no transfer fees and no state sales tax. I checked this
with an attorney. He says a few states may have some obscure
regulation about "bulk sales transfers." However, since the state
has no way to know about these private transfers—no more than
they would know if an envelope of cash was being handed
around—his advice was not to worry. However, I cannot guarantee that this is 101 percent legal. To be certain about the
regulations in your particular state, check with your legal or accounting expert.
Sale to a third party: Continuing with the example of the
pickup, suppose your brother-in-law decides to sell his pickup
to a stranger. The buyer will then have two choices. Either he
will buy the LLC (and thus save the sales tax) or he will purchase
the pickup from the LLC just as he would from anyone else.
Most of the time the buyer, unfamiliar with LLCs, will opt to
purchase the pickup outright, and that's fine. He is the one that
pays the tax, not the seller.
Income from an LLC flows through to members, which can include domestic or foreign individuals and/or corporations, etc.
Therefore, since there is no income, there is no need for the LLC
to have a tax identification number (TIN) from the IRS. In fact,
the IRS will not know the LLC even exists unless you chose to
tell them.
You may, of course, decide to do just that in case you want
a bank account in the LLC name. Let us assume that this will
be a checking account for a small business and will not be interest
bearing. In that case:
1. You or your accountant will fill out the simple SS-4 form
and send it to the Internal Revenue Service. They will assign you a TIN.
2. You then open the bank account by furnishing a photocopy of the LLC's Articles of Organization and giving the
new tax identification number.
3. Once this has been done, advise the IRS to cancel the LLC
because it will not be used. (And from their viewpoint this
is essentially true. The bank will never make a report to
the IRS under the TIN because no income is ever generated.)
Until 1997, there was some uncertainty as to how singlemember limited-liability companies (LLCs) were to be taxed.
However, the IRS has since ruled that a single-member LLC does
not need a separate tax ID number because no separate return
need be filed. Income (if any) form the LLC is reported on the
normal schedule C along with any other "sole proprietor" income. Or, if the single LLC member is a corporation, any income
is merely reported as a branch of the operation. Once again, the
LLC does not need a separate tax ID number because no separate
return need be filed.
If you are seriously interested in Level Three privacy, then I
suggest you use multiple LLCs in every aspect of your life, including alternate mail addresses, home and car ownership, sideline businesses, whatever!
If you decide to run an actual business in your area with one
of your LLCs, then for added liability protection do qualify it to
do business in your state. But contract the work among various
LLCs, if necessary, to avoid having ten or more employees in a
single company and thus subjecting yourself to the federal EP &
C Right to Know Act of 1986. [With fifteen employees it gets
worse—you'll come under the Civil Rights Act and also the
Americans with Disabilities Act.]
What if I open a bank account unth my New Mexico LLC
but then fail to pay the resident agent?
If you fail to maintain a resident agent, then the LLC will be
in default (i.e., no longer "in good standing"). However, the bank
will not know this. The only way they could find out would be
to call the State Corporation Commission in Santa Fe to inquire,
or check the New Mexico Web site. There would seldom be a
reason to do so, however.
Many years ago I formed a corporation in a western state,
obtained a tax identification number, opened several bank
accounts, bought two vehicles, started up a new business, and
then transferred the assets to an LLC. I dissolved the corporation
and made a final tax return. In the years to follow, I kept and
used one of the bank accounts, and to this day I have a leftover
GMC pickup that is still in the corporate name. (The same
principles apply to an LLC.)
However, I am not saying you should not pay your resident
agent. I am merely answering the question above. All things
being equal, I suggest you do keep your companies in force by
paying the resident agent, just in case someone at a future time
does check to see if your LLC is in good standing.
Might an LLC be used as a gift?
If you wish to instill the concept of personal privacy into your
children, I can think of no better high-school or university graduation gift than a limited-liability company. Think of the privacy
that you would be enjoying today, had you started working on
it right after graduation! Here are two options:
1. If you plan to present the actual documents, the LLC will
have to have a name. Why not choose a geographical name
from your area? For instance, if you live in San Pedro, California, one of these might work:
• Rolling Hills Associates
• Lomita Limited LC
• Point Fermin Enterprises LC
• Harbor Lake Services LC
2. Present a gift certificate good for one limited-liability company—any name—within the next year. (Any incorporator
should be willing to do this.)
Things are seldom what they seem/, Skim milk masquerades as cream.
It was less than a year ago that I swung my black Jaguar sedan
down the ramp and into a "24-hr, security" parking garage at
Seattle's SeaTac Airport, snatched the ticket stub from the attendant, raced for the shuttle bus, and just barely caught my
flight to Phoenix. Eight days later I returned to SeaTac, caught
the shuttle back to the garage, and joined the check-in line.
When I presented my ticket stub, the cashier hesitated.
"Sir," he said, "Please step to one side. The manager will be
right out."
The manager came out, introduced himself, and led me back
to his office. I had visions of a scratch in the paint or a ding in
a fender.
"The day you left," he said, "your car disappeared."
"Disappeared, as in stolen?" (So much for the twenty-fourhour security . . . )
He explained that the same evening I left, one of the attendants parked a car in the stall where my car had been. When he
turned the number in to the cashier, the computer showed the
stall was already occupied. They quickly searched the entire
building to see if my car had been parked in another spot in
error. When they failed to find it, they reported it stolen. The
next morning the police spotted it, badly damaged, sitting at
home plate on a baseball diamond in a Seattle park.
I have the King County Police Vehicle Impound Report before me as I write this. In the Narrative section, line 4, the officer
wrote, "Unable to contact owner." Here's why: The car was in the
name of an LLC in state A. The address listed for this company
was in faraway State B, and a reverse directory failed to show a
telephone number at that address.
Although for many years I have been registering my vehicles in
the name of limited-liability companies, this was the first time
my security precautions had been put to the test. No damage
would have been done, of course, had the police been able to
contact me in this particular case. However, a short time later
my security precautions were to prove worthwhile. As soon as
the insurance agent handed me a check for my Jaguar—it was
too badly damaged to repair—I bought another car and headed
A few days later I arrived in Minneapolis and spent Saturday
afternoon visiting used bookstores. It was just getting dark that
evening when I pulled out of a parking lot onto West Lake
Street, in a hurry because I had to meet a friend from Madrid
who was about to arrive at the airport. I failed to see an oncoming motorcycle and almost clipped a Harley being ridden by a
three hundred-pound bearded bruiser. He screamed something
like "$#*@%&!1," waved his fist, and made violent gestures to
have me pull over. (If you've ever been on West Lake Street in
south Minneapolis after dark, you know this is not a good neighborhood in which to pull over.)
It was too dark for the rider to see any "so-sorry" gestures—
had I made them—so I fed more gas to the horses under the
hood. The overweight biker followed me right on to 35W going
south, with all the time in the world to memorize my license
number. Although I do not scare easily, this time I was seriously
alarmed, enough to set a new Minnesota speed record between
West Thirty-fifth and the 1-494 junction, where I cut the lights
and peeled off at the exit. Whether he memorized the number
or not, and whether he was carrying a gun or not, once I lost the
biker I was safe forever—the plates would lead him nowhere.
But my heart was still thumping when I pulled into airport parking.
Five Saturdays later I was in Londonderry, New Hampshire,
to meet Carl Prague, an old friend who used to live aboard the
Raider, a 1912, wooden sailboat with Santa Cruz de Tenerife
(Canary Islands) as a home base. A stiff wind was blowing
when we stopped at the Country Market on Highway 102 to
pick up some wine and snacks, and when we came out, a few
abandoned shopping carts were starting to move. Just as we
were putting the groceries in the car a hard gust sent a cart
racing past us and across the parking lot directly toward a
parked Honda Civic with a man and a woman in it. There was
no way to stop it, and we watched as it struck the driver's
door with a resounding clang and bounced back. As we continued to watch, we could see that the woman was obviously
screaming at the man to do something, and the "something"
turned out to be a trip over to see me. Assuming he wanted
some help, I lowered my window halfway as he came around
my side, and said hello.
"Your cart hit my carl"
"Excuse me? We didn't have a cart."
"Yes you did, and we saw it come from here."
At least he didn't weigh more than 140, and my friend Carl
is an ex-wrestler, so this time I was just amused, not scared.
"I wrote down your license number," the man muttered, brandishing a scrap of paper, "and you'll hear from my lawyer."
Well, best of luck, buddy, and have a nice day.
It is easier than you think. (If you skipped Chapter 12, now
would be a good time to go back and read it.) My clients, nevertheless, are often reluctant to start using limited-liability companies because they have never done it before.
One such person was Jim in San Francisco, who asked me to
help him purchase a used Lincoln Town Car with almost no
miles on it. It was for sale by a private party in Washington and
Jim wanted to title it in that state for personal reasons. He asked
for my help because he was not sure he could handle the registration and yet keep his name out of it. Here is the transaction
1. Since Jim was in a hurry, I pulled a New Mexico "shelf
LLC from my files that I'll call Golden Gateway LC. (A
shelf LLC is one that has been formed in the past for future use, and just put "on the shelf until needed. I recommend this procedure to all readers, and personally keep
shelf LLCs on hand at all times.) We then flew to Seattle,
rented a car, and drove out to Port Angeles to make the
2. The seller, a ninety-seven-year-old (!) woman who had
purchased the car in 1991 and then stored it, signed off on
the title. She also signed the bill of sale I had prepared
beforehand. We filled in Golden Gateway LC as the buyer
and gave a ghost address that Jim had already set up
through a friend in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
3. Rather than go to the Department of Motor Vehicles in
Port Angeles, we checked the yellow pages under "Licens-
ing Services" and picked a private licensing bureau. (They
charge a small fee for handling the paperwork but are easier to deal with than state employees.) Jim went through
the line with me, but only as an observer. He wanted to
see how I would answer the questions.
Clerk: "What's the UBI number for this company?"
[Washington requires an ID number for all legal
entities doing business in their state.]
Me: "Golden Gateway LC doesn't do business in this
state, and Wyoming doesn't require a UBI number."
Clerk: "Then why not license it in Wyoming?"
Me: "For at least six months the car will be in this
state, and the law requires we therefore license
it here." [100 percent correct, always.]
The clerk accepted that, and then asked me for ID. I explained
that the car was not for me but for the company, and showed her
the LLC's Articles of Organization. She let that pass, but had a
number of some sort been needed, she could have typed in the sixdigit filing number written at the top of the Articles. She then
pushed a computer printout over to me and showed me where to
sign. I scrawled an illegible signature that matched the one on the
bill of sale (although she didn't ask to see it).
Clerk: "Print your title after your signature, please."
Since I was neither a member nor a manager of Jim's newly
acquired company, I printed in "Sales Mgr." (Jim retroactively
appointed me "Sales Manager for a Day.") We paid the various
license and transfer fees in cash and were on our way. What had
been accomplished?
First and foremost, total privacy. Suppose a private investigator
sees Jim's car parked in Las Vegas at what he considers a sus-
picious address. He makes a note of the Washington license
plate, and obtains whatever information is on file with the Department of Motor Vehicles in Olympia. He will get the name
"Golden Gateway LC" and an address in Wyoming, nothing
more. If the PI then calls the Secretary of State's office in Cheyenne, he will learn that it is not a Wyoming company. That
leaves him forty-nine states plus the District of Columbia to
check out. Even if he eventually calls Santa Fe, the records in
New Mexico will reveal only the name of the resident agent. If
he contacted the resident agent, he would learn that the agent
does not give out information without a subpoena. If he were
able to serve a fake subpoena (unlikely), he would get an address
in the Canary Islands from the agent because that is the address
I use for all shelf companies. And trust me on this one—the
Canary Islands address is the end of the line.
Second: If Jim so wishes, ownership can be transferred to one
of his companies, or to a friend, with no sales tax (explained in
Chapter 12).
LLCs are ideal for tilting the following:
• Cars, trucks, tractors, motorcycles.
• Snowmobiles, boats, utility trailers.
• RVs, travel trailers, pickup campers.
How many LLCs are needed? Although I use a separate
limited-liability company for every purchase, many will consider
this as overkill. The other extreme would be to use a single LLC
for all purchases. There is no serious problem with this. The two
minor drawbacks are:
1. You cannot transfer ownership of a single item by transferring ownership of the LLC because everything is titled
2. If a PI is searching for assets and discovers that you own—
for example—a boat in the name of an LLC, he will then
search state records for any other titles in the same name
. . . and discover the other things you own.
Many of my clients work with four companies: They use the
first for their principal car, van, or SUV, the second for an additional vehicle, the third for real estate other than their home,
and the fourth for everything else.
The best way to purchase a home is with a revocable trust, especially where a mortgage is involved. (See Chapter 10.) A trust
is not a do-it-yourself project—use a tax attorney or a CPA who
has experience with estate planning.
When you decide to purchase a new home, much more is
involved, of course, than merely the name on the title deed. The
true example that follows [names have been changed] brings
everything together:
The following account is of an actual move by two of my readers
who shall here be referred to as Harold and Helen Bond. They
decided to move to a small city two counties removed, since
many records are kept by county only, with no cross-references
to other counties. The purpose of this move was to make a complete break with all past records. I'll call their previous home
Old-City in Old-County, and the move will be to New-City in
Before they started, here are some questions they asked themselves, and the answers they came up with. (It is vital to make
these decisions beforehand.)
• When asked for our present address, what will that be?
[A ghost address at the far end of the state.]
• When asked for our present telephone number, what
shall we say? [We just had the telephone disconnected as
we are selling our home.]
• When getting a new cell phone number, what will be
the reason? [We are often in this area to see friends and
would like a local number.]
• When getting a new local ghost address for mail, what
excuse will we give? [We plan to move to this area but
will often be traveling and we need a permanent address.]
The Bonds have a history of making fast decisions. Within a
week they located a nearly new home in New-County, with no
close neighbors. It was listed for $219,500 and had been on the
market for six months. The Bonds contacted the listed agent.
Before writing up the offer, they explained to the agent that they
valued their privacy. Therefore, neither of their names was to
appear on any written document whatsoever. The offer was
then made in the name of a trust they had already had drawn
up: the Cheyenne Valley Trust. As trustee, Helen Bond signed
her maiden name, "Helen Hennesy."
The owner, an elderly woman no longer able to live alone, was
given just three hours to accept or refuse an offer of $200,000,
with $50,000 payable at the close. Jim, the real-estate agent,
explained to her that the buyers would pay the balance due in
one year or less, and until that time they would make monthly
payments of approximately $1,000, representing interest only on
the loan, at the rate of 10 percent. [No Social Security number
could be given and thus no credit check. But none was needed.
If the Bonds defaulted, she would keep the $50,000 down.] She
accepted the offer. The Bonds now had a year in which to sell
their old home and pay off the private note. (When the seller
owns his or her own home, it is very common to carry part of
the loan for a short period of time. It is also perfectly safe
because the seller takes a first mortgage or deed of trust against
the property for the amount of the loan.)
When the title company learned that title would be taken in
the name of a trust, and signed by one trustee only, they asked
for a copy of the trust. Although the trust document showed the
trustees to be Harold and Helen Bond, it contained this clause:
"Helen Bond may sign any legal document with her maiden
name, Helen Hennesy, and this will have the same legal validity
as if she had signed her name as Helen Bond." (This means the
name Bond does not appear in the court system. It remains hidden in the copy of the trust, which resides only in the files of
the title company.)
Insurance: All previous insurance had been carried via State
Farm. The new home was insured in New-City but the insurance
on the vehicles was left with the State Farm agent in Old-City.
State Farm allows this, providing both agents are in the same
state. (An agent from one area cannot tap into the computer
from another area.) Thus, the State Farm agent in Old-City did
not learn the address of the new residence.
New telephone number: Harold Bond called GTE for "new residential service," said his name was Martin Johnson, and asked
for two lines with unpublished numbers. He gave the true address for installation and his ghost address for the billing address.
"And your Social Security number, Mr. Johnson?"
"I never use my Social Security number for identification."
"In that case you will have to go to our GTE phone store in
New-City Mall and identify yourself with picture ID. They'll
give you a receipt with a code number, and as soon as you have
it, call us back."
Harold put on a suit and tie and showed up at the phone
store. Both a male and a female were at the counter. He recalled
reading that PIs after information always say a male PI should
pick a female clerk, and vice versa. He explained his "problem"
to the female clerk.
"My name is Harold Bond but for many years I've been writ-
ing articles about home security for national magazines and my
telephone is always listed in my pen name, Martin Johnson."
"Well, we need to know who you really are."
"Of course, and here's my passport."
Once his identity was established with the passport, he was
given a code number and assured that the telephone would be
listed in their computers as Martin Johnson.
With the receipt in hand, Bond called GTE again. He identified himself as Martin Johnson, said he had been to their phone
store, and now had a code number. He gave this number, and
was told that all was now well, and that the two new numbers
would be in service within five business days. (It is not always
that easy. If you have a telephone company like U.S. West, you
may need a nominee.)
Propane gas: A propane tank was already in use at the new
home so Helen Bond called the company to transfer the billing
name to Cheyenne Valley Trust. When asked for her name, she
gave it as Helen Hennesy. All bills were to go to the ghost address.
Power company: A phone call for a change from the previous
owner to Cheyenne Valley Trust was all it took. No deposit required.
Garbage pickup: In some areas this can be extremely difficult,
but when Helen called the company in New-City she was merely
asked for the new name and billing address. (I once tried to
arrange for garbage pickup in a rural area, but the clerk was
adamant. She refused to consider a cash deposit. "Social Security
number or no pickup!" I ended up hauling our garbage to the
local sanitary landfill on a regular basis, rather than look for a
Library card: Every move presents different problems. In this
case, the Bonds found that getting a library card was as difficult
as the garbage pickup was easy. There are five libraries in NewCountry—each with financial difficulties—and the rural areas are
divided among the city libraries. Cards from one library cannot
be used at any other library. Non-city residents must not only
pay a forty-dollar annual fee but must show picture ID along
with proof that they reside at an address within the library's territory. The Bonds left this one till last. Then Harold showed up
with suit, tie, title insurance for his new home (Cheyenne Valley
Trust), and his passport. Since the phone book showed a number
of Bond families in the county, Harold filled out the application
as "Stanley Bond," since the passport showed Stanley as his middle name.
"Your telephone number, Stanley?"
"Sorry, but we don't have one yet."
"Well, we need the last four digits for a pin number."
"You can use 1812, from the last phone we had." (Actually
just an easy-to-remember number: The War of 1812.)
Technically, this violated the rule of never, ever having your
name and your true address listed together. However, the Bonds
did not worry about it because:
• They had already checked, and learned that the five
country libraries do not exchange information with one
• They knew from the local telephone book that there
were seventeen Bonds listed, and a good guess would be
at least ten more Bond families unlisted. Anyone looking
for "Harold" would not recognize "Stanley" because Harold had never used his middle name in Old-City.
• The library did not have Harold's Social Security number, nor his date of birth.
At the present time, no one is after the Bonds (as far as they
know). However, suppose for whatever reason, someone named
Heinrich from a previous life decides to track them down and sue
them. He goes to a PI for help and the PI starts running the names
Harold Bond and Helen Bond through computer databases. Nothing will show up in court records, nor in utilities, nor telephone
records. Nothing in national databases for magazine subscriptions
(other than persons with the same name, of course). Nothing un-
der vehicle ownership. Nothing from the DMV in the present
state, since the Bonds use out-of-state licenses. At this point,
rather than start spending tens of thousands of dollars to continue,
Heinrich will most likely call off the search.
I just moved from Denver to Miami. Since I am keeping
my Colorado driver's license should I also keep my Colorado
license plates?
This question comes up constantly, and the answer is, "it
depends." Leslie L——is one of my clients. Les works for a wellknown electronics company in California's Silicon Valley. He
also happens to live there but he licensed his new Porsche in
Texas (big tax savings) and obtained a Texas driver's license. He
does have a ghost address in Texas and he knows the area around
One day he was stopped and questioned by the California
Highway Patrol. The officer did not accept his story of being
from Texas. He was ordered to obtain California plates within
thirty days or face a serious penalty. Rather than accept this, Les
went to court.
"I'm a Texas resident," he said. "The officer made a mistake.
Here in my Texas driver's license with my Texas home address."
The judge accepted this explanation and Les kept his Texas
plates. Two months later, Les was in a commuter parking lot
taking a nap in his car.
"A cop woke me up and was suspicious of the Texas plates
and my Texas driver's license. He asked me a lot of questions
about what I was doing and how long had I been out here. I
simply said, 'I'm a Texas resident working out here temporarily.'
He called it in, and everything was okay, so he left me alone."
However, I suspect that with a few more experiences like this,
Les will bite the bullet and pay the costly fee for California
Can I have both local and out-of state license plates for the
same car?
Absolutely—in fact, I currently have dual plates for one of
my own cars. It was originally purchased and registered in State
A. I also licensed it in State B, where I own a home. I explained
to the clerk at the licensing bureau that I was keeping my old
registration as well, because I spend half of my time back there.
"But then," said the clerk, "you will have to pay the annual
registration fees in both states." I assured her that was no problem. Here is why I keep two plates:
Local plate: This way I have no problems with nosy neighbors
or the local cops.
Out-of-state plate: I get out the screwdriver and switch plates
only for short periods of time. One of these times is when I arrange to meet persons who have no idea I 'm in the area. They assume I am just passing through on a trip. In fact, I call attention to
the plate when I make the appointment: "I'll meet you at Denny's
at Exit 34. Watch for a black sedan with [State B] plates."
This is also the plate I would put on if I were going to meet
with someone I did not trust. For example, a bent PI with an
equally bent pal in the police department who might someday
be asked to put out a watch for my car. (They would search in
vain for a car with the State B plates, because the plates for that
car would be hidden back in my garage.)
Summary: I highly recommend the use of dual plates for Level
Three privacy.
I own several very expensive collector cars and it would
cost a fortune to pay the sales tax if I refilled them in the
names of limited-liability companies. The registrations are in
my name and with my true address. Any suggestions?
In the long term, you may wish to sell your cars. When you
buy more, title them with LLCs not only for privacy but for taxfree transfers as explained in Chapter 12. Meanwhile, when you
next pay your annual fee, turn in a change of address. The ghost
address should not be traceable back to you, and must show on
the registration certificate. That way, anyone looking for you will
be led astray.
Warning: Learn from a mistake made by Ira G——, one of
my newer clients who is a divorced attorney in a Chicago suburb.
His first move was to change the address on the registration for
each of his collector cars. One of them was a Triumph stored at
a friend's house about an hour's drive from where he lives. He
handled the change of address by mail and did not get around
to driving over to take the old registration out of the glove compartment. About the same time the ghost address was registered,
his Triumph disappeared. Ira did not discover this fact for about
two months and when he did, the thief appeared to be someone
in a dispute with the friend. Ira called the thief, who turned out
to be an ex-Hell's Angel on a first-name basis with local authorities. An argument ensued in which the thief claimed he
took the car from the friend's garage in payment of a debt. He
was furious with the lawyer for threatening him. Can you see it
coming? This ex-Hell's Angel guy had the car with the old registration in it, which showed the home address of the lawyer's
wife, where she lived alone with their young son.
Would this be a good time for you to go through the glove
compartments of your vehicles, collector-type or otherwise?
What do you think about vanity license plates?
Personally, I prefer not to use vanity plates because they draw
attention to the driver. If you do decide on a vanity plate, you
may wish to copy one of two plates I've seen and liked. The first
was seen on a new Jaguar several years ago: 000-000. Last month
I saw the second—strangely enough, it was on another new Jaguar: NO NMBR.
Will hiding my true address and having license plates that
cannot be traced protect me from stalkers?
You mean, like, "guaranteed"? When it comes to privacy and
security, there are few if any guarantees, but the precautions you
mention will certainly balance the odds in your favor. According
to a 1997 National Institute of Justice study, one in twelve
American women is stalked at least once, and stalkers pursue or
harass at least 1 million women every year. The telephone survey, which contacted 8,000 women and 8,000 men, found that
8.1 percent of women surveyed and 2.2 percent of the men reported that they had been stalked at least once. According to the
study, only half the victims in the study said they reported the
episode to the police. Of women who obtained restraining orders
against stalkers, 80 percent reported that these orders were violated.
Note that men as well as women may be stalked, and four
times out of five, going to the police does not help. Even though
you follow every instruction in this book one danger still remains—the danger of being spotted and then followed. If the
stalker knows where you play, work, or worship, or who and
where your friends are, he (or a PI in his employ) can follow you
Is there a remedy? Not entirely, unless you are never located
in the first place. If you have to meet with the stalker, such as
in court, you may be followed, and there is always the danger
that the stalker or his agent will be successful. On the other
hand, ask any private investigator what the greatest problem he
faces is when doing surveillance and you'll learn that the danger
is that the victim is aware. Perhaps not aware of any specific
thing, but just aware in general. Looking around when walking,
watching the mirrors when driving, etc.
Carjackers say the same thing—many crimes would have
been avoided had the victims been aware of their approach. In
my own case, I never allow any specific car to follow me for a
period of time in rural areas (where my homes invariably are). I
drive a few miles over the speed limit and if a car comes up
behind me I turn on the right turn the signal, slow down, and
force him to pass. There are a few other measures I take, as well,
but you get the idea.
If you live in a city and think a certain car is following you,
make four right turns, i.e., go around the block. If the car you've
seen in your mirrors follows you, do not go home. Drive to the
nearest police station or fire station or to a well-lighted gas station with a number of cars filling up. Hopefully you have your
cell phone with you, in which case you can dial 911.
If a stalker can be identified, why not recommend that someone just beat him up?
The author of a series of books on street fighting reviewed
this chapter and recommends just that. To quote from his last
Stalked women should immediately get a man (husband, boyfriend, father, uncle, godfather, etc.) to take out the stalker. I've
done it twice. With the first guy, I followed him into the men's
room of a bar (where I knew the bouncer and didn't have to
worry about the complications), and, quite literally, beat the s—
out of him. I left him with the warning, "Walk into the
same room with her, and I'll feed you to my dogs." With the
other guy, I cornered him in an elevator and gave him a choice:
either break his lease and move out of the building in which the
woman lived, or I was taking him to the roof for a little 20-story
diving practice.
However, I do not recommend this procedure to others because:
1. It is illegal (which is why I haven't named the well-known
author). You could be sued or go to jail.
2. If the stalker survives the beating, he may kill his target in
revenge, then kill himself.
What precautions can be taken against carjackers?
Privacy and security go together. In the words of the Los Angeles Police Department—referring to carjackings—"Don't give
up your privacy." In other words, never get into your own car at
gunpoint. Just pretend to faint (or maybe do it for real!) and fall
down, limp.
Here's a scam I recently heard about (again). It's an oldie, but
still works. A new Mercedes was parked at a Minnesota shopping
mall one foggy morning and someone reported to the office that
the lights on a white Mercedes, license plate so-and-so, had been
left on. When the owner showed up the lights were not on—and
she was robbed at gunpoint and the car taken.
Female drivers, when alone, attract more attention than
males. One solution is to tint your windows as dark—or darker—
than the law allows. Then have a male mannequin in the passenger seat. In fact, with dark enough tinting you may even get
by with one of those rubber masks from a costume store. Just
slip it over the headrest—can't hurt, might help. (Just don't use
this gag for the car-pool lane, however. There are a few cops out
there without an adequate sense of humor.)
While on this subject, I have an article from the Skagit Valley
Herald, dated January 10, 1998, and titled "Accused Rapist had
been Jailed."
According to police, the man rammed his car into the
woman's vehicle about 7 P.M. Wednesday. The woman
later told police she got out and the man then pushed her
into his own car, climbed in, and drove south . . . he beat
her up and raped her.
Hint to you husbands: note the words "she got out." Might this
be a good time to review security with your wife, and make sure
she always keeps her doors locked and has her cell phone with
If you can't convince them, confuse them.
Any bank account you have in your own name (in whatever
state), tied in with your Social Security number, can be tracked
down by agencies specializing in asset searches for lawyers. This
includes certificates of deposit as well as IRA accounts.
Robert O'Harrow, Jr., from the Washington Post, writes that
"lawyers, debt collectors and private investigators buy the data to
help in civil lawsuits, divorces, and other financial matters. Prices
range from just over $ 100 to several thousand dollars for a look at
banks nationwide and a report that includes information about
stocks, mutual funds, and safe-deposit boxes." O'Harrow relates
the account of a security official at BankBoston ". . . who noticed
an ad for one of the services and anonymously ordered a search on
himself. When the report came back, the official, Frederick Tilley,
said he learned new details about his own accounts. 'They came
back with the account information, down to the penny,' said Tilley. 'There are lots of them and it's freely advertised.'"
For pages and pages of advertisements with headings like ASSETS LOCATED and WE'LL SHOW YOU THE MONEY! see
P.I. Magazine (listed in Appendix I) or California Lawyer. Copies
of the individual checks themselves may also be obtained, since
all checks are microfilmed front and back. This reveals not only
payees and endorsers but also memos (if any) and signatures.
If you are the subject of the search, what will the computers
reveal? Do you wish to be identified as one with deep pockets,
or would you prefer to be considered judgment-proof (i.e., with
not enough assets worth suing you for)?
Or suppose, with no forewarning, you find yourself under
investigation by someone who wishes to cause you harm. This
could be anyone from an ex-employee to a disgruntled present
or former mate. A private detective may come up with information from so far in the past that you had forgotten it was
there. Imagine that you are forced via subpoena duces tecum to
turn over all bank records for the past three years. Are there
any checks, any charges, that you would prefer to remain
secret? (Think about this carefully. Consider newsletter subscriptions, contributions, trips, purchases of alcohol, guns, ammunition, or whatever. Consider rentals, from autos to motels
to videos.)
Yes, I know that small ads run continually in small offbeat
newsletters and magazines, or in direct mail offers, with a heading like:
The cost is usually $10. I answer these ads just to be sure that
something new hasn't been discovered. To date, nothing has.
The reports tell you to attempt to open a bank account but to
state that you will not give your Social Security number. The
bank representative then refuses to proceed, at which point you
threaten to sue the bank, listing rather generic legal references
designed to intimidate. To satisfy your curiosity and to save you
ten dollars—the bank will refuse to open such an account.
Nevertheless, all is not lost. Difficult? Yes. Hopeless? No. I
have been involved in the secret use of bank accounts in the U.S.
and/or offshore since 1959 and have not experienced any serious
As I said in the previous section, since we are discussing privacy measures rather than tax evasion, you need have no secrets from the IRS. This report is about hiding bank accounts
from your enemies, not from the IRS. Some of my suggestions
that follow may be offbeat and perhaps underhanded. I agree,
but they are not currently, nor are they anticipated to become
illegal, according to my American attorney, who reviews all my
This method requires the assistance of a relative or friend. Let's
call this person Sally Faith. Sally can open a bank account in her
own name or as the principal in a trust, a corporation, or a
limited-liability company. [We assume Sally is such a low-profile
person that no one would ever bother to sue her.) Let's assume
you wish to have her open this account in her own name. Here
are the steps:
1. Choose an independent bank in a state where neither you
nor Sally lives. This will isolate both of you from routine
searches and will hide Sally's possible death (should such
occur) from the bank authorities long enough for you to
cash a final check, closing out all but the last $10 from the
2. Prepare Sally for obvious questions such as, "Since you live
in California, why are you opening this account here in
Pioche, Nevada?" The answer might be "I'm thinking about
moving here within the next three months."
3. Withdraw cash from your present account(s), perhaps
$1,000. Purchase a bank cashier's check from a bank where
you are not known, made out to Sally Faith and with a
fictitious remitter.
4. Next, Sally practices, hour after hour, an indecipherable
signature, the kind businessmen use all over Europe. She
then assembles the necessary identification (a passport is
best, if she has one, since it gives far less information than
a driver's license), travels to the city where the bank is
located, and opens the account. She accepts a few temporary checks and deposit slips but does not order checks
through the bank. You order them from a mail-order company such as Checks in the Mail (1-800-773-4443) or Current Checks (1-800-533-3973). Use a starting number of
8001 or higher, so that the account appears to have been
established years ago. Order any printed name you like,
such as "S. F. Services," and either list no address at all
or just any city and state you prefer. When the checks
come—hopefully enough to last you for years—Sally sits
down and signs them until her signatures start to vary.
Time out for coffee or Dr Pepper, then she continues to
sign, with breaks, until finished.
5. You, of course, keep all the checks, either well hidden or
under lock and key. From this point on you use these presigned checks in any way you please. (For deposits, order
and use a rubber stamp.)
I suggest you keep the balance reasonably low. Open a noninterest-bearing account so that there will be no report to the
IRS. Perhaps you pay Sally a flat fee for setting things up, and
then pay her $100 an hour if you need her services later on, such
as for signing new checks. Allowing five seconds per signature,
plus short breaks to rest her fingers, she should be able to sign
five hundred checks within an hour.
Ads are constantly running in Inc. magazine, the Wall Street Journal and other publications by incorporators such as Laughlin Associates (Nevada) and CorpCo (Delaware). They offer to form
a corporation for you that in many cases will include a corporate
bank account.
Beware! If you are actually going to do business in your own
area, which does not happen to be either Delaware or Nevada,
then the out-of-state corporation will have to be "qualified to do
business" in your own state. It will be simpler and cheaper to
form your own corporation (or limited-liability company) in your
home state, and that is, in fact, what I suggest you do.
However, if you are not going to be doing business locally,
then the ideal state for incorporating is not Delaware or Nevada,
but Wyoming. Both Nevada and Delaware draw too much attention, both require corporate identifiers such as Inc. or Ltd.,
and the IRS audits more corporations in Nevada (owing to prior
abuses) than in any other state. Nevertheless, whichever state is
used, you will be subject to complex tax rules and regulations,
and under a general obligation to hold corporate meetings and
keep corporate minutes. If opening a normal bank account is
your sole objective, then an LLC will serve your purposes better
than a corporation. But sometimes other factors do enter in, so
let's consider this subject a bit more:
In Wyoming you can form a corporation with no corporate
identifier! Yes, you can form corporations and open bank accounts there in names such as WOLFGANG AMADEUS, OLIVER JOHN SIMPSON, or J. SMITH.
However, I know of no Wyoming bank that will open an
account for anyone who admits to being from out of state. If,
therefore, you travel to that state to open a bank account, first
arrange to have a local address.
You will find additional information about corporations and
limited-liability companies in Chapters 11 and 12.
Hundreds of thousands of American citizens, as well as a similar
number of illegal aliens, manage to live without any bank account at all, and not all are financially disadvantaged. This is one
way to ensure that you do not reveal the name of your bank
when you write a check for the rent, the mortgage, utilities,
taxes, or home repair.
Worse, there is a real danger if you ever write a check to a
lawyer, CPA, or anyone else who—unknown to you—is a crook.
When investigating this person—perhaps surreptitiously—government agents will come up with a copy of your check. Might
this possibly lead to your mail and bank account being examined?
Or a tap on your telephone?
Therefore, you may decide to pay professionals in cash if
you're there in person. If not, you might mail a postal money
order, a cashier's check, or a traveler's check. For small payments, I recommend the money orders sold in convenience stores
or at Western Union offices. They are economical, can be purchased with no ID, and the line for the payee is left blank. You
fill in the payee on your own. The issuing office has no record
of the sender or the receiver. There may be a limit of $500 or
$700 for each money order but you can purchase several at a
For amounts larger than $2,000, you may prefer a bank
money order or cashier's check. Many banks do not require ID
when you are purchasing the checks with cash. If in doubt, check
out a bank beforehand, asking them about their policies. Or test
their policy by purchasing a small check to pay for something
you are going to order by mail. If asked for ID, tell the absolute
truth: "I didn't bring any ID with me; I didn't think I'd need it."
This is the oldest banking system in existence, used for exchanging money across international borders. Since no money actually
moves anywhere, it cannot be traced. Yes, you read correctly, it
cannot be traced.
Although it is widely practiced among Chinese and Indians
(from India), and to a lesser extent by Spaniards, the average
American has never heard of it. The easiest way to explain it is
to review a transaction I had in the late 1960s when I flew to
Madrid and then to Boston on business. While in the latter city,
I was invited to a cocktail party and when it came up that I lived
in Spain I was introduced to a short, grossly fat attorney I'll here
refer to as Cabot. After initial pleasantries, I was guided over to
a secluded area where the following conversation took place.
"Jack," he said, "maybe one hand can wash another here. I
had a client from Barcelona who ran out of convertible pesetas.
[Only convertible pesetas—governed by strict rules—can be sent
out of the country.] So this guy paid me by giving me title to
an apartment he had near the beach in Alicante. I had a friend
sell it for me, but it was in normal pesetas, understand?"
"Yes, you can't take the money out. How much, in pesetas?"
"Two million nine," said Cabot, which at that time was equivalent to about $47,000. "Can we do a little trade here, maybe?"
"Well," I answered, stalling, "sometimes I have the same problem myself. Why not just spend the money over there?"
"Listen, not to offend you or anything, but I've been to Spain
twice, and all in one trip. The first time and the last time. I made
some joke about Franco and those guys with the triangle hats
almost took away my passport! So look, Jack, can we work something out? Like at ten percent?"
"Thirty-two thousand is about all I've got, in dollars."
"C'mon, you got another five somewhere. Thirty-seven K and
it's a done deal!"
Because both Cabot and I trusted a mutual acquaintance
there, we did the deal in his office the following morning. I gave
Cabot a check for $37,000 drawn on a Londonderry, New
Hampshire, bank (presigned by a nominee), and received in return his check, drawn on his account in Spain and made out to
Portador for 2,900,000 pesetas. (Portador means "bearer." In
those happy days almost all checks in Spain were made out to
the bearer!) It cost me an extra day and some travel money to
return to the Canaries via Barcelona, but Cabot's check was
good. I took the money in cash from Banco Hispano Americano,
lugging it back to the airport in a zipper case. This is the procedure known from ancient times as hawala, sometimes spelled
hawalah, and occasionally referred to as hundi. Let's review the
• There are no written documents, the exchanges are
based on mutual trust (perhaps for that reason unpopular in the U.S.?).
• Only local currencies are used. If you are sending money
to the UK, for example, you'll pay the U.S. hawala
banker in dollars and receive pounds in London.
• This exchange cannot be traced—no money crosses a
border. The hawala system is never advertised, and may
sort of, like, skirt some laws or regulations. However, it
does make for interesting conversations among friends.
Beyond that, proceed at your own risk.
What if a bank requires my thumbprint on the back of a
I've never given a thumbprint at a bank. If they ask for it, I
go to another bank or endorse it over to a third party (perhaps
the nominee for an account I set up) and deposit it to that
account. However, here are a couple of points to keep in mind:
• As long as the check does not bounce, and assuming it is
not written on a small bank where the check is returned
to the client, the check disappears into the bank archives
• If you do give your thumb print, press hard and slightly
twist your thumb. Practice at home first. The goal is to
smear the print just a trace. If done right, this will make
a match impossible, and yet the clerk may not notice it
at all.
There is also such a thing as filling in the grooves of your
thumbprint with glue, then allowing it to dry. Then a second
coating is given and while still moist you press it against the
thumb of another person. But I don't think you need to get into
all that, unless you are on the FBI's top ten list.
Although I do wish to keep my private life private, I am
not paranoid. Can't I just keep a normal bank account and a
credit card—both in my owm name—and get by?
My answer may surprise you. Yes you may. I do urge you,
however, to follow these suggestions:
1. Open a new account in another state, any place where you
can give a local address. (That of a friend? A relative?) Use
your passport rather than your driver's license, because the
driver's license will tip them off that you are not local, and
many banks will not open an account if you live out of the
area. Try to avoid it, but it may be that the new bank will
ask to check with your previous bank. Use your own judgment on this.
2. Once the new account is open, close your present account(s) to block the back trail.
3. Choose the smallest possible bank, preferably with no outof-state branches. This may reduce the number of databases your name will be in.
4. Later, if necessary, you can change the address for the
monthly statements to your ghost address, but let a few
months go by first. In a cover letter, give some reason for
the change. Perhaps you will be "back and forth" and the
ghost address is more convenient. Or perhaps the address
is for your accountant, who handles your financial matters.
5. Never, ever, as long as you live, reveal your true address
and telephone number to anyone at the new bank.
6. Do not use the checks the bank gives you. Order your own
by mail. Either leave the upper-left corner blank, or give
one of your initials plus a last name. Do not list any address
or phone number.
A little inaccuracy sometimes saves tons of explanation.
"ARE YOU ZONED FOR BUSINESS?" That was the title of an
article in Home Office Computing about two years ago. The subtitle was "Registering your home office is a difficult but necessary
In Chapter 1, you will recall that I said, ". . . if I mention any
procedure which I suspect might be construed as illegal in some
states or provinces, I will warn you of that fact beforehand and
let you make your own decision." When it comes to working at
home without registering for a business license, consider yourself
The authorities seldom if ever send out patrols to search for
violators. Rather, they depend upon tips from your competitors
or complaints from the neighbors. Further, the usual result of a
complaint is merely a warning, so stay cool and keep these tips
in mind:
• Never, ever tell your neighbors about your business.
• Do not have your customers or clients come to your
• Never receive deliveries at home—but then, you already
knew that. The best invisible business is run by mail, fax,
phone, e-mail, and/or the Internet. Receipts can be cash
and money orders, deposited in various nominee accounts. There will be no bounced checks. No one will
know your age, race, background, or if you're a first
cousin to the Roswell aliens.
You can sell such a business to someone else in any state or—
in some cases—any nation in the world. In 1989, one of my
clients started a mail-order business from the spare bedroom in
his cheap tract house in a small town in Nevada. The initial
investment was $1,500. The product had to do with a paralegal
service that was attractive to Europeans. The first year all he did
was break even, so he lived on his savings. Then sales began to
grow by word of mouth. In 1992 he withdrew a six-figure bonus
(using a convoluted tax-free transaction] and kept working. In
1994, a privacy-oriented entrepreneur from Nebraska purchased
100 percent of the stock in the corporation that owned the customer
list for $500,000. I was there along with the lawyers at the time
of the sale.
Not a single neighbor knew a business had been run from that
home, much less that he had been netting up to $20,000 a
month before taxes. And the taxes weren't all that much—90
percent of the stock was in a charitable remainder trust, not
subject to income tax. (See Chapter 11.) However, the basic
reason for starting the business was privacy. The fact that it did
better than expected was a bonus.
Millions do it, and it certainly gives you privacy. . . unless, of
course, you are caught. Nothing very private about getting arrested! I have never evaded incomes taxes nor have I ever recommended that course to anyone else. Why cheat and run the
risk of a jail sentence when there are so many ways to make
money and keep enough for yourself legally?)
Loompanics Unlimited (Port Townsend, Washington) publishes a small paperback book titled How to Do Business "Off the
Books," by "Adam Cash." There are enough warnings about the
IRS in this book to make you more fearful after reading it than
you were before!
Paladin Press (Boulder, Colorado) publishes a similar book,
Ragnar's Guide to the Underground Economy. The author lists
such occupations as housecleaning, dog grooming, boat repair,
hauling, tree removal, critter control, locksmithing, yard work,
window washing, pet care, house-sitting, photography, carpentry, gunsmithing, chimney sweeping, roofing, and bookkeeping.
An examination of the individual stories told indicates an average
annual income of less than $30,000.
Don't even think about working "off the books."
Years ago I ran across an aging landlord from Chesapeake, Virginia, named Lonnie Scruggs. For the past ten years he had been
buying old—and I do mean old—mobile homes for a few thousand dollars each. He then doubled or tripled the price and financed them at up to 18 percent annual interest. The reason this
worked was because his low-income buyers had only two questions: (1) How much down? (2) How much a month? These
deals were easy to sell because down payments were about $500,
and monthly payments were less than $200. (Buyers paid rent
to the mobile home park on their own.) Here's why it's so great
from the standpoint of privacy:
• You purchase the mobile home for CASH so no one
asks you for credit information.
• You title it in the name of a limited-liability company.
• The buyer—if he doesn't make his payments in cash
(many do!)—will make out the check to whatever name
you say.
I assumed Sruggs had retired by now, but I recently ran across
a copy of A. D. Kessler's Creative Real Estate magazine and I see
he writes a column now for Kessler, and gives seminars teaching
his system. I note, also, that his two books are still in print.
In general, the idea behind running any low-profile business is to
keep your name out of the picture, so that you cannot be named
in a lawsuit. You will, therefore, run the business in another
name. It can be in the name of a nominee only, or with a business
license citing the nominee as the principal. However, a better
way is to use a limited-liability company. In fact, some persons
use two LLCs, with the first one doing business and the second
one as the sole member of the first. A totally different method
is to use one or more established businesses as a "front," and I
just recently dealt with such a business in Boston. Here's some
background information.
Thirty years ago I went to the Bombay Bazaar in Las Palmas,
Gran Canaria, to buy a new watch. At that time, Bulova was at
the cutting edge of time-keeping technology with their electronic
Accutron model. Instead of tick-tick-tick from a balance movement, the Accutrons emitted a pleasing low-level hum from a
tuning fork, and the sweep second hand moved around the dial
with silky smoothness rather than by little jerks.
I bought the SpaceView model with a transparent dial, and
it is still my constant companion. Among other things, it reminds
me to "always look for a second solution." That is, even when I
find a solution for whatever problem, I look for a second one as
well. (Bulova failed the test—they neglected to look into quartz
movements as a "second solution." Within a few short years the
Japanese, using quartz movements, ran over the Bulova folks like
a steamroller.)
I still prefer the tuning-fork technology and am determined
to wear my Accutron to the grave. Not long ago, when in Dallas
on business, the battery in my watch went dead. Thinking there
was "no problem," I had a new battery installed. Unknown to
me, however, Bulova's 1.35-volt mercuric oxide low-drain battery had been outlawed in the U.S. because of its mercury content, and jewelers were substituting a different 1.5-volt battery.
The result was that, two weeks later, half of the tuning fork's
electronic circuit blew out. When I called the Bulova service
department at 1-800-233-3350 in Woodside, New York, I was
stunned to learn that they refuse to carry parts and repair Accutrons any longer. So where am I going with all this? / found a
solution with a repairman who is I-N-V-I-S-I-B-L-E!
I started my search by calling jewelers in the Yellow Pages
that listed "Bulova" as one of the brands they sold. The first three
assured me that Bulova Accutrons could no longer be repaired,
but the fourth jeweler was my kind of man. If I'd drop off the
watch, he'd see to it that an independent repairman would fix
it, and put in a new Eveready #387 1.35-volt mercuric oxide
low-drain battery (at that time available in Canada).
"May I talk to the repairman, please?"
"No, he doesn't have any contact with the public."
At first I thought the jeweler was just trying to protect a
commission, but further investigation proved this was not the
primary reason. Whoever the repairman is, he deals only through
established dealers, with all checks being made out to the jewelry
store. And—listen to this!—the actual repairman has never been
seen, and no one has a clue as to his name, address, or telephone
The only contact between the stores and the repairman is a
courier known as Tony. Every Friday "Tony," who appears to be
in his late seventies and walks with a limp, makes the rounds in
this city, picking up and delivering Bulova Accutrons and similar
models, receiving payment in cash. The store owners are happy
because they get a commission and render a needed service to
their customers, and we Bulova Accutron owners are happy to
keep our watches running. Can this repair guy be tracked down?
Without a subpoena, some industrial-strength threats, or a PI
who successfully trails Tony, I don't think so. And who would
want to? Why would anyone care?
Suppose, then, that you wish to set up an invisible, untraceable business and for whatever reason do not want to use a corporation, an LLC, nor a nominee. OK, why not copy the Bulova
1. Locate retail businesses or public offices where the owners
are willing to act on your behalf in return for a commission. Contact them in person or via a representative. Your
business could be in repair, replacement, software, small
products, information, reports, or any other kind of business where the customer would contact the store or office.
2. Checks will be made out to your dealers, and the dealers
will pay you or your rep in cash. They will want a receipt
for their tax records, but this can be in any business name
you like. Who cares; who would ever check?
3. You keep good records with QuickBooks (no audit trail
when you correct errors), list the income on your personal
tax return (Schedule C), and all's well with your world.
What is a "fictitious" business name? Is it something
No, it has nothing to do with anything shady or illegal. State
laws require any person who regularly transacts business for
profit, in the state, under a "fictitious name" to register that
business name with the Secretary of State's office. For a sole
proprietorship or partnership, a business name is generally
considered "fictitious" unless it contains the name of the owner
or all of the general partners and does not suggest the existence
of additional owners. Use of a name which includes words like
"company," "associates," "brothers," or "sons," will suggest additional owners and will make it necessary for the business to file
and publish the fictitious business name on company letterhead,
business cards, in advertising, or on its product.
The problem with a fictitious name is that the owner of the
business and the street address will be matters of public record.
Although sometimes useful, I seldom recommend a fictitious
/ want to be invisible . . . I paint my face and travel at
Airport surveillance in this year 2000 is reaching extremes undreamed of in times gone by, making this the least anonymous
way to travel. If, therefore, anonymity is your first concern, you
may wish to travel by train, bus, or automobile. Nevertheless,
most of us do travel by air, so let's tackle air travel first.
Go to any length to avoid purchasing your ticket for cash at the
airport. The person at the ticket counter will take your money
but may secretly have you put under surveillance—in some airports the chances are fifty-fifty you will be stopped and questioned if you pay cash, especially for a one-way ticket. If you
must pay cash, pay it to a travel agency beforehand. Better yet,
pay the travel agent with a money order, or a check from your
anonymous bank account.
Use your passport rather than your driver's license because a
passport does not show your address. And by the way, resist the
temptation to try to avoid showing ID. In the summer of 1996,
a prominent newsletter editor who "breathes, eats and sleeps privacy" [his own words] refused to show picture ID at Boston's
Logan International Airport. When he informed the agent that
the request was illegal, two security men were called in, and he
was given a choice of either producing his driver's license or
missing his flight.
"Since I absolutely positively had to be in Chicago that day
no matter what," he said, "I produced it. These guys then photocopied it—and it had my Social Security number! Then they
separated my luggage, searched and tagged it, and escorted me
onto the plane. They passed the word to the cabin attendants,
who then kept an eye on me the whole flight!"
Remember when we used to travel under any name we chose,
and traded, bought, and sold our tickets? You can still do that
for national flights in most countries overseas, as well as in Canada and Mexico. No longer, however, in the United States. The
so-called reason for this is that it keeps terrorists from traveling.
I know of no travel agent that believes this. (After all, what selfrespecting terrorist would not have fake ID?) The actual fact is
that no one benefits other than:
The airlines. Unused nonrefundable tickets cannot be sold or
transferred. Previously, if you purchased a ticket in advance, at
a reduced fare, and then because of illness or a change in plans
you decided not to go, you could sell the ticket to another person
who would then fly in your name. Since you paid for the ticket,
that was reasonable, was it not? But now, the airline keeps your
money and sells the seat to someone else.
The government. An ominous trend in the United States over
the past decade has been one of increased government surveillance over its noncriminal citizens. This includes the increasing
demand for your Social Security number, the prohibitions against
depositing or withdrawing large sums of cash from your bank account, the iron-handed regulations aimed at commercial mail
receiving agencies, and the demand for your government-issued
picture ID at the airport. I will not here speculate on the real
reasons for this increasing control, nor will I comment on the
claims others have made, that U.S. citizens now have less privacy
than did German citizens in the 1930s. Let's be realists and see
what can be done to lower our profiles.
You may decide that traveling under your own name is not a
problem and does not compromise your privacy. Nevertheless, I
suggest you immediately incorporate one small measure toward
anonymity—purchase air tickets using just the initial of your first
or middle name, plus your last name. Do not let your travel agent
tell you this cannot be done. Thousands travel every day with
tickets like J. Brown, R. Martin, and S. Smith. (One side benefit
is that—if another family member has the same first or middle
initial—he or she can use your ticket in case your plans change.)
This is an emergency method for the future, should you be fearful that someone is checking on your movements and may run
a search via an air-travel database. In this case, do use your first
name, and perhaps your middle name or initial as well. Change
the first letter of your last name, thus throwing it into a com-
pletely different section of the alphabet. With this system, the
true names on the left become "in error" the names on the right:
Perry >
As long as you are accurate with the first name and middle
name or initial, you should not have a problem because you
could always explain it as a "clerical error." This is especially true
if you have an unusual name. Example: Your ticket name is Zenaida Z. Aadbadick and your real name is Zenaida Z. Zaabadick.
(Naturally, you purchase your ticket at a travel agency where
they do not know you.) Flash your passport at the airport
counter. In actual practice, I have never found that anyone at
the check-in counter even noticed the slight alteration.
Another ploy is to use an open ticket and show up at the last
minute, thus avoiding the advance-registration computer database. If someone is trying to track you, by the time they have
your flight data you will already have arrived at your destination
and left the airport. However, if they are really after you, fly to
an alternate airport. For example, if you are in Las Vegas and
need to travel to Boston, fly to Chicago and catch a nonstop to
Manchester, New Hampshire. Rent a car in Manchester and
drive down to Boston.
Sooner or later, something will be lost or stolen. Further, you
want to be free to cancel at the last minute, switch to an earlier
flight, or to another airline, or whatever. One of our sons-in-law
travels the world for a manufacturing company, often away from
home for weeks at a time. He dresses well because he meets
with corporate CEOs, yet he has never once checked a suitcase.
(If you just can't live like that, then ship a case ahead via UPS
or FedEx.)
If, despite this advice, you do check your luggage, then upon
arrival, go to the baggage claim without delay. Pick up your bags
and leave. Airports are hazardous environments, full of federal
agents, drug couriers, and other unsavory types. This is no place
to linger.
Also, you should know that your luggage may be subjected
to industrial-strength X-rays. The Federal Aviation Administration has purchased one hundred new scanners, manufactured by
InVision Technologies Inc. of Foster City, California. These machines, similar to CAT scanners and costing $900,000 each, are
much more powerful than those that scan the carry-on cases.
Further, they are programmed to step up the power if they come
across an object they cannot penetrate. In other words, wrapping
a strange item in lead foil is not recommended. It used to be OK
to carry film, and/or your camera with film, in your checked
luggage. Not any more, once these new scanners come on line.
According to leading film manufacturers, even a single pass
though may ruin processed film.
Since this system may be illegal, I was not going to mention it
in this book. However, thinking about "Airport Insecurity" is
making my blood pressure rise, so here we go. I am not suggesting you do the following but if ever my name and face show
up sometime on the six o'clock network news, here is what /
shall do:
1. I'll have a friend, or a college kid who needs some extra
cash (they all do!), purchase a ticket in his own name to
wherever I wish to go in the U.S., Canada, or Mexico. Or
even back to the Canary Islands, if the friend/student has
a passport to show. (On arrival in the Canaries, I will go
through customs with my own passport.)
2. We'll go to the departure gate together and my confederate will show his ID and trade the ticket for a boarding
3. When the flight is called, I'll use that boarding card to
board the plane. My accomplice leaves the airport, mission
accomplished and his commission well earned. When I
outlined this plan to my attorney, he said, "Man, will that
ever complicate the insurance claim if your plane crashes!"
Well, if the plane crashes, let the hotshot airline folks sort
it out.
In fact, if time is of the essence, I may just go straight to the
boarding area, pick out a sympathetic-looking type, give him or
her a suitable sob story, and pay whatever it takes to get that
boarding card.
You'll need transportation, a place to stay, and possibly a way to
keep in touch with your bookie. Here are some tips:
Do not rent a car at the airport: Nor, if you can help it, anywhere else. Stick to taxis and limos, or borrow a car from a
friend. At the very least, take the shuttle to your hotel and then
check the yellow pages for some offbeat cheapo outfit that does
not have a national 800 number. (The 800 number means they
have a national database where you can easily be tracked.)
Name and address for registration at your motel: Note that I
say motel, not hotel. In the past few years, most hotels have
picked up a nasty habit of demanding picture ID. I recently flew
into LA to attend Robert McKee's Story Seminar under an "al-
ternate" name. However, when I tried to check into a hotel near
the Pacific Design Center, the manager insisted on ID. I asked
"Well, maybe after you left, we found out a party had been
held and your room was trashed."
"Do I look like the room-trashing type?"
"No, but you can never tell. One time it cost us more than
$4,000 to repair the damage in a room."
"I can leave you a bank cashier's check for $5,000. That
should put you at ease."
"Sorry, but no. We require picture ID."
Motels, however, are much less demanding. Give them an
initial and a common last name, and any address you like. (When
I travel in the USA and Canada I often use a mail-drop address
in Spain, and when in Spain, a mail-drop address in Canada.)
Credit cards: Cash is preferable to a credit card. However, if
you travel with a credit card, note that with some financial institutions—you can have two credit cards, one in your own name
and a second card in any other name you like. If asked for a reason,
tell them that you often travel under your professional name,
since you are a writer, an entertainer ... or (ahem) a foreign
movie star.
Telephone calls: Never charge a call to your room. Use a prepaid telephone card (see Chapter 8). If you prefer a pay phone,
keep in mind that some pay phones in certain luxury hotels (especially in Miami, Las Vegas, Houston, Los Angeles, and New
York) are monitored. If you're spending a few days at Motel 6,
however, not to worry about the pay phones.
Here is a better way, especially if you'll be staying for a week
or more:
• Get a newspaper from your destination beforehand, and
look up "Rooms for Rent" or "Roommates Wanted."
• Call ahead and arrange to see the room when you arrive.
• Explain that you hope to be there for about a year but,
as something is pending, you'd like to take it for a provi-
sional thirty days and will pay double if you can't stay
longer. (Even so, you'll save money over a hotel room.)
• Arrange to have the temporary use of the landlord's or
your roommate's telephone. Promise to place any longdistance calls on your phone card.
Anonymous travel is Level Three security. As long as you
have taken the previous steps that keep your true name from
ever being connected to your residence address, you may feel
free to travel under your own first initial and last name. But
if ever the time comes when you think you are being followed, then the information in this chapter may prove to be
My employer requires me to stay in five-star hotels under
my own name. Any privacy tips?
Yes. If you have a notebook computer take every possible
precaution. As I said in Chapter 3, a stolen notebook computer
with corporate files can fetch up to $50,000. (And it is only a
matter of time until Palm Pilots and other small computerized
organizers will be targeted as well!) I suggest you take the
following precautions:
1. Travel with a hard-side carry-on case such as one of the
Samsonites that feature both a key lock and (more important) two combination locks. When you leave the room,
lock your notebook computer inside.
2. Check out IBM's Smart Card Security Kit ($189). The
Smart Card Reader installs in any Type II PC card slot and
uses high-tech encryption and decryption. Data is encrypted and stored in the Smart Card's memory. The
Smart Card's own processor handles all the security chores,
so there's nothing to learn. Just plug it in and be safe. That
way, even if the computer is stolen, the data will be safe
from prying eyes.
3. For certain files that are especially sensitive, keep them
only on a PC card with flash memory—the kind the new
digital cameras use. This will be your D drive. I get my
cards from SanDisk Corporation in Sunnyvale, California
(408-542-0500), but many other companies make them as
well. They are available in 20, 40, and 85MB capacities
and are extremely easy to use. When you leave the room,
just pop out the credit-card-sized disk and take it with you.
4. When you leave the room—whether you have a computer
or not—leave the TV on and hang the Do Not Disturb
card on the door. Schedule the maid's time to coincide
with when you are there, or else tell the housekeeper to
skip your room. (You can ask for clean towels anytime.)
5. Do not use the pay phones in the hotel for any sensitive
calls. Find an alternate solution, such as using your cell
phone away from the area.
6. If you are meeting someone clandestinely, keep in mind
that there are many hidden surveillance cameras in these
hotels, and they keep videotapes.
7. No sensitive conversations in the elevator. Many elevators in
luxury hotels are bugged. If you wish to prove this, when
going up alone, say to a make-believe companion, "OK,
Bugsy, when Molly opens the door, shoot the broad right
between her baby blue eyes!" Don't be surprised if met
by the hotel's security forces when the elevator door
opens. . . .
How can I make an anonymous overseas trip?
If you prefer to avoid U.S. Customs, first cross into Canada
or Mexico, then book a round-trip flight from there. Even more
private: book passage on a ship from either country. This should
avoid having your name show up in a U.S. database. Further,
you will be less likely to suffer the fate of the traveler whose
case was discussed on "Eye on America," part of the CBS nightly
news with Dan Rather on April 6, 1998.
Amanda, a fifty-four-year-old social worker who had been an
American citizen for the past twenty years, took a trip to India.
Upon her return to San Francisco, she was taken aside by U.S.
Customs personnel and strip-searched. When nothing was found,
she was x-rayed. When the x-ray showed nothing specific she
was taken to a hospital and x-rayed again. Still nothing specific,
so was she released? No. She was forced to take a powerful laxative that sent her to the toilet twenty-eight times, with agents
present to examine the stools. Only when all results were negative was she released, twenty-three hours later, without an apology. As Dan Rather correctly pointed out, once you are in the
clutches of Customs agents you lose almost all rights. No cause
whatever is needed for a strip search, and you will not be allowed
to call your lawyer, nor anyone else. Why was Amanda, carrying
a U.S. passport, subjected to this treatment? Because she fit the
so-called profile of a drug runner:
1. Her U.S. passport showed a foreign country as a place of
2. She was a "woman traveling alone," and
3. She wore "bulky clothing."
My wife has flown between Spain and the United States a
number of times, alone. Until now, nothing has happened, but
the next time she plans to cross into Canada and fly over and
back from there. We think the Canadians are a bit more civilized.
What if the police pull me over? I live in Illinois but drive
with a Utah driver's license and the license plates are from
Keep a suitcase in the trunk, an opened road map in the passenger seat, and a garment bag hanging from a hook over the left
rear window. Your residence is in Utah (ghost address in West
Jordan Valley) but you work in Oregon. Currently you are on
vacation. (It doesn't matter if your car is registered in the name
of an LLC with an address in yet another state. Police seldom
worry about the name a car is registered in as long as it's not
Dress well, be polite, and don't drive more than five miles an
hour over the limit. In addition, invest in a Valentine One radar/
laser detector. It has arrows to show from which direction you're
being targeted.
Don't call attention to yourself with a vanity plate such as
TOPSCRT, AU DGGER, or 90KPLUS. And by the way, there
are several ways to avoid getting a ticket even if you are pulled
over. One is to dress as a preacher or priest (or nun) and identify
yourself as such. Another is to "break down and start crying,"
says Sergeant James M. Eagan, New York State Police (retired),
author of A Speeder's Guide to Avoiding Tickets. Personally, I
would prefer to pay the occasional ticket, but I pass this on as
of possible interest to female readers, whether or not they are
normally of the crying type.
Last summer, I admit to getting pulled over by a patrolman
on U.S. 101, but I'd just reread Captain Robert L. Snow's book,
Protecting Your Life, Home, and Property (mentioned previously).
I looked the patrolman in the eye, said I knew I was guilty,
treated him with respect, and offered no excuse. In his book,
Snow says this has happened to him only two or three times in
twenty-five years, and each time he was so flabbergasted he let
the driver go with a "Please drive carefully." Snow was right. No
ticket. I was merely told to "please drive carefully."
If a patrolman pulls me over for something minor like a
taillight out, or an expired registration, can he search my car?
Legally no, unless a gun, alcohol, or drugs are visible. [However, if you are carrying a concealed weapon, inform the officer
at once.)
Constantly check your lights and turn signals, and be sure the
annual tag on your plates has not expired. (If you are not sure,
stop reading and check the lights and license plate tag right now!)
The justification for refusing to allow your car to be searched is
a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Ohio v. Robinette (No. 95-891),
but the officer may intimidate you by saying "Please open your
trunk," or "Would you open your glove compartment, please?"
Tell him, in your most respectful manner, that your lawyer has
told you never to allow a search of any kind without a warrant.
The patrolman may search your car anyway, but whatever is
seized may not be legal evidence if the case goes to court.
If I am a passenger in a car and a patrolman putts over
the driver, can the cop order me to step out of the car?
Until February 19, 1997, the answer was no. On that date,
however, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, said yes,
they can. In an Associated Press dispatch the next day, it was
observed that, although officers may now order all passengers to
step out of the car, the Supreme Court did not decide whether
officers can bar passengers ordered out of a car from leaving the
If I am a passenger, can the cop search my belongings
without a warrant?
If your attorney is not up-to-date, he may think you cannot
be searched. However, on April 5, 1999, there was a significant
change in automobile search law. The U.S. Supreme Court (Wyoming v. Houston 119 SCt 1297) held that law-enforcement officers with probable cause to search a car may inspect passengers'
belongings found in that car that are capable of concealing the
object of the search.
"Passengers, no less than drivers, possess a reduced expectation of privacy with regard to the property that they transport
in cars." (119 S Ct at 1298.)
In other words, if the cop suspects that the driver has contraband of any kind, he may also search the purses, briefcases, suitcases, etc. of the passengers, even if he has no reason to believe
that they are guilty of anything whatsoever. Warn your friends
to be careful with whom they ride . . . and take care yourself.
Can the police demand my Social Security number?
It depends on the state and whether the cop is having a good
day. One of my readers (Vic) was caught doing fifty in a thirtymile speed zone in Bellevue, Washington. The car, with Washington plates, was registered in the name of an LLC with a Cheyenne, Wyoming address. His driver's license is from another state
that does not require a Social Security number.
"Where do you live?" asked the cop. Vic gave the address on
his driver's license.
"Do you work for this company in Wyoming?" No, said Vic,
he owned it. And then came the crunch, as the cop was writing
out the ticket:
"And your Social Security number?"
"With all due respect, Officer, I do not give my Social Security number to anyone."
"That may be the case in your state, but here in Washington
we track all traffic fines with Social Security numbers. May I have
your number, sir?"
"I never give this number out. Does Washington state law
require the number?"
"Our policy [note: he didn't say law] is to list all Social Security numbers on traffic tickets."
"If it is not the law," he said in his most humble voice, "then
I regret to say that I cannot give my Social Security number,
After a pause, the cop said to sign the ticket. Vic signed, was
given a copy, and sped on his way. The box for the Social Security number was left blank. But note the question that follows:
Does it make any difference if I talk back to a police officer?
An article in the April 26, 1998, Seattle Times was headlined
BAG." It starts out, "A motorist stopped for speeding was arrested
and handcuffed by Olympia police officers for failing to have a litter bag in his car." The arresting officer made it clear that "not just
any litter bag would do," insisting that the motorist was required
to carry a "state-approved and-designed litter bag." (State officials,
however, admit that such bags are no longer made.) The motorist
was then hauled off, handcuffed, to the city jail.
Three months later, the National Enquirer ran a similar headline, "HANDCUFFED AND JAILED—FOR NOT HAVING A
LITTER BAG IN HIS CAR." The Enquirer article, however, left
out a vital detail. The original article in the Times explains why
the unlucky motorist was really arrested:
[The motorist] acknowledges mouthing off to the officers.
So then,. if you don't want your privacy invaded by seeing
your name in the papers and in a national tabloid, it might be
prudent not to "mouth off' to a police officer.
If we leave on a long trip, should we leave a key with a
Not only would I not leave a key—I would not even tell the
neighbor we were leaving. (Our homes always have complex
timers that turn on lights, TV, stereo, sprinklers, etc. at varying
times.) Louis R. Mizell, Jr., in his book Invasion of Privacy, tells
the story of a Maryland couple who, before leaving on a vacation
in August 1994, left a key with a neighbor. When they returned
from their trip they picked up the key, thanked the neighbor,
and thought no more about it.
"Then," writes Mizell, "in January 1995, the couple was adjusting a heating vent in their bathroom when they discovered a
camera. Later that night, the couple found a second camera behind a heating vent in a dressing room and followed cables leading through their attic, down a drainpipe and underground into
their neighbor's home. The neighbor had been watching the couple in the bathroom and dressing room for months—and it
wasn't against the law."
We rent an apartment, and although we never leave a key
with anyone when going on vacation, the landlord does have
a key. How can we protect ourselves?
Landlords surreptitiously enter apartments more often than
you might think—in fact, it once happened to me. That was
forty-five years ago, but there were such serious consequences
that I haven't forgotten it yet. Anthony Herbert, in his book
Complete Security Handbook, has this to say in the section about
• Change them without the management's knowledge. Remove the cylinder, take it to a locksmith, and get combination changed. If manager or janitor later complains, ask
why he was attempting to enter your apartment while
you were not present. (Better to incur a minor lease violation than to be dead!)
• No one should be permitted to visit your apartment unaccompanied, except in a life-and-death emergency!
It is easier to get into the enemy's toils than out again.
"When you belly up to your keyboard to trade notes with a colleague," writes Eryn Brown in an article in Fortune, "you may feel
you're in a cozy conversation. Legally and technologically, however, you are as exposed as dummies in a department-store window. Note well: If your computer belongs to the company, so
does its content. The law lets bosses read what you put there,
and because of the herd-of-elephants memory capacity of modern systems, there's rarely a keystroke a suspicious or vengeful
boss can't drag up."
The author is right. "Deleted" e-mail, like the Energizer
Bunny, just keeps going and going and going. This is because
many networks routinely store backups of all mail that passes
through them. Security is no better when it comes to your home
computer, or to your travels on the Internet. This danger was
emphasized a few years ago in a Wall Street Journal article, "Internet Users, Better Beware: There Are Prying Eyes Online":
While you sign on to the Internet and blithely zap and
receive electronic mail, visit Web sites and bare your soul
in on-line discussion groups, you are increasingly being
watched and tracked.. . . Information about you is already
on the Internet for millions of eyes to see.
If you already have a computer, and have not previously been
security-conscious, then your name is almost certainly inside
your computer somewhere. When you are connected to the outside world, remember that this is not a one-way street. Electronic
traffic moves in both directions. Even when not connected, you
may get a surprise when installing new software and your name
shows up as the user even though you hadn't typed it in.
Therefore, if you already have a computer, your name is probably already in it, along with your address, your telephone number, and other personal details from your computer. To purge
this information you must go into the registry—a delicate process
indeed—so if you're not 100 percent sure you can do it, call in
professional help.
If you've purchased a used computer, the seller may think he
cleaned up the files, but his name will most likely still be embedded somewhere. If you want to leave it in, fine, but make
certain you haven't also entered your own name when installing
additional software.
When you purchase a computer in the future, do not, under
any circumstances whatsoever, fill in your own name, address,
telephone number, or any other personal data. If the computer
will not start up, or the software will not load, until you fill in
the blanks, put in something like Bob or Suzy, with a fake ad-
dress in Canada or Europe. If a telephone number must be entered, use 555 after the area code, as this number will not belong
to anyone. Example: 307-555-1234. Only after your computer
has been certified as squeaky-clean should you consider connecting to the Internet.
When you delete a file, you actually delete only the address. The
file itself remains on your hard drive. Although there are many
programs that purport to erase the entire file by writing over it,
they are not secure if the government is after you. You can even
reformat your hard drive and the information may still be on
Bruce Schneier, author of E-mail Security, says, "The only secure computer is one that's turned off, locked in a safe, and
buried 20 feet down in a secret location—and I'm not completely
confident of that one either."
When I purchase a new computer, I take the hard drive out
of the old one and literally smash it to pieces with a hammer.
An article in the Wall Street Journal titled "It Slices, It Dices, It
Disintegrates Digital Data" discusses the Secured Engineered
Machinery Co. "They manufacture a machine about the size of
a microwave ..." that literally power-buffs data off CD-ROMS
and turns the surface material of the disks into a fine plastic dust.
This machine sells—and is selling briskly—for $5,100. Why
not just break up the disk? To quote from the article, ". . . even
a fragment of carelessly discarded plastic or silicon might yield
many paragraphs of text. . . even burning the materials could
produce ash particles still large enough to produce data."
There is no such thing as electronic security if a modem is involved. Sad news, but better to learn this now than later.
True, a message itself, when sent over the Internet, can be
encrypted with Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), and perhaps the keys
can be successfully hidden, but the senders and receivers can be
identified, as even superhacker Kevin Mitnick learned to his sorrow. I recently had a chat with Michael Paciello, author of WEBable and an international consultant on Internet privacy. For
more than two hours I fired questions at him about making email more private. "What about a fictitious name on Juno? What
about PGP encryption? What about putting e-mail on disks and
sending them out at Cybersmith? Or with a phone card? Or
mailing the disk to London for resending?"
"Jack," he answered, "Nothing you've suggested is secure, as
far as hiding who sends the message and who receives it. Given
the time and the motive, backed up with enough expense
money, I'll trace you down every single time!"
If you wish to send an e-mail to someone and hide the fact it
came from you, you might send it to a remailer. This is a service
using a computer that will strip away your old identity, give you
a new one, and then send your e-mail to its final destination.
There are many popular remailers, although some have a short
life. I do not use remailers because:
1. It is almost a certainty some of these remailers are sting
operations run by a government. They are specifically designed to trap you.
2. There is a PI who runs seminars for other PIs, teaching
them how to track down those that send anonymous e-mails. (I sent him an e-mail asking for details and received
this reply: "Why would I want to give information to someone writing a book about how to hide assets and identities,
when that is the very thing that I investigate? Don't you
think it would be rather stupid of me . . . ?"
3. Unknown to the remailer's administrator hackers can and
do break into these systems. They can then read and copy
messages at will. [In one well-known case, an unknown
hacker worked out a method to send messages via a remailer in such a way that if the recipient answered in a
similar fashion, his true e-mail name and address would be
instantly captured!)
4. Some believe—and I am one of them—that the U.S. government collects, scans, and stores all messages—including
passcodes—that go into and out from the remailers.
Juno is one of the least objectionable of the various free e-mail
services available to anyone willing to receive advertisements.
The immediate and obvious plus is that no credit-card number
need be revealed. Another feature is that your address will not
tie you to a specific location. To enroll, have a friend send an email to "[email protected] JUNO.COM," or write to New Member Department, Juno, 120 W. 45th St., New York, NY 10036, and
you will be mailed a disk. When the Juno program installs,
screens will come up on your monitor where information is to
be entered. Here are my suggestions:
When you fill in the blanks, do not use any information that
will reveal your true identity. Use a pen name, remembering of
course that your pen name will be transmitted along with your
e-mail name.
Example: If you give your true name, John J. Jones, and
choose e-mail address [email protected], the recipient
will see in the forward [heading above the message], "UK-
[email protected] (John J. Jones)." You might prefer, then, to
fill out the first name as U, the middle initial as K, and the last
name as Man. The forward would then read UKMAN (U K
Man). Juno does not approve of this, of course, but a recent
survey showed one-third of Internet users admit to giving false
information at Web sites. Researcher Jim Pitkow of Georgia
Tech says, "People on-line seriously value their anonymity and
"Steganography" refers to the sending of a picture with a hidden
text file inside the picture. Even if intercepted, there is no outward clue that a message is hidden inside, yet with a special
program it pops out effortlessly. A password is used, known to
both the sender and receiver, so even if the bad guys check all
images with the hidden message program they must still break
out the password. At one time I started using Steganography, but
since the other party has to have the same software program—
and use it as well—it didn't work out. The software program I
was using for hidden images at that time was S-Tools, available
on the Internet. However, changes are so rapid in this field that
I suggest you search the Net yourself for the latest information
on "Steganography." (Be careful to spell it as shown, and not as
Assume anything you say in an e-mail will be read by others. An
e-mail message may linger on backup tapes for years on end—
then come back to haunt you. (They are increasingly being used
in civil and criminal cases.) Teach your children that a silly or
profane e-mail in their youth could come back to bite them years
If you or anyone in your family has a truly confidential message to send, do as I do. Seal it in an envelope, stamp it, and
mail it.
If I never use my computer at work for e-mail, will I have
a reasonable amount of privacy?
You still have to be careful what you type. A new generation
of software is emerging to permit employers to record not just
which Web sites employees browse, but also which programs
they use, memos they write, e-mail they send—in short, every
keystroke. Win What Where, a software company in Kennewick,
Washington, released its entrant into the field in 1999, a program
which costs $285 for each desktop computer in which it is installed.
The company says its software keeps a record of every keystroke,
mouse click, and command.
Another company, Tech Assist of Largo, Florida, began distributing Desktop Surveillance in North America, a comprehensive
computer-monitoring program by the British company Omniquad. The software costs $55 per computer and has been on sale
in Europe for about a year and a half. Desktop Surveillance is being marketed as the "software equivalent of a video surveillance
camera on the desktop." It permits third-party observers to view,
in real time or in playback, exactly what tasks a user is performing
and what keystrokes he or she is entering.
Each of the foregoing programs lets employers hide the
fact that the software is running on an employee's computer.
Desktop Surveillance even allows a record of the employee's activities to be e-mailed to a supervisor without an employee's
Officials from both Tech Assist and Win What Where said
they saw a demand from employers concerned about employees
wasting time on their computers. They also said that employers
wanted a record in case the employees sued or were sued.
Is it safe to keep secret files on my home computer, as long
as they are encrypted?
If your home is ever searched, count on your computer being
hauled away. And when put to the test, it will almost certainly
talk. Many programs, such as Microsoft Word or Lotus 1-2-3,
make temporary copies that may linger on. Is there no solution?
Well, not if the location of your computer is known. So do not
let it be known! If you work at home, no one besides your close
friends and (perhaps) relatives should know where you live. If
the investigators cannot find you, they cannot confiscate your
computer. If you fear surreptitious entry when you are away
from home, here are two suggestions:
• Use a notebook computer only, and take it with you
when you leave, or
• Use a computer with a removable hard drive and take
the hard drive with you when you leave.
Here is something else to worry about—just in case you and
your spouse are not getting along. There are many companies
that offer to snoop into any computer you bring them. Prices
range from $150 to $250 an hour, and they seldom fail to bring
up supposedly secret files. In one recent nasty divorce case, the
wife suspected her husband was not declaring all his savings or
investments. She hired a computer snoop to search her husband's
computer. Bingo! Up came a record of his inquiries to an online service. He had been using it to track his unreported stocks.
If you still have confidence in your exotic encryption system,
consider this. If a lawsuit is filed and you are deposed, you will
be asked under oath to explain why you have encrypted these
How can I access my e-mail when traveling, with at least a
small amount of privacy?
First of all, you need access to a free account such as Stribmail
( Encryption can be installed on
your laptop or palmtop computer to protect your e-mail (but
the other party often must also have and use it). You might wish
to have three such e-mail addresses so that if someone penetrates
one of your accounts, the other two are still unknown.
If you just want to access the Internet, there are airports and
city shops that provide Internet access from kiosks. I haven't
worked with them enough to know how the account process
worked, but I would suspect it's pretty easy to log in under an
Fear of jail is the beginning of wisdom.
As you have seen in previous chapters, there is seldom any reason
to leave the country merely to protect your privacy. Nevertheless, situations may arise that indicate a temporary journey to
Mexico or Canada.
From the United States you can easily cross into Canada or
Mexico—legally or illegally. Legally is better. Use your passport
for ID since it has less information than a driver's license, and—
unlike when making a trip to other foreign countries, it will not
be stamped to show entry or exit. These two countries are thus
ideal for those of you who may need emergency asylum and/or
to keep a few assets out of the country, should the floodgates of
heaven ever open to rain disaster down upon your U.S.A. parade.
If this is of interest, I suggest you practice crossing the borders
both north and south. Don't make a special trip; just work it into
vacation time or perhaps incorporate it into a tax-deductible
business trip. If you are a U.S. citizen there should be no problem either entering or leaving, and that must be your goal. No
I say that because there are two types of border inspections,
primary and secondary. You do not want secondary, not ever,
because then your name will go into the computer and, to paraphrase the ads for the Roach Motel, travelers who check in to
the computer never check out. Here then are some random comments:
• Dress like a tourist. Clean and neat but no tie.
• Do not cross with anything to declare, or with any item
even remotely suspicious. No fruit, no weapons, no
drugs. Best way to cross is on a tour bus. Next best way
is on foot, at a busy crossing, during the busiest hours,
but taking a car is certainly more convenient, despite the
fact its license plate number may go into a computer.
• Do not cross into Mexico with an RV if you can avoid
it. Some Americans have been arrested in Mexico and
held under false pretenses, with the goal of allowing the
American to go free if he leaves his motor home behind.
(An RV is OK for Canada, but radar detectors are not,
so leave your fuzzbuster behind you.)
• If there are several lines leading to multiple booths at
the crossing, pick your lane and then stick with it. If you
change lanes, the inspector from the original lane may
spot you, think you're trying to avoid him, and make
you get back in line. Then, when your turn comes, you'll
get more attention than you really wanted to receive.
Never cross in either direction with a bad attitude, as I did
one August day in 1995, returning from Mexicali when it was
112 degrees in the shade and there was no shade. The result was
that the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization inspector started
searching the car I was driving (which was in another name, and
me without backup documentation!). Fortunately, when going
through the trunk he opened my briefcase and found a well-worn
Bible I usually carry with me. At this point I loosened up, forced
the hint of a smile, and said it was always nice to talk to folks
about the Scriptures. That's probably all that saved me from the
dreaded secondary inspection. The inspector snapped my briefcase shut, dropped the trunk lid, and waved me on through.
Relieved, I stopped down the road at Pepe's Cantina in Calexico
for two chilled bottles of Miller's Genuine Draft.
Do you think a policeman, a highway patrolman, or an FBI
agent has power? You ain't seen power till you've met the U.S.
border inspector. Any kind of trouble, and you will be considered
guilty until you can prove yourself innocent.
Incidentally, never call an inspector working for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) a "Customs" official, nor
let him hear the phrase from your lips, "going through Customs"
(even though that's what I call it myself, as a general term in
this report). There are two agencies at the border, U.S. Customs
and the INS, and I'm here to tell you they do not get along well
with one another. (INS deals with people, Customs deals with
goods, but their duties overlap.) You don't have to tell them
apart, just don't address them by any title whatsoever. Instead,
stick to "Sir" or "Ma'am."
Men, go through your billfolds and ladies, examine your
purses. Both Customs inspectors (CIs) and immigration inspectors (IIs) can treat you and your passengers like pieces of meat
to be inspected. No, they are normally not out to get you, but
we all have an off day once in a while—such as the day I returned
from Mexicali—and these folks have awesome authority, no
search warrants needed.
If they ask you for your billfold, hand it over. If they ask you
to open every box and suitcase, open them. If they want to check
the oil in your NorthStar engine, hand them your last Kleenex
to wipe the dipstick. Burn this into your brain: Never say to the
inspector, "You can't touch that!" The inspector certainly can.
And will!
So if you're Senior Senator Sam from Sacramento, traveling
with Sweet Suzy Secretary, either drop those condoms before
you get to the border or be prepared to stifle your embarrassment. (Condoms are not, of course, illegal.) Both CIs and Us can
ask you any question, no matter how embarrassing or insulting,
and they expect an answer:
"Is this young lady really your wife?"
"How much money do you make a year?"
"Ever been arrested for smuggling? How about rape?"
Lawyers (and some egocentric businessmen) will respond,
"Do I have to answer that?" And the response, as given by exImmigration inspector Ned Beaumont in his book Beat the Border, is:
You don't have to answer. But then again, you don't have to
cross the border. And you're not going to cross the border until
you answer that question and any others I see fit to ask. Understand?
CIs and IIs are skilled at deception, a.k.a. lying. If they preface
something by saying "You don't need to worry about thus-andso . . ." start worrying! They may try the good cop/bad cop routine, like in the movies. Remember that it's really bad cop/worse
cop. These folks are not your buddies. Keep cool and collected
on the outside, skeptical and cynical on the inside.
Leaving the United States is easy, especially when crossing the
southern border at a busy location. It's the return trip to watch
out for, and a final word of warning here: Don't try using a false
ID. Even if it's perfect, you'll know it's not, and they'll sense that
fact. Beaumont makes this point at great length in Beat the Border, and I can do no better than to quote a very small part of his
"People Smarts" section:
Inspectors, by the very nature of their job, become "people
smart" very quickly. . . . They turn into masters of reading people. The chief people-smart skill an inspector develops is the
ability to tell when someone is lying. An inspector's ability to
spot a liar becomes a kind of instinct, or sixth sense. He may not
always be able to fully analyze or explain why he knows someone
is lying, but the inspector knows it nonetheless. He knows with
a certainty that's inexplicable but real. . . . All inspectors develop
the same instincts. If there's one genuine skill I've retained from
my days on the line, it's the ability to spot a lie.
The author then lists examples of others skilled at their craft,
such as an auto mechanic who can diagnose an engine's faults
just by listening to it run. He reminds the reader of the inspector's job, how he questions hundreds of people a day, six days a
week, week after week.
An inspector talks to more liars in a month than the layman does
in a lifetime. How good at spotting liars do you think that inspector is going to be in a year? Or five? Or ten? I've worked
with inspectors who'd been on the job for 20 years. They could
detect a lie . . . without fail, in the first five seconds of the inspection.
Now that I've done my best to scare you, let me put your
mind at ease. When you are reentering the United States, the
inspector's first question will be something like "Of what country
are you a citizen?" You answer "U.S.A.," and he may ask the
town or county where you were born. Assuming you do remember that and answer honestly, you're just about home and should
have no problems.
Nevertheless, a review of this section will do no harm. What
occasionally happens is that the inspector gets bored. To break
this boredom-at-the-border syndrome, he may vary his questions
from time to time. In addition to the ones mentioned earlier, he
might ask, watching your eyes to see if you lie:
"What were you doing in Toronto, Miss Curvilinear?"
"What do you have to declare, Dr. Shepherd?"
"How long have you been out of the United States, Judge
Joseph Force Crater?"
"What was the purpose of your trip to Tijuana, Counselor?"
In this case, don't just answer "business" or "pleasure"—the
inspectors hear that all the time. If it was pleasure, be specific,
as in "I went to see my girlfriend who works with the PRI." Or
if it was legal business, it's OK to say, "I've got a case about a
Mexican trademark and I interviewed a guy at Lechuga, Zanahoria & Batata." The inspector doesn't care if you're bribing one
of LZ&B's clerks to spill secrets, he's just watching to see if
you're telling the truth.
"What do you do for a living, Dr. Jekyll?"
Oh-oh, here is where the rubber may meet the road. If your
job is marrying old ladies for their money and then changing their
medicine, it's time for:
Hopefully you will never be in such danger that you will have
to think about making an illegal crossing and again, I don't recommend that you break the law. But why not at least briefly
consider what is involved?
There are many unmanned areas along the border between the
United States and Canada. My favorite is along the northern border of Minnesota. When you look at a map, you will see that
Highway 11 follows the south side of the Rainy River from International Falls to Baudette. On the Ontario side, Canadian
Highway 11 follows the same river on the northern side. It appears that you could just drop a raft in the river and paddle
across. Don't be deceived by appearances. Homes line both sides
of this wide river and there are informers on both sides. The
border patrol catches persons on a regular basis there, with small
fast boats that appear out of nowhere.
Instead, if you are in Baudette in the summer or fall, drive
north to Lake of the Woods. This is hundred-mile-wide lake that
spans the border. Rent a fast boat at one of the many resorts and
buy a chart of the lake. Leave before dawn (when the lake is at
its calmest) and go north for nine miles. Then cut to starboard,
crossing the invisible boundary, and make your way east between
Big Island and Bigsby Island. Your destination is beautiful Nestor
Falls, on Highway 71.
Let's say you have an accomplice named Bud. Each of you
will carry a VHF-FM radio. Bud will drive a car across the bridge
from Baudette to the village of Rainy River, Ontario. Going
through Customs here takes about forty-five seconds. He will
drive thirty-four miles east to Highway 71, then go north exactly
33.8 miles to the small bridge that crosses Nestor Falls just beyond Helliar's resort. The narrow highway curves around a corner and Bud can stop at the wide turnout on his left, which
borders Lake of the Woods. It is directly opposite a blue-andwhite sign that says ONTARIO: Sunset Grove Camp.
A tiny twelve-by-twelve-foot vacant cabin sits down toward
the water. Bud goes down the twenty-two steps (painted with
blue trim that is fading) and on to a seven-by-fourteen-foot
wooden dock. When he looks around, he will see that this dock
is hidden from view in both directions. He calls you on the radio
to say he is ready when you are. As you approach the Nestor
Falls area by boat, you will see a tall radio tower to your left.
Turn left, then right, into the small bay. You will see Bud standing on the dock.
I last ran this—I mean, I was last in the area in the fall of
1999. The old cabin and the dock were still there. There are no
border-patrol boats this far north of the border, and no Customs
checkpoints between Rainy River and Kenora, far to the northwest. There is considerable boat traffic between Nestor Falls and
the Minnesota side in the summer, as well as snowmobile traffic
in the winter. The locals on both sides merely obtain a yearly
pass. Believe it or not, there is an honor system here. When they
make a run in either direction they just call Customs and tell
them who they are and where they are going.
There is no honor system along the southern border. Worse,
what appears to be the "obvious" way—contacting a "coyote" and
paying them the current price of $1,500, is the worst way of
all—a gringo stands a good chance of getting either ripped off or
killed outright.
Instead, take Highway 94 from San Diego and go through
Jamul and Dulzura to American Tecate, at the border. Tecate,
BCN, is a small city built around a typical Spanish plaza, whereas
its California namesake is just a wide spot in the road, so the
locals distinguish the two by calling the California one Tecatito
("Little Tecate").
After looking over the border crossing into Tecate, BCN to
get a feel for the area, backtrack down Highway 94 six miles,
slip on your pack, and head into the forest with compass and
wire clippers. As long as you head northwest you'll be OK—
pretty hard to miss Mexico! Allow five hours (it's a steep uphill
climb), take plenty of water, and plan to arrive just before dark.
You'll come to a poorly maintained wire fence and there will be
humble hovels on the far side. Clip on through after dark, or
climb over, or just follow the fence west until it ends in the
forest. There is no Mexican border patrol to keep gringos out.
Tecate is a very nice place, in a high mountain valley with
excellent cool and sunny weather, simpatico people, and less
crime than elsewhere along the border. Take a tour of the Tecate
cerveza factory before you press on.
If coyotes are to be avoided at all costs, how can I cross
back into the U.S. undetected?
I posed this question to a friendly border guard, and this is
his word-for-word reply:
"If he's a U.S.C. [U.S. citizen], I'd say walk across the border
at a busy time at a legal POE [Point of Entry]. It's unlikely he'll
get sent to secondary/delayed/caught/etc, as long as he dresses
to fit in, is polite, doesn't fit any obvious profile, and has a legitsounding story."
How about crossing into Canada north of Seattle, to the
east of 1-95?
You mean up by Elaine, on the way to Vancouver, BC? True,
about half of the U.S. Border Patrol agents at Elaine were transferred to San Diego two years ago. When that happened, a number of persons incorrectly assumed that illegal crossings would
be easier. Not so—the remaining agents know most of the "secret" crossings. They have installed remote-control cameras in
some sections, and seismic sensors in others.
How about crossing into Canada through one of the Indian reservations along the border?
Actually, that's not a bad idea as long as you don't try to sneak
through on your own. The reservation borders are tightly controlled by the Indian Mafia, sometimes in collaboration with the
real Mafia. They can get you across safely for a reasonable fee. The
trick is to contact them. I have no magic formula, but there are often casinos on the reservations, and if so, that is the place to start.
Is it OK to apply for a tax refund on Canadian purchases,
when returning to the States?
We used to stop at one of those "duty-free" stores on the
Canadian side, turn in receipts there for hotel, major purchases,
etc. and get a cash refund on some of the taxes. We no longer
do this, however, because—since February 1, 1999—to get a
refund you must give them your name, address, telephone number, driver's license number, and the license-plate number of the
car you are driving. Your driver's license will be photocopied. (The
reason they give me for this is "increased fraud.")
Is there any special precaution to take, for a day-trip into
Tijuana by car?
Yes. Buy one-day auto insurance as soon as you cross the
border. (There are shops along the way with signs.) Tijuana's
police (totally corrupt) are making routine stops to see if American drivers have Mexican insurance. If you have purchased this
insurance, show them your receipt and you will be on your way.
Otherwise, you will be offered a "choice": pay a stiff bribe on
the spot or spend a few hours in jail. [Take it from this writer,
you'd rather pay the bribe.]
How does the U.S. Border Patrol pick and choose at the
This question was asked by a reader of the Los Angeles Times.
He said he passed the San Clemente border checkpoint nearly
every day, and was almost always waved through. However, one
day he noticed a Border Control officer taking a closer look at his
car so he stopped to ask what he was looking at. The officer said he
was checking to see if the car was riding low. The reader asked David Haldane, a staff writer at the Times, why he was almost invariably waved through when others were sometimes stopped. Also,
why would the officer care if his car rode low, or not?
Haldane referred the question to Roy Villareal, a spokesman for
the U.S. Border Patrol in San Diego. Valdane suggested that if the
reader was not stopped, it might be that he was a "regular" who was
recognized by the guards. Another reason might be that he did not
display any of the suspicious behaviors the border patrol looks for.
What they look for is a visible increase in uneasiness as the
officer approaches, and if they spot it, they will stop the driver
for that reason alone.
"The first thing that comes out of the officer's mouth" said
Villareal, is "good morning," or "good afternoon," and, at that
instant, the subjects level of nervousness escalates from zero to
100. "You can see the arteries in their neck pulsing, or they will
start sweating even in the dead of winter. Sometimes you say
good morning, and they can't even answer you." At that point,
of course, the officer will search the car.
As for looking at how the car rides, the purpose is to see if
there is an unusal weight aboard. If the front end of the car is
high but the rear end is close to the ground, the car will be
stopped and the trunk opened.
What is the best way to send mail to Mexico?
Mail service south of the border is a disaster. Mailmen are
underpaid, undersupervised, and some can just barely read. If a
letter does not "look important," they may do one of two things:
throw it away immediately or set it aside to deliver "manana." In
Spain, the word manana usually means "tomorrow." In Mexico,
however, it merely indicates "not today." Tomorrow may never
come. There is no best way to send mail there but here is the
least worst way. I learned this from a mailman in Ameca, Jalisco
and I have tested it many times. The letter must look important.
If you plan to receive mail in Mexico, give the following suggestions to the sender in the U.S.:
1. Use a business-size (#10) envelope. Smaller ones seem to
get lost, and larger envelopes do not fit well into the mail
2. Type the address, or print it on a laser printer in large,
easy-to-read letters. I use sixteen-point bold.
3. Put a return address on the reverse side of the envelope.
Make it look important, such as putting "Dr." in front of
your name, or perhaps a religious title. Obispo (bishop) is
even better.
4. Put small-denomination postage stamps across the entire
top of the envelope, to make the envelope look impressive.
A well-to-do Mexican friend of mine in Reno, Nevada,
puts half a dozen first-class commemorative stamps on
every letter he mails to his relatives in Cabo San Lucas,
but I have a better way. I purchase old stamps from Joe
Kenton, PO Box 480456, Kansas City, MO 64148-0456.
Like many other dealers, he sells old stamps—some of
them dating back to when first-class postage was three
cents—at a ten-percent discount off face value. In addition
to saving money, the old stamps are real attention-getters.
5. Use some sort of rubber stamp near the left border, to give
the impression that this is a registered or certified letter. I
use three stamps and three ink pad colors on my letters.
First, the outline of the U.S. eagle in red. Then a box with
dotted borders and the word "FILED" above it. This is in
blue. Last comes the date stamp (black), inserted into the
box with the border.
About 95 percent of such letters get through—quite a record
for south of the border!
The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows
the exceptions.
Don't laugh when I tell you this, but after hiding it, be sure you
can someday still remember wherever it was you hid the machine pistols/ammunition/jewelry and precious stones/chemical
products; clippings/videos/photographs/gold coins/silver dollars/
negotiable securities/secret maps/compromising documents/forbidden books/red-hot love letters/Canadian $1,000 bills/whatever.
From 1959 until General Franco ordered Spain's laws to be
changed in 1970, my companions and I were hiding small boxes
in all of Spain's fifty provinces, and with the advent of legality,
a plaintive cry was heard across the land: "/ can't remember all
the places where I hid things!"
And now, with that warning out of the way, let's discuss how
you can hide items of varying sizes and values. Here are the
Small: Valuable stamps, bills, gold coins (scattered in various
locations), diamonds, and other items up to the size of a miniature pistol.
Medium: Documents, books, stacks of letters, and guns up to
the size of a rifle.
Large: From computers and file cabinets up to you yourself,
your mate, your mother, or your mistress.
In your home: With one exception (a secret alcove which I'll
mention later), do not hide anything in the master bedroom.
Burglars, sneaky visitors, police, private investigators, U.S. marshals, the DEA, and members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco
and Firearms (ATF) will look there first. Here are a few suggestions for hiding small items in your home or yard:
• Interior of hollow doors, or inside rolled-up window
• Inside a doghouse or a rabbit hutch, or in the crawl
space under the house.
• Under the insulation in the attic (one of my favorites).
• Behind wall phones or cold air return vents.
• In the bottom of dog food or kitty litter bag.
• In the bottom half of double boiler, or a box of sanitary
• Inside zippered cushions, hollow canes, or umbrellas.
• Inside a guitar or other musical instrument, or in the
empty case of an old portable radio.
• In file cabinets (with innocuous file names).
• Inside an old stereo or TV set in the garage.
If you are handy with tools, you might build your own secret
compartments. In The Big Book of Secret Hiding Places, by Jack
Luger (Loompanics Unlimited, 1987), plans are given for building secret spaces under bottom drawers, inside upholstered furniture, behind medicine cabinets, and under stairs. There are also
sections on hiding places on your person, in your the yard, or in
your motor vehicle.
In any of our various homes, it would seem to be no problem
to leave cash and other valuables out in plain view. After all, the
addresses are secret, and if the bad guys can't find the house they
can't raid it! However, I do keep valuables well hidden and so
should you. Can you guess why?
Correct! If a burglar is attracted to your home, it doesn't matter what arrangements have been made for privacy because it's
not you he's after, it's the house. Since you will never know
where I live, and assuming any burglar making a random strike
will not have read this book, I feel confident in telling you some
of the ways I hide small, medium, and large items in one home
or another:
Small: Since I'm a great believer in having cash available for
emergency use, I keep old junk-mail envelopes with pesetas,
pounds, deutsch marks or dollars in:
• Sheet music in my wife's piano bench.
• In a box of old tax receipts in a storage unit.
• In the book Using Microsoft Word 97, one of more than
eight hundred business and computer books in my library.
• In History of the Guanches, one of the six-hundred-plus
hanging files in the storage cabinets of my home office,
• Rolled up and inserted into a "foot powder" spray can
with a removable bottom. I purchased this via mail order
and keep it in my carry-on case when traveling.
When my car was stolen from SeaTac airport, the thieves
broke open the glove compartment searching, I assume, for a
gun. All they found were stacks of what appeared to be junk
mail, so they tossed all those envelopes on the floor and the
envelopes were still there when the police recovered the car. The
police didn't notice, either, that two of those so-called junk mail
envelopes had five $50 bills in each.
When I travel, I use a slim dress belt with two sections, each of
which will hold just two bills folded lengthwise four times. Does
that limit me to just $400? Not at all, since for this purpose
(emergency only) I carry these Canadian bills:
The four bills are worth (at the current exchange rate)
$2,600. Lately, these money belts have been disappearing from
both men's stores and travel shops. I do not know why. You may
have to search for them, or have them custom-made at a leather
As for outdoor mildew and rustproof storage, nothing beats
silver and gold. I like used American silver dollars, and new Canadian Maple Leaf coins are even better. These one-ounce gold
coins currently sell for about $35 over the spot price of the gold,
and can be scattered about in very small hiding places indeed.
One hundred eight thousand dollars Maple Leaf coins can be
stuffed into a coffee can, in which case you'd have a "medium"sized item to hide. However, since gold pays no interest and
there are dealer commissions in both buying and selling, holding
a large quantity of coins has its disadvantages.
Medium: My principal items in this category are reference
books in the fields of scanning, hacking, vanishing, and doing
business in the underground economy. Should my wife and I
both die in an accident, I do not care to have these come to light.
It's a nuisance, but I keep these—plus tax records—off the premises in private storage. (In case of death, a friend of total confidence will clean out the unit and destroy all contents.)
Large: A fireproof file cabinet and a fireproof safe are stored
in another location. I do not have a mistress to hide, nor have I
arranged a hiding place for my wife and myself. We both are
confident that between our almost-invisible profile and the security devices in place, we are not in danger. All the more so
since we have no known enemies. (If that should ever change, I
do have something in mind.)
Nevertheless, a secret room can give you added security, especially if you are the wife of a traveling man who leaves you
home alone. We discovered one new home with an unusual "extra" purely by accident while traveling from Las Vegas to Portland in 1994. On the way (I won't say where, for a reason that
will become obvious), my wife wanted to check out a certain
rural upscale holiday-home development. The builder included
an astonishing list of electronic items as "standard," not the least
of which was a soundproof room with a complete home movie
theater system with seating for twenty. But there was something
more, not shown in the brochures. The agent showing us the
model home saved the master bedroom for last. After showing
us the "his" and "hers" bathrooms (a la Harrah's at Lake Tahoe),
we were shown "his" walk-in closet, then "hers." At this point
the agent, a gray-haired overweight lady who sparkled with what
must have been zircons in view of the size, asked us if we'd seen
the entire home.
"Yes," said my wife, "we've seen it all."
"Actually, you haven't," she said, and with that she gave a
firm push to the door-sized shoe rack at the far end of the closet.
The shoe rack swung back on oiled offset hinges to reveal a
secret room. It was about nine feet square and lined on two sides
with storage shelves. There were no windows, but I noticed a
vent for the heating system, and a telephone jack on one wall.
"Would you care to comment," I asked her, "on the purpose
of this room?"
"No, we call this our 'don't ask, don't tell' room."
I pass this idea on to you as worthy of consideration when
you plan your next new home. The only hesitation I'd have
would be that the secret room would be common knowledge
among the architect, the contractor, and the workers. Also, the
building plans would be on file with the city or county. Gone
are the days when pirates buried treasures in deep holes, then
murdered the men who'd done the work.
To close this section I'll mention a way to hide whatever-sized
item you have in a way that not even Janet Reno nor the ATF
can track down. This is a method you've never seen in any book:
1. Put some film in your camera, borrow a fifty-foot or
hundred-foot tape measure and purchase a handheld
Global Positioning System (GPS) and a compass at any
marine store.
2. Go to a "trackless" state-owned desert wilderness (first
choice: central Nevada), and look for a distinctive rock in
a slightly raised area, to avoid any problem with a flash
3. Carefully take a reading on the rock itself, using the GPS
receiver. Write down the precise latitude and longitude.
Take pictures of the rock.
4. Bury your container a certain distance away, and note the
distance and the magnetic compass direction.
5. With your will, leave instructions. For extra security, give
the latitude to your sister Josie, without telling her what
the number represents. Then, in your will, you can describe the rock, the exact container location, and the precise longitude. Tell the executor, "Ask my sister Josie for
the secret number I gave her." This is the latitude. (And
without the latitude, your cache will be safe. Wouldn't
Captain Kidd have liked to have a working GPS!)
The GPS will put the finder within seventy-five feet of the
rock, the picture will identify the rock, the compass will indicate
the correct magnetic direction, and the tape measure will bring
the searcher to the "X" that marks the spot.
By the way, neglecting to put these instructions in your will,
and then getting Alzheimer's, would be uncool.
What do you think about buying gold coins and burying
Before I answer that, note this gem from California Lawyer:
Texas attorney Scott Erikson pleaded guilty to laundering
nearly $3.4 million from two Resolution Trust institutions
after authorities found a hand-drawn treasure map in his
home that led them to $1 million in buried gold coins
bought with some of the stolen money.
He knew enough to hide the coins, but not enough to hide
the map. This reminds me of those with secret overseas bank
accounts who keep the bank statements at home. By the way, a
million in gold weighs about 250 pounds. That alone might discourage me from trading cash for gold. But if you want to bury
just a few dozen pounds, well, why not? Just make sure you hide
the map as well as you hide the coins.
Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot. Not a word!
Into your clothes and come!
If Sherlock Holmes were alive today, he would not have to leave
his rented first-floor flat at 220B Baker Street, London. Instead,
he would be sitting at his computer, breaking into confidential
databases. If that did not produce results, then he would turn to
the telephone and make "pretext" calls.
My dictionary says a pretext is "a purpose or motive alleged or
an appearance assumed in order to cloak the real intention or state
of affairs." Private investigators push this meaning to the outermost limits. Complete books have been and are being written for
private detectives, showing them how to obtain any information
whatsoever. The example that follows will show how well a pretext can work. Here is a typical example of how a pretext works.
For a brief time, Karl and Lorelei are lovers. When Karl turns
violent, Lorelei walks out. Karl stalks her. She reads this same
book you are reading and follows the advice by moving away and
changing everything. Karl can no longer track her down so he
goes to Guido, a PI known for getting results where others fail.
He tells Guido a made-up sob story and the PI does not bother
to check it out. He takes a hefty retainer from Karl and writes
down what scanty information Karl has—her full name, Social
Security number, former address, and the name of a hospital
where she was once briefly admitted.
The PI promises Karl results in ten days. Actually, Guido will
have Lorelei's new address within the hour, obtained with just
two short "pretext" telephone calls. The first is to Piano General
PGH: Hello, please hold, [long pause]
PGH: Piano General Hospital, may I help you?
Guido: Yes, This is John, with Dr. Childress's office in McKinney, and I'm processing some insurance forms for
Lorelei Altbusser. Could you pull that file for me? I
need the date of admission.
PGH: Do you have her Social Security number?
Guido: Let's see [makes sound of papers shuffling]. Yeah, it's
PGH: OK, please hold for a minute while I get the file.
PGH: OK, got it. She was admitted 10-10-99.
Guido: What was the complaint?
PGH: Looks like persistent pains following a recent abortion.
Guido: Does it indicate any treatment?
PGH: Looks like there was a prescription, was all.
Guido: Well, thanks for the help, and—oh, one more thing.
On the form she filled out, does it list her mother's
name as Mary Altbusser, with telephone 344-1288?
PGH: No, her admittance form lists next of kin as Gertrude
Altbusser at 478-1991.
Guido: Muchas gracias, and have a nice day.
Next, the PI calls 478-1991 because he figures Lorelei keeps
in contact with her mother. Once again, he represents himself
as a doctor.
Guido: Gertrude Altbusser, please.
Mother: Yes, this is she.
Guido: Mrs. Altbusser, this is Dr. Noe at the Cook County
Morgue. We have a body here that's been tentatively identified as a Lorelei Altbusser. Do you have
a daughter by that name?
Mother: Oh, my God! Oh no! Oh God!
Guido: Mrs. Altbusser, is your daughter an AfricanAmerican?
Mother: No, no, my daughter is white!
[Guido's reason for whipsawing this poor woman
back and forth is to inject her with truth serum.
Now she will tell him what he wants to know.]
Guido: Mrs. Altbusser, how do you explain this dead black
girl having your daughter's driver's license?
Mother: I don't know. Maybe Lorelei's purse was stolen?
Guido: Mrs. Altbusser, when's the last time you spoke with
your daughter?
Mother: I talked to her last Sunday. She's a good girl, she
calls me every Sunday.
Guido: Mrs. Altbusser, it's very important we speak with
your daughter on this matter without delay. How
can I get in touch with her immediately?
Mother: She's living in Odessa now, and doesn't have a
phone in her apartment. She works at a Circle K on
Central Drive. I have that number. Would you like
Guido: Yes, please give it to me now, ma'am.
Mother: It's 960-362-0464.
Guido: Thank you, Mrs. Altbusser.
One PI, writing about the above pretext, does add this word
of caution: "When using the Dead Black Female routine, mothers
of the girl you are looking for may become hysterical. I've heard
of cases where the mother has literally dropped the phone in
mid-sentence and raced over to the county morgue. . . ."
In the foregoing example, from Lorelei's viewpoint, the PI was
just a miserable Liar for Hire. (However, shall we give that story
a happy ending? Karl drives to Odessa, locates Lorelei, and starts
waving a handgun. She kicks him in the groin, takes his gun
away, and plugs him through the heart.) But let's change the
context. Suppose the one who goes to the PI is you, and Lorelei
is your daughter. She just turned sixteen and ran off to Chicago
with some guy named Armen Bedrosian who is twice her age.
You call the Cook County Police but you think you are getting
a runaround. You go to a PI who checks Armen out via the
Internet and tells you the man is an ex-con who was jailed in his
teens for rape and attempted murder. He has only been back on
the streets for two months. The PI tracks Armen down by first
locating his mother. He calls her.
"Mrs. Bedrosian, this is Dr. Noe at the Cook County Morgue.
We have a body here that's been tentatively identified as Armen
Bedrosian. Do you have a son by that name?"
If the PI saves your teenage daughter, will you not bless his
efforts to the end of your days?
Are all PIs competent? No more than all lawyers are competent. As in any other profession there are experts, and there are
those that just bumble through. Consider the following two
April 10, 1999, was "family day" for Ellen Dever, forty-four, and
her daughters Genevieve, seven, and Sarah, nine. After lunch at
a sidewalk cafe in Lucerne, Switzerland, they bought magazines
and shopped for sunglasses. Then they strolled along the street,
eating ice cream and talking about Sarah's first Holy Communion, which was scheduled for the following day.
Someone had been out to get Ellen's daughters for the past
two years and that someone was their millionaire father. When
he had attempted to get sole custody of the girls, Ellen sold her
five-hundred-thousand-dollar home in Radnor Township, Pennsylvania, and fled with the girls to Belgium. From there they
moved to Greece and a month later, under aliases, they arrived
in Lucerne, where Ellen rented a comfortable apartment that
was part of a larger house.
Ellen, fearful that her ex-husband might someday track her
down, started taking jujitsu lessons. Little by little, however, her
fears faded. The girls attended the local Montessori school, had
ballet lessons, and took classes in art. By then, they were fluent
in German and Italian as well as in English.
Genevieve stopped to take a drink from a fountain, and Sarah
kidded her about her missing tooth, which had fallen out the
previous week. Ellen reminded herself that she had done everything right. A new country, new names, no contact with the past.
And then she spotted two men watching her from a distance up
ahead. They looked like Bad Guys right out of the movies, wearing huge sunglasses and hats with the brims pulled down. They
were built like linebackers.
"Let's go!" she told the girls, hurrying them back toward their
apartment. Within minutes, the two men Ellen had seen suddenly appeared before her, and a third man came up behind. As
the men reached for the girls, Ellen attacked them with every
jujitsu blow she could muster. At the same time a white van
with tinted windows screeched to a stop alongside them, and the
girls were manhandled into the van, fighting every step of the
way. The side door was slammed shut and the van sped off,
leaving a bleeding Ellen behind, clutching one of the men's blueand-beige hat.
How had she been found?
Not by the police or the FBI. Not by the one hundred bounty
hunters that had been searching for her ever since the exhusband offered a $2 million reward. She was found by one of
the private investigators that her husband had hired on four continents.
Stephen and Barbara Pagan had been married for five years, eloping to Haiti on the day that Stephen divorced Leah, his first wife.
Then came a venomous divorce. He got the house. She got the
kids. He didn't like that, and on October 28, 1979, he snatched
the children, then only two and five, from his ex-wife's home in
suburban Boston. He fled with the girls to Palm Beach County,
Florida, where his parents and a sister already lived. He changed
the girls' names to Rachael and Lisa and his own to William
Stephen Martin.
Back in Massachusetts, Barbara regained her maiden name of
Kurth and filed a criminal complaint. Over the years, she hired
various private investigators, but they came up blank. Finally,
she gave up. She pressed ahead with her own life, remarried, and
became a noted expert in cell biology.
Meanwhile, her ex-husband fashioned a good life for himself
in south Florida. Big houses, fast cars, and very rich wives. Nearly
twenty years passed before someone in his or his latest wife's
family decided Pagan's days of high living should come to an
end. A tip to the authorities was all it took. Police nabbed him
at his $2.2-million-dollar oceanfront estate, bought by wife number four, and he was returned to Massachusetts to face felony
charges of kidnapping.
Why couldn't Stephen Pagan's wife track him down? One
reason is given in the May 25, 1998 issue of Newsweek:
Pagan and his daughters insist Kurth should have been
able to find them if she'd really searched. Kurth's family
says she spent more than $10,000 on lawyers and private
investigators—to no avail. A 1982 report from one PI
warns her that staking out Pagan's sister's home in Florida
would be an expensive long shot.
Others say she spent triple that but whatever it was, either it
was not enough, or she hired the wrong investigators. PIs like
Robert Scott, Norma Tillman, Patrick Picciarelli, Fay Faron, or
Leigh Hearon charge from $95 to $150 an hour, but they may
be the cheapest in the long run. I quote from an e-mail I received
from Norma Tillman, author of How to Find Almost Anyone,
Pagan should have been located easily. I worked in lawenforcement 11 years and when detectives couldn't find
their suspect they would give it to me. One time a detective was looking for a brutal serial rapist. He really wanted
to catch him. I was at home about to bake a cake when
he called and asked me to help him find the suspect. I put
the cake in the oven and found the offender before the
cake was done. The detective received "Officer of the
Year" for capturing him.
Private investigator John J. Nazarian says that success depends
on two things: "How much you want to spend, and how you
want to play the game. . . . "
This question once came up: All other things being equal, which
kind of PI would you be more likely to trust—a man or a
I am not going to alienate half my readers by giving a personal
opinion. Instead, I shall merely quote the first four paragraphs
from a long article in the Los Angeles Times datelined August 3,
MEXICO CITY'S TRAFFIC COPS. Read the following and
draw your own conclusions.
Mexico City: Imagine a corruption problem so serious that
you don't trust your traffic cops to give out tickets.
Mexico City Police Chief Alejandro Gertz faced a
public outcry over exactly that dilemma. So Monday, he
took away all the citation books from the city's 900 traffic
Instead, Gertz authorized just 30 police cars—each
staffed by two policewomen, who are deemed less corruptible—to issue traffic tickets. The other traffic cops will
be restricted to directing the capital's perpetually snarled
In announcing the plan last week, Gertz said residents
of the Federal District—home to 8.5 million people and
nearly 3 million registered vehicles—were so fed up with
paying bribes to traffic police that he had no choice but
to stop the officers from handing out tickets.
The initials "PT" are used to describe an estimated five hundred
thousand European residents (which includes American expatriates) who have a certain state of mind that is different from that
of you and me. The term originated with Harry Schultz, of Guinness Book of Records fame ("World's Highest Paid Consultant"),
and author of the International Harry Schultz Letter. Harry, originally from Milwaukee, was a boy wonder in the newspaper industry but, disillusioned with Americans' growing penchant for
suing one another, took off to see the world in the 1960s and
never returned as a permanent U.S. resident.
PT can stand for anything from Part-time to Perpetual Tourist.
The hard-core PT considers himself a part-time resident of various countries but a taxpaying citizen of none, since in whatever
country he finds himself, he is just "Passing Through." I suspect
Harry himself is not hard-core, but I've met plenty who are.
One of them was Wolfgang Winkler, who was born in Switzerland, lives in London, has an office in Singapore, does business
in the United States, and keeps his money in an unknown country. (First he paid me with thousand-dollar money orders from
Barclays, later with cash in hundred-dollar bills, and the last time
he neglected to pay me at all, which ended our arrangement.)
Winkler serves as substitute (i.e., nominee) director for some
2,500 international corporations secretly owned by fellow PT clients, and—back when we were still on speaking terms—educated me on the extent of the PT phenomenon.
"I've got some very rich clients," he told me one foggy afternoon over tea at London's Inn on the Park, "who have never paid
one penny, franc, or lira in income taxes in the past fifteen years."
One of these clients, who shall not here be named, I know
quite well. The following details about this person are typical of
thousands of PTs:
1. He was born in Germany but emigrated at age twentyeight thus getting off the tax rolls in Germany, as he was
"officially" moving to South Africa, where he would take
up permanent residence. He never arrived.
2. He obtained a driver's license from the UK, since it could
be done by mail and the license did not contain a picture.
(This may have changed in recent years.)
3. He purchased a tourist-trap bar and club in Andorra
through a resident nominee, and brought in a cousin to
run it.
4. He bought a "holiday home" from me in the Canary Islands
and paid me with a shopping bag full of dollars, pounds,
francs, and D marks.
5. He travels extensively and owns rental properties in Las
6. He banks in Gibraltar, and has a safe-deposit box in
Guernsey in the Channel Islands.
7. In no country of the world does he pay taxes, since
wherever he may happen to be he's just "passing through."
I do not subscribe to the PT mentality, and neither should
you, but this does not preclude learning basic principles. Applying them, you may wish to:
(a) Arrange to have your legal domicile (which will be your
ghost address) in New Hampshire (no state sales tax, no
state income tax). If you are a voter, this is the state
where you will cast your vote for the least-worst candidates in each election.
(b) Own a "second home" in California, which will actually
be your true residence.
(c) Run an invisible business based in Pioche, Nevada.
(d) Domicile the corporation used in Pioche in tax-free Wyoming (to avoid the frequent-audit problem with Nevada
(e) Title your Lincoln LS with an LLC and obtain license
plates from both New Hampshire and California.
If you follow all these steps, PT might stand for Pretty Thorough. (It might also violate a law or two in California so consider
the ramifications carefully.)
(Based on the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, February 1997) I
checked this one out with several attorneys, who tell me this is
one item they never heard about in law school. Basically, lawenforcement officers can obtain a sneak-and-peek warrant "when
there is a legitimate need for the government to covertly uncover
information that could not be obtained through other, more traditional means of investigation." Once obtained, the warrants are
to be used within seven days. They are just as the name implies.
Officers will enter surreptitiously and search for evidence that
could later be the basis for a normal search warrant. The victim
will almost never know an entry has been made.
First of all, dress like they do, or just a bit better. Source: John
J. Molloy, Dress for Success. No matter how convinced you are
that clothes make the man or woman, reading John J. Molloy's
best-seller, Dress for Success, will make you even more of a true
believer. To Molloy's book I add the following: If you are a
woman, dress and act like a woman, emphasis on "dress" as in
the noun. If you are a man, and if getting others to accept your
requests for privacy is high on your list of priorities, show up
freshly shaved and with a recent short haircut. Source: Me. Right
or wrong, I often refuse requests from anyone who draws attention to himself or herself by outward appearance rather than by
inward qualities of honesty, integrity, loyalty, and virtue. (I wish
they'd teach that in grade schools.)
Next, when at all possible, deal with the opposite sex. This applies to trips to the bank, the county courthouse, the utility companies, and to any other location where low-level clerks deal with
the public. If you are a woman, seek out a man. If you are a man,
talk to a woman. Source: innumerable private investigators.
A subpoena is an order, usually signed by a notary public, to
attend a legal proceeding such as a trial or deposition. A subpoena duces tectum—Latin for "bring with you"—means you are
ordered to bring certain documents with you, which can be anything from bank statements to old love letters. The purpose of a
subpoena is to force you to produce something you do not want
to produce, and/or to appear in a civil or criminal court case
when that is on the very bottom of your "things-I'd-like-to-do"
list. Although it is not correct to say that if they can't find you
they can't serve you, this process certainly can, and often should
be, delayed as long as possible, thus giving you time to think
things out.
(At this late date, don't do a Nixon and erase tapes, nor an
Ollie North and shred documents. If your tape, document, or
photo files need work, stop reading NOW and start erasing,
burning, flushing, burying, encrypting, and shredding before the
storm clouds gather.)
In a civil case, a subpoena can be delivered by a law-firm
employee, a professional process server, peace officer, or anyone
else of legal age (in some countries, registered and bonded) capable of making multiple attempts, able to correctly fill out the
proof or certificate of service, and who can testify as a credible
witness if the service is challenged.
In a criminal case, service will be achieved if you acknowledge
receipt of the subpoena by telephone or mail, as well as in person. The way you identify yourself (should you ever want to . . .)
is by name, date of birth, and driver's license number.
Delaying service of a subpoena is not for amateurs. Beyond a
certain point, if it can be shown that you willfully disobeyed it,
the court can issue a bench warrant for your arrest. Now is the
time to call in an experienced shark, preferably of the species
great white, bull, tiger, or oceanic whitetip. This lawyer will
know many sneaky tricks about serving subpoenas and will thus
be able to tell you how and up to what point you can delay
Now then, if service appears to be inevitable, at least take
control of where and when this is to happen. Don't get caught
unaware like Franklin K——from Cleveland. He owed his lawyer
money but he had a daughter's wedding coming up, so he chose
to stall the lawyer and throw an elaborate wedding reception.
The lawyer learned about this and decided to cause the greatest
humiliation possible to his delinquent client.
At the precise moment Franklin stood up to propose a toast
to the new bride and groom, the sheriff barged in and served
Franklin with a subpoena! Learn from this and if you fear you
will be served with a subpoena, do not attend a public gathering
where you may be known, and do not admit your identity to a
If you are served, have your legal beagle bring a motion to
quash. (You may have heard that the process server must touch
your face or body with the papers. Not true; he can just toss the
papers at your feet, or whatever.) Have him claim that service
was improper and statutory requirements were not met.
When uncertain,
Or in doubt,
Run in circles!
Scream and shout!
And life is what we make it. Always has been, always
will be.
What follows is a true story, outlined in Street Sense for Students
by Louis R. Mizell, Jr. A private investigator ran up a bill of
$3,000 on this case without a single positive result. You, however,
having read this book, are now equipped to solve the mystery.
Becky was a twenty-nine-year-old medical student living alone in
an off-campus residence. Her telephone was listed in another
name. She received the first call from a stalker at three in the
"I follow you everywhere," he said. "I know your most intimate thoughts." He then proceeded to tell her things that no one
else could have known.
Two nights later, he called again. "Becky, I saw you buying
eggs and pancake mix at the Super Giant yesterday. How did
you know that's what I like for breakfast?" Another night, he
called to ask her when she was going to show him "the bra and
panties we bought at Neiman Marcus."
Everything the man said was true, but how did he know?
Becky had been constantly on the watch for anyone who was
following her but had seen nothing suspicious.
She went to the police, who were unable to help her. Worse,
they steered her to an incompetent PI who took her money but
did not help her. She changed her telephone to another name—
unlisted—and for a while the calls ceased. Then, three days before Christmas, the telephone rang at two in the morning.
"I wish you'd get a female doctor—I don't like Dr. Johnson
looking at my lady. Next time I'll give you a physical."
Increasingly distraught, Becky flew home to be with her family
over the holidays. On Christmas morning, while the family was unwrapping gifts, the telephone rang. Becky's mother answered. The
caller asked to speak to Becky. When she came on the line, he said,
"I'd like to unwrap you right now." She broke down and cried.
Are you ready to solve the mystery? To assist you, here is
some additional information:
• The stalker never watched her or followed her.
• He had no accomplices.
• He did not bug her car or her apartment.
• He did not tap her telephone.
• He did not clean her cordless telephone or her cell
• He did not use a computer in any way.
• He did not contact anyone that knew her.
• He did not mail from her mailbox.
• He did not steal mail from her mailbox.
• He did not get information about her from any other
Desperate, Becky went to a security company. When she described the problems she had been having, they recognized a
certain pattern and—unlike the PI who charged $3,000—they
guessed the answer on the spot. All they had to do now was
prove it.
They hid a camera near Becky's driveway and had an off-duty
police officer monitor it from inside a van parked nearby. Just
after 4 A.M., a man parked a Volkswagen nearby. He then picked
up Becky's trash and emptied it into a plastic garbage bag he had
brought along.
The next item to be picked up was the thirty-one-year-old
man. He turned out to have prior convictions for burglary, drug,
and sex crimes and had failed to report to his parole officer. All
his information had come from Becky's unshredded trash.
• Cash-register receipts showed all of her purchases.
• Her phone numbers came from discarded telephone
• The doctor's name was on an empty prescription-drug
• The rest of the information came from other things
Becky had thrown away: personal letters, class schedules,
notes, and bills.
None of the information in this book will be of assistance to you
unless you put the suggestions into practice. I urge you to start
now. Do not wait until you can find the time—you may never
find it. Do not wait until you can "do it right," because that day
may never come.
All successful persons can list one or more secrets for success.
My entrepreneurial father passed on his own two secrets of suc-
cess to me when I left home to seek my way in the world. ("To
make money, you must go where the money is," and "Never take
a partner.") Earl Nightingale wrote an entire best-selling book
with a single theme, The Strangest Secret. ("We become what we
think about.")
Well, my secret isn't very strange. In fact, it's so obvious that
I fear you will disregard it:
For every desired action, set a date, and when the date arrives, just go ahead and do it. NO MATTER WHAT.
My rule does not have any rhythm to it, it doesn't even
rhyme, but it works for me and it will work for you. Here is the
application: Make a list of what you wish to accomplish and set
a date to complete each item. And when the time comes, just
do it. Decide on your level of privacy, then write down the suggestions you plan to follow and set a date for their completion.
Your goal is never again to have your true name coupled with
your true address. Here is a short review:
• Obtain at least one ghost address and give this to your
out-of-town relatives, friends, banks, insurance companies, utility companies, IRS, DMV, and everyone else.
• Disconnect your present telephone. Then have it reconnected in another name. Get a cell phone in another
• Order new checks for your bank account from a mailorder company and do not list your name on the checks,
nor any address. Start with a high number.
• If you use e-mail, change to one of the free services such
as or and be discreet when filling in the application blanks.
• If you are renting, move. If you are a homeowner, sell,
then start over.
• Find a nominee. Order one or more LLCs so they will
be on hand when you suddenly need them.
• Start an invisible home-based business if you have not already done so.
• Travel with a lower profile. Practice crossing into Canada
and Mexico. Look at every challenge to your privacy as
an adventure. Get a life, have fun during the day, sleep
without worries at night.
As this book goes to press, it is as up-to-date as I can make
it. However, some changes may have taken place before you
have this book in your hands. If you have access to the Internet,
you may wish to check for any updated information. The password is ssndob, short for Social Security number-date of birth.
If you have any comments or suggestions, I would be happy to
hear from you. When you address your letter, please do not start
out with "J. J. Luna." Rather, address it using four lines in this exact
Marrero and Luna
Apartado de Correos, 2
35626 Morro del Jable, LP de GC
Canary Islands, Spain
Although I do not have the time to answer letters personally,
all will be read. The best ideas will be incorporated into future
editions of this book.
Finally, if you remember nothing else, remember this: Do
not, as long as you live, ever again allow your real name to be
coupled with your home address. If you commit this to memory
and put it into practice, then you will be well on your way to
Yours faithfully,
J. J. Luna
Fuerteventura Island
April 2000
Aka or a.k.a.: "Also known as''
CMRA: Commercial mail-receiving agency. More commonly
known as a "mail drop."
CPA: Certified Public Accountant.
IRS: Internal Revenue ServiceLLC: A limited-liability company.
Mail drop: An address other than your own where you can
receive mail, packages, and courier deliveries.
Ghost address: A future address you will use that has no
connection to where you really live.
NSA: The National Security Agency.
PI: Private investigator or private eye. Sometimes used to referred to a private detective, although the use of the word "detective" is prohibited in some states and many countries. (In the
Netherlands, for example, the title "Detective" refers to a PI who
is working illegally without a license!)
SSN: Social Security number.
DOB: Date of birth.
I have no financial interest in any of the following publications.
The magazine and the newsletter are merely the ones I read first
when they arrive in the mail, and the book is the one I have
underlined and refer to more than any other.
P.I. Magazine ("America's Private Investigation Journal"), 755
Bronx, Toledo, Ohio 43609. Phone/fax 419-382-0967. E-mail:
[email protected] See at
This is a quarterly magazine ($24 per year) published for private investigators. Both the articles and the advertisements are
oriented toward tracking down people who do not wish to be
found. I read it, of course, to find out what the latest tricks are
for the opposition and then dream up ways to foil them.
How to Get Anything on Anybody—The Newsletter: ("Investigative Techniques—Surveillance—Counter Surveillance—Information Tracking and Privacy") Intelligence Incorporated, 3555
S. El Camino Real #309, San Mateo, California 94403. Fax 650728-0525. (No phone number is given out.)
E-mail: [email protected] Web:
This is an eight-page newsletter for private investigators, published ten times a year. The annual subscription rate is $109.
The editor uses the name "Lee Lapin." Each issue usually contains a number of interesting Web sites. The most interesting
one I've run across so far is This site
will lead you to international databases for looking up persons
by name and/or address. It also has reverse searches for obtaining
names from telephone numbers or addresses, plus many other
interesting links.
Stopping a Stalker: A Cop's Guide to Making the System Work
for You, by Captain Robert L. Snow (Plenum Press, 1998, 265
pages). If you think stopping a stalker is easy, this book will
change your mind. Snow cites one account in which a stalker
went through the computer files of his target's home computer.
In another case, a stalker burglarized his target's parent's home
near San Francisco in order to obtain her current address in Los
Angeles. (Warning: This is not a good book to read when you
are home alone on a dark and stormy night.)
Private Investigators: If you wish to track someone down, here
are four places to start. (Presumably, the person you are after
will not have read this book!)
Norma Tillman:
Fay Faron:
Patrick Picciarelli:
Robert Scott:
www. condor/Pi/
New Mexico Limited Liability Companies: Both of the following are persons of confidence. I have used one or the other to
form corporations and LLCs for me since 1989.
JOHN CLARK. John has an extensive legal background with
emphasis on personal privacy. Contact John if you plan to use
your LLC in an actual business operation and/or with multiple
members where a detailed operating agreement is required. Although he charges an hourly rate, it is usually less than an attorney would charge and he can be counted on to do a better
job. My only complaint is that John is extremely busy and travels
constantly. For that reason, allow several weeks for him to respond. He may be reached at this address:
John Clark
22 Delgado PJace, Ste. 4
San Francisco, CA 94109-2052
M. M. M. (Valterra). This is the address of a young lady who
charges less than $100 per year. She does not give individual
advice but she does include easy-to-follow instructions and uses
the same form for the Articles as does John Clark. Despite the
faraway address, she responds with lightning speed. If you write
to her at the address below, be sure to mark your letter AIRMAIL and add the correct postage. At present (spring 2000),
this is sixty cents for half an ounce, or one dollar for an ounce.
Please do not send her any registered or certified mail, nor anything by courier where a signature is required, because she will
not sign for anything.
M. M. M. (Valterra)
C/Benito Perez Armas, 12
35500 Arrecife de Lanzarote
Canary Islands, Spain
Abagnale, Frank, Jr., 83
Abused women, SSNs and, 76
Adams, Geraldine, 41-42
Address. See Ghost address; Home
Airborne Express, 49-53
Airline tickets, purchasing, 184187
Air Touch Cellular, 101
Alba, Lt. Anthony, 52
Alternative names, 81-89
phone listings with, 93-95
Answering machines, 95, 113-114
Arrest, gaining time before, 5-6
AT&T, 100-101
Attorneys, trusting, 11
Automatic Number Identification
(AMI), 93
Autos. See Vehicles
Baby-sitters, hiring, 56-57
Bacard, Andre, 73
Balderas, Fernando, 17
Bandy, Eva, 90-92
Bandy, Gary Allen, 90-92
Banking, 167-176
hawala, 55, 173-174
LLCs and, 147-149
offshore, 14
SSN and, 69-70
Beat the Border (Beaumont), 211212
Beaumont, Francis, 10
Beaumont, Ned, 211-212
Beepers, 104
Big Book of Secret Hiding Places
(Luger), 221
Blocking unwanted telephone calls.
Boats, registering, 75
Boss of the Gulf, The (Balderas &
Figueroa), 17
Bounty hunters, 53-54
Brown, Eryn, 199
Burglar alarms, 114
Burke, Eddie, 4-5
Business cards, obtaining, 89
Caller ID, 115-116
Calls to 911,41, 109-112
Canadian border, crossing, 208-217
Carj ackers, protection from, 164166
Cars. See Vehicles
Catch Me If You Can (Abagnale),
. 83
phone books, 93
security of, 201
Cell phones, 100-104, 110-111
Charitable remainder unitrust, 127
Checks, ordering, 170
Choe, Jae, 34-35
Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints (LDS), 55-56
CIA Flaps and Seals Manual
(Paladin Press), 30
Cleaning services, obtaining, 54-56
Clerks, dealing with, 237
Coast Guard, 105-106
Code Breaking (Kippenhahn), 14
Coins, burying, 226
Commercial mail receiving agency
(CMRA), 24-25, 35, 37-39
Common law trusts, 127
Communications, offshore, 14-15
Complete Security Handbook
(Herbert), 198
Computer Privacy Handbook
(Bacard), 73.
Computers, securing, 191-192,199202, 205-206
Conan Doyle, Sir Arthur, 227
Consent to enter, obtaining, 48-49
Constitutional trusts, 127
Copyright, LLCs and, 144-145
Cordless phones, 97-99
Corporate names, 83
Corporations, 128-138
bank accounts for, 171
offshore, 14
Counterfeit I.D. Made Easy
(Lunger), 83
Courier companies, 49-53
Creative Real Estate (Kessler), 180
Credit, obtaining, 72-74
Credit cards, 190
Cvek, George Joseph, 18-19
Date of birth, 65-66
Delaware, corporations in, 137138, 171
Deliveries, receiving, 47-57
Dever, Ellen, 230-231
Diary of a D.A. (Frank), 18-19
Doctors, SSN and, 69
Dress for Success (Molloy), 237
Driver's license
obtaining out-of-state, 45-46
SSN and, 67-68, 74-75
Drug Enforcement Administration
(DEA), 28
Eagan, Sgt. James M., 194
ECHELON, 14-15
Eckel, Achim, 135
Electronic mail (e-mail), 29, 202207
E-mail Security (Schneier), 201
Emergencies, calls to 911, 41, 109112
Employers, SSN and, 68
corporations in, 133-134
limited liability companies in,
PT people, 234-236
remailing letters from, 32-33
Pagan, Barbara Kurth, 232-233
business name, 183
I.D., 85-87
Family, trusting, 10
Faxes, sending, 114-115
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 48,
Federal Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA), 43
Federal Express (FEDEX), 49-53
Federal Witness Security Program.
See Witness Security Program
Figueroa, Yolanda, 17
Fishing license, 75
Frank, Martin M., 18-19
Franklin, Benjamin, 10
Ghost address, 26, 34^6
newspaper deliveries to, 29
Gifts, LLCs as, 149
fake I.D. and, 85
security of, 202
Social Security number checks,
unlisted telephone numbers on,
use for forwarding mail, 23-24
See also Electronic mail (e-mail)
Internet Department of Motor
Vehicles, 45
Invasion of Privacy (Mizell), 197198
Investigative reporters, 8
Haldane, David, 217
Jehovah's Witnesses, 55-56
Hawala banking. See Banking
Juno, 203-204
Hawkins, Mickey, 115
Herbert, Anthony, 198
Kennedy, Tom, 4
Home address
Kessler, A. D., 180
disassociating your name from,
Ketcher, Mike, 34-35
18, 49-50
Kippenhahn, Rudolph, 14
receiving deliveries to, 47-57
receiving mail at, 22-26
See also Ghost address
Home, secret hiding places in the, i apartment keys and, 198
SSN and, 70
Lapin, Lee, 85
Home-based businesses, 177-183
Lawyers. See Attorneys
Home deliveries, avoiding, 18
LeTourneau, Mary, 139-141
Home ownership, 73
Limited-Liability Companies
LLCs and, 156-161
(LLCs), 139-149
Hospitals, SSN and, 69
compared with corporations, 128Hotels, registering at, 191-192
130, 132-133, 138
How to Do Business "Off the Books"
home-based business and, 180(Loompanics Unlimited), 179
How to Find Almost Anyone,
real estate purchases, 70, 156Anywhere (Tillman), 233
How to Get Anything on Anybody
registering and purchasing
(Lapin), 85
vehicles, 75, 145-146, 150Hughes, Howard, 55
156, 161-166
Hunting license, 75
Lindquist, Pat and Patty, 131
Identity theft, 76
Living trusts, 121-127
Illegal border crossings, 213-215
Luger, Jack, 221
Image Data, 74-75
Luggage, travel and, 45, 187-188
Immigration and Naturalization
Lunger, Jack, 83
Service (INS), 210
Insurance companies, SSN and,
Magazines, receiving at home,
International telephone calls, 114
Mail cover, 27
Mail drops. See Commercial mail
receiving agency (CMRA)
Mail, sending and receiving, 16-33
forwarding, 23-25
Mexico and, 218-219
securing, 29-33
theft of, 20-22
Manhunter (Pascucci), 113-114
Medical Information Bureau (MIB),
Medical records, 84
Medicare, SSN and, 69
Mexican border, crossing, 208-213,
215, 217-219
Mitnick, Kevin, 202
Mizell, Louis R., Jr., 44, 197-198,
Molloy, John J., 237
Money transfers. See Banking
Mormons (LDS), 55
Moses, Grandma, 240
Motels, registering at, 189-190
Movers, using when moving to
another state, 54
alternative, 81-89
disassociating your address from,
18, 49-50
phone listings with, 93-95
National Directory of New Hires,
68, 78
National Security Agency (NSA),
14-15, 114
Nazarian, John J., 233
Neighbors, vacations and, 197198
Netsch, Anthony, Jr., 16-17
Nevada, corporations in, 130-131,
137-138, 171
New Mexico, limited liability
companies in, 142-144, 148149
Newspapers, receiving delivery at
home, 28-29
Nightingale, Earl, 243
Nominees, finding and using, 117120, 169-170
Norman, George, 64-65
Notebook computers, securing, 191192
Offshore banks, 14
Offshore communications, 14-15
Offshore corporations, 14
Offshore trusts, 13-14
O'Harrow, Robert, Jr., 167
Out-of-state address, acquiring a,
Out-of-state driver's license,
obtaining, 45-46
Overseas travel, anonymous, 192193
Paciello, Michael, 202
Pagers, 104
Paladin Press, 30, 179
Pascucci, Marshal John, 113-114
using fake, 86-87
using as identification, 46, 69-70,
Phillips, George Joseph, 47^8
Pike, John E., 15
Pitkow, Jim, 204
impersonation of, 52
what to do when pulled over by,
Poor Richard's Almanac (Franklin),
Postage, affixing incorrect, 28
Postage meters, using, 27
Post office box, using a, 26
Prague, Carl, 152
Prepaid telephone cards, 108-109
Prepaid wireless, 101
Prestige, corporations and, 135-136
Pretext calls, 227-229
Privacy Act of 1974, The, 67
goal of book and, 11-12
levels for protecting, 7-8
Private investigators (PIs), 227-234
abilities of, 6-8, 50, 55
phone card scam by, 109
trap line use by, 116
trusting, 11
Protecting Your Life, Home, and
Property (Snow), 6, 112, 194
PT people, 234-236
Public telephones, safety of, 113
Purchases, 87-88
Ragnar's Guide to the Underground
Economy (Paladin Press), 179
Real estate purchases and sales
anonymous profits in, 179-180
LLCs and, 70, 156-161
SSN and, 70
Redial feature, 114
Reed, Elizabeth, 16-17
Reed, Ralph, 184
Registered letters, receiving, 44
Reineck, Torsten Franz, 87
Religious objections to use of SSN,
Remailers, 202-203
Remailing letters, 31-33
Renting a car, 189
Resident agents, LLCs and, 142143, 148-149, 155
Revocable trusts, 121-127
Rifkin, Stanley Mark, 8-10
Saki, 177
Satellite telephones, 105
Scanning cell phones, 101-103
Schneier, Bruce, 103, 201
School, registering in, 78
Schultz, Harry, 234
Scruggs, Lonnie, 179-180
Sears, 87-88
Secret hiding places, 220-226
Self-employment, 78
Seventh-Day Adventists, 55-56
Signatures, 79-81
Simpson, O. J., 104
Small Business Protection Act of
1996, 13-14
Smith, Matthew, 117
Sneak-and-peek warrants, 236
Snow, Captain Robert L., 6, 112,
Social security number (SSN), 6465, 67-72, 74-78
banking without, 167-174
obtaining a cell phone and, 100101
police demands for, 196-197
Speeder's Guide to Avoiding Tickets,
A (Eagan), 194
Square Egg, The (Saki), 177
Stalkers, protection from, 163165
Statesman, The (Taylor), 47
Steganography, 204
Strangest Secret, The (Nightingale),
Street Sense for Students (Mizell),
Stribmail, 206-207
Subpoenas, delaying the serving of,
Taxes, LLCs and, 146-148
Tax haven countries, 14, 29
Tax identification number (TIN),
70, 147
Tax returns, home addresses on, 4445
Taylor, Sir Henry, 47
Telephone calls, motel rooms and,
Telephone Consumer Protection
Act of 1991, 115
Telephone security, 90-116
Tellers, dealing with, 237
Testamentary trusts, 122
identity, 76
mail, 20-22
police impersonation and, 52
Thumbprints, banking and, 174—
Tilley, Frederick, 167
Tillman, Norma, 233
Titles, 82-83
Tracing a cell phone, 103-104
Trap lines, 116
Trash, 58-63
Travel, anonymous, 184-198
baggage tags and, 45
crossing Canadian and Mexican
borders, 208-219
Trust, deciding whom to, 8-11
Trusts, 121-127
offshore, 13-14
United Parcel Service (UPS), 49-53
United States Secret Service, 74-75
Unlisted telephone numbers, 92-95
Unorganized business trusts (UBTs),
U.S. Mail. See Mail, sending and
Utilities, 62-63
Utility house calls, 47^48
Villareal, Roy, 217-218
Voice mail number (VMM), 107108
Warrants, sneak-and-peek, 236
WEB-able (Paciello), 202
Web sites. See Internet
Willis, Lee, 44
Winkler, Wolfgang, 234-235
Wiretaps, 90-92, 113
Witness Security Program, 8, 76
Wyoming, corporations in, 137,
Vanity license plates, 163
Vehicles, ownership by LLCs, 145- Yoon, Yon Soon, 34-35
146, 150-156, 161-166
Zimmerman, Philip, 1
VHF-FM radio, 105-107
In the 1950s, J. J. Luna sold his outdoor advertising business in
North Dakota and moved with his wife and small children to
the Canary Islands off the coast of West Africa. Outwardly, he
'was a professional photographer. Secretly, he worked underground in an activity that was at that time illegal under the regime of Generalissimo Francisco Franco.
In 1970 Franco, yielding to intense pressure from the Western
World, moderated Spain's laws, leaving Luna free to come in
from the cold. By that time, however, privacy had become an
ingrained habit. In the years that followed he started up various
low-profile businesses, built them up, then sold them. He is currently an international consultant specializing in personal privacy
and security.
ISBN 0-312-25250-1
$36.99 Can.
or most of us, privacy means
an unlisted telephone number.
But what about your Social
Security number? Your credit
card numbers? Your bank
account statements? Your
personal health data? You may think
this information is also secure, but if
you've ever ordered anything over the
Internet, or if your credit card is on file
at the local video store just in case you
never return that copy of Titanic, or if
you throw out bank statements without
shredding them, then this information is
now in the public domain and can easily
be discovered and used against you by
a private eye, a computer hacker, or
even a vengeful neighbor or former
lover. Once people gain control of even
a shred of your personal information,
they can gain control of your life. They
can transform this information into
access to your assets, your loved ones,
even your identity. And once your privacy
is gone, there's very little you can do to
get it back.
J. J. Luna, a highly trained and
experienced security consultant, can
show you how to achieve the privacy
you crave, whether you just want to
shield yourself from casual scrutiny or
take your life savings and disappear
without a trace. He reveals the shocking
secrets that private detectives use to
uncover information, and then shows
you how to safeguard against them.
Filled with vivid real-life stories
drawn from the headlines and from
Luna's own consulting experience,
How to Be Invisible is the essential guide
to preserving your personal security.
Privacy is commonly lamented as the
first casualty of the Information Age—but
that doesn't mean you have to stand for it.
J. J. LUNA spent eleven
years running a secret
operation in Franco's Spain,
a fascist state notorious for
the brutality and tenacity
of its secret police. His skill
at covering his tracks has
saved his life several
times. He now works as a
consultant, helping other
people—and their assetsto simply...disappear.
Jacket design by David Berry
This book is dedicated to an anonymous member of Spain's
Secret Police. On January 27, 1960, during a brief encounter on
a quiet back street in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, I asked him for
advice on how best to avoid any problems in the land of
Generalissimo Francisco Franco. The advice he gave me has
served me well for forty years. He said there was only one way
to avoid troubles with the authorities: "Make yourself invisible."
How This Book Can Make You Invisible
2 U.S. Mail—Sending It, Receiving It
Your "Ghost" Address
Home Deliveries, House Calls, Bounty Hunters,
FedEx, UPS
Untraceable Trash, Anonymous Utilities
Your Social Security Number and Date of Birth
Your Alternative Names and Signatures
8 Telephones, Answering Machines, Faxes,
Radios, Beepers
How to Find and Use Nominees
How to Use a Trust for Privacy
11 Strange Uses for Corporations
Limited-Liability Companies (LLCs)
Hidden Ownership of Vehicles and Real Estate
14 Bank Accounts and Money Transfers
How to Secretly Run a Home-Based Business
16 Anonymous Travel by Land, Sea, and Air
Computers, E-mail, and the Internet
Crossing the Canadian and Mexican Borders
Secret Hiding Places
Cool Stuff That Did Not Fit in Earlier
21 An Exam, a Secret, and an Invitation
About the Author
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