Frank Ahearn is an expert on disappearing.
How did you get involved in helping people disappear? I spend my life as a skip tracer, locating people. My expertise is tracking people down. Several years ago I was in a book store and saw a guy buying books about offshore banking in Costa Rica. He was obviously looking to bank offshore. He was ahead of me in line. He paid with a credit card. Why buy books on discretion and uses a credit card? Then I saw him sitting down in a café and started a conversation. I explained I was a skip tracer and that If I’d wanted to, I could find him easily. He’d used a credit card; I saw a book on Costa Rica. I could find the airlines that flew there. It would’ve been easy. That disturbed him. It turned out he was a corporate whistle-blower. He said, “Can you help me disappear?” It was a question of reverse engineering what I already did. Then a website called Escape Artist asked if I could write an article for them. Next thing you know I’m the Dear Abby of disappearing.
When you’re trying to disappear, is it more important to think pragmatically or creatively? A little bit of both. It can depend on who’s looking for you. But people disappear for one of two reasons: Money or violence. With something like a stalker, creativity is really important. We have to create disinformation to keep the stalker busy, and that takes a lot of creative thinking. Money is more straightforward. It’s more important to put the person in a place and create insulation. So it varies.
What’s harder: finding someone or hiding someone? Hiding them. Because when you’re looking, you’re looking for the info that’s already known about them. If you can find one piece of information, you might be able to do the job. Disappearing is more difficult.
What’s the most common mistake made by someone trying to disappear? They forward mail to a bogus mailing address. Basically, let’s say you decide to pick up and go. Most likely you’re the type of guy who will never live in Iowa. But you might not make sure to forward your mail to some place that’s geographically sensible for the kind of person you are. So if I found out that you had your mail forwarded to some address in Iowa to try and throw me off the train, I’m not going to start looking there. I’ll know it’s bullshit. But say you decide to forward your mail to Des Moines, you may have forgotten to take a home phone number off the utility bill. I could get that number and, say, call your mother and say I’m from your school’s alumni society and I’d like to give you some information. It’s easy.
What aspect of your work do you find the most creative? Creating disinformation. When someone’s looking for you, you gotta keep ’em busy. I’ll have my clients set up a bank account. I assume the person looking for you is gonna break the law, so maybe they’ll find that you’ve set up bank accounts in Chicago or Toronto. They’ll start looking their for your debit card transactions. But I’ll have sent a debit card there for someone else to use.
What’s the last creative thing that you did? I worked with this guy, he owned several hot dog carts. He lived in Detroit, his son is a lawyer who was looking to get his money. He said the father was irresponsible. The father wanted to disappear. We made it appear as if he lived in Miami. I located this escort there and had my client’s phone bill and cable bill and utility bill put in her name. The son hired a PI and located this info, but they were just spinning their wheels. That’s pretty much it.