Can Someone Truly Disappear?

by November 22, 2009 11/22/09

ff_vanish_promo_fWe’ve often talked about certain aspects of disappearing here at ITS, such as an untraceable cell phone and how to escape and evade in an urban environment, but never putting it all together and outright vanishing.

One of our readers clued us in to a fantastic article on Wired Magazine’s Web site titled “Writer Evan Ratliff Tried to Vanish: Here’s What Happened.”

Ratliff, a contributing editor for Wired, had previously written an article about people who fake death back in August,  and started asking himself questions about whether someone can really vanish in the digital age.

So, he put his money where his mouth is, literally. Wired offered a $5,000 bounty, $3,000 which would come out of Ratliff’s own pocket, to anyone who could locate him, take his picture and say a password.

Ratliff decided to vanish for a month, from August 15th to September 15th. He wasn’t going off the grid, but trying to drop his current life and pick up another. He opened up his personal details to the public and challenged them to find him.

The article is full of daily disguises, false identities, pre-paid cell phones and using cash for as many things as possible. It’s about true privacy and avoiding digital fingerprints.

If anything, the article poses some interesting questions, many are what we have talked about here and will talk about in the future.

Head on over to Wired magazine and give the articles a read and let us know what you think in the comments.

Specifically, what do you think of the methods used and do you feel he truly succeeded in vanishing?


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Nathan Kayl
Nathan Kayl

This is a pretty good article, but clearly Evan used it for more of a challenge to see how far he could go as opposed to actually trying to disappear. A truly motivated person could disappear and start a new life. Fake ID's aren't that hard to come by and after that, everything else gets a whole lot easier. He also made several crucial mistakes online, firstly getting online, anything can be tracked online given the time and resources to do so (that $5,000 bounty helps the searchers here) as evidenced by how he was eventually caught, and nearly caught several times. Would not having any online ties be suspect? I say no, I know many people that don't even have an E-Mail account, much less Facebook or Twitter. All in all an great topic for discussion.

Blake Mims
Blake Mims

oh im sorry i forgot to add that if you only use cash, then you limit yourself to only people who you've made extended contact with can rat you out. Mix in some transient type people for helping you travel, you could be ANYWHERE for all anybody else knows.

Blake Mims
Blake Mims

hmmm didn't really care for this guy's "style." He figured out how to make himself disappear, but then he went and tested his cover, putting himself in riskier and riskier situations. I got hired on a tugboat for a couple months, and if I checked into a hotel for my 10 days off between shifts I could have easily done exactly what he did, IN MY HOME CITY.

Reddog
Reddog

Disposable, I think you are, in many ways, correct, but I would imagine the success would rest a lot in the ingenuity/resources/motivation of the ones left behind. I would think faking a death would be a better way to start than just not showing up at home after work (I would hope...). It would tend to stop many from looking, anyway. I would also need to leave my life insurance in place going to my wife, and not shift it to my "girlfriend" who I would hook back up with later with a good financial start. That would be the kiss of death for my plan, in many ways, as now my wife would be motivated. Plus, I would be giving her a starting point. She's already smart and resourceful enough, (that's why I married her) and would find me not so much for the money, but to beat my ass. Leaving her the money, maybe she'd be more inclined to "overlook" the clues that I would invariably leave. One might also consider moving out of country. That opens up some other difficulties, but with a life properly chosen allows one to stay off the grid a bit easier.

disposable
disposable

I was at borders this morning and picked up the wired magazine cause of this story on the front cover, just to come home and see it also posted here. it was a great article and brought up alot of good tips and points. But my question is, if the average person really wanted to disappear, would they have that many people out physically looking for them?? I mean, this was a contest, that kept peoples interest. If a random person, up and disappeared for any number of reasons, i think they could get away with it alot easier than this guy. It would take alot of resources to get the same results with someone who doesn't have the same amount of publicity.

kenpojitsu
kenpojitsu

Wow Interesting article. I was just talking with my work Partner & Her sister over coffee about how we all leave such a big digital finger print for "Big Brother" to see. Even with being a Law Abiding Citizen with nothing to hide its scary to think how easy it is to get personal info about you. Its Like the Government's "Orwellian 1984 wet dream" to have that kind of access, ha ha ha.

but whats even more scary is we rely on this technology so much, the same technology that can enslave us. I just realized a week ago that if I lost my Cell phone I wouldn't remember much more than about 5-6 numbers, if that. what I used to do before having a Cell phone was carry a small cardboard card with all the important friends & contacts on it in my wallet with a prepaid Phone card. & I remembered most of the #'s anyway cause I didn't have a Cell with a contacts list as a crutch. Sometimes convenience's make us very lazy

I've now put a contact card & prepaid phone card in My EDC. in case of Cell "Failure".

Ok I'm straying from the topic now, Im done.

kenpojitsu
kenpojitsu

Wow Interesting article. I was just talking with my work Partner & Her sister over coffee about how we all leave such a big digital finger print for "Big Brother" to see. Even with being a Law Abiding Citizen with nothing to hide its scary to think how easy it is to get personal info about you. Its Like the Government's "Orwellian 1984 wet dream" to have that kind of access, ha ha ha. but whats even more scary is we rely on this technology so much, the same technology that can enslave us. I just realized a week ago that if I lost my Cell phone I wouldn't remember much more than about 5-6 numbers, if that. what I used to do before having a Cell phone was carry a small cardboard card with all the important friends & contacts on it in my wallet with a prepaid Phone card. & I remembered most of the #'s anyway cause I didn't have a Cell with a contacts list as a crutch. Sometimes convenience's make us very lazy I've now put a contact card & prepaid phone card in My EDC. in case of Cell "Failure". Ok I'm straying from the topic now, Im done.

Thompson
Thompson

Wow that's a good read. Very interesting to think about.

spenceman
spenceman

Speak of the devil, I'm about halfway through Evan Ratliff's article right now.

Oto_no_Shi
Oto_no_Shi

This is exactly what I was thinking. If I were to just up and leave, ceasing to use my current public profiles, etc. the only people that would commit to looking for me would be my immediate family and the police (which I think we all know how effective they are at finding people, especially those that don't want to be found).

While if I were to put up prize money for my head, especially in a widely read magazine like Wired, well, I think I would be fleeing for quite a while.

Oto_no_Shi
Oto_no_Shi

This is exactly what I was thinking. If I were to just up and leave, ceasing to use my current public profiles, etc. the only people that would commit to looking for me would be my immediate family and the police (which I think we all know how effective they are at finding people, especially those that don't want to be found). While if I were to put up prize money for my head, especially in a widely read magazine like Wired, well, I think I would be fleeing for quite a while.

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