Back on topic for obsessive October–stalkers. We’ve covered a few famous cases, but what you need to remember is that ANYONE can be stalked.
According to results from the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 1 in 6 women (16.2%) and 1 in 19 men (5.2%) in the United States have experienced stalking victimization… (National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, November 2011).
Stalking doesn’t just mean some creep following you around. The National Institute of Justice defines stalking as “harassing or threatening behavior that an individual engages in repeatedly, such as following a person, appearing at a person’s home or place of business, making harassing phone calls, leaving written messages or objects, or vandalizing a person’s property.” (Source)
Good news: All 50 states have laws that address stalking.
Bad news: the legal definition for stalking various across jurisdictions. Some state laws depend on the level of victim fear and emotional distress, as well as the intent of the stalker. States also vary on what level of fear is required for an offense to be considered stalking. (Source)
Some of the worse stalking happens between ex partners and spouses. How many times has your local or national news ran a story about a domestic violence situation where the ex has been harassing the victim for weeks and nothing was done–or could have been done–to prevent it? Restraining orders aren’t quite as easy to get as television makes it seems–again, the level of intent and victim fear has to be analyze, and it varies from state to state.
What would you do if you had a stalker and the police wouldn’t–or couldn’t–help? What if your stalker stayed one step ahead of them, like the Taker in my debut novel, Into The Dark? He knows the city, knows how to navigate the Vegas storm drains, knows how to lead a double life. He’s smart, streetwise, and heavy on charm. His victim, Emilie, is back on her heels from the very beginning of the book. He’s a faceless, nameless entity, and she’s terrified.
But what if you knew your stalker? What if he (or she–women stalk too) was an ex who refused to give up and their threats had become so severe you felt you had no choice but to disappear?
Could you do it?
In Frank Ahearn’s excellent book, How To Disappear, he uses his experience as a skip tracer–an expert used by media and any other interested source–to find people. He’s located jailbird, deadbeats, witnesses, celebrities…the list goes on. He didn’t locate people by name, address, and phone number. We’re talking bank accounts, social security numbers, DMV records, passwords, identity theft.
When they wanted to talk to some kids who had spent the night with Michael Jackson at Neverland, they called me. When they wanted to monitor O. J. Simpson’s bank accounts, they called me. I once was hired to find Ozzy Osbourne’s private telephone numbers for a paparazzo. —Frank Ahearn, How To Disappear
With the crackdowns in security over the years, Ahearn decided to use flip the switch–he started teaching people how to disappear.
He’s had a lot of clients since he turned legit, and a fair amount of them are victims running from stalkers. So how do you do it? It’s a complicated process, but I’ll try to give you the basics.
First up, find every bit of information about yourself and do your best to change it or destroy it. This means calling utilities companies and leaving bogus information, whether it’s a false address or deleting an account all together. It involves some serious lying, but it’s crucial to wipe out as much information as possible. It means removing your name from Google, from Yahoo, from phonebooks, warranties off electronics and accounts at stores, including the grocery, library cards. You get the picture.
They’ll start searching for you in obvious places: search engines, Internet databases, phone companies, utility companies. If they’re comfortable breaking the law, they’ll hit banks. Maybe they’ll get a cop buddy to run a criminal background check and a motor vehicle report. From there they’ll go to a laundry list of local businesses and service providers, hoping to find a valid account with your name on it. They’ll use their imaginations to figure out where you might be hiding. —Frank Ahearn, How to Disappear
Create a bogus trail for anyone searching for you. Just like a great story, disinformation starts off with a hook–a juicy bit of info that will send the stalker on a wild goose chase. Applying for an apartment, home loan, credit card, taking calls from an accessible phone line–anything to make a stalker believe they’ve found you.
Next is the line–even more information leading to your hook. Applying for utilities and phone services, giving fake employee information, preferably from a large local business.
Then, the sinker. If you’re faking a residence, open up a small checking account at a local bank. Then get a debit card and give it to someone you trust, someone who’s going to be traveling and can use it at random. This will send the stalker all over the place.
Frank Ahearn used this plan for a desperate client trying to escape a jailbird ex, and they managed to keep her safe. The client’s trail was all over the country while she was hiding in her new location.
Time for a new life. This is when you always use cash or prepaid credit cards. No smartphones. Always a prepaid phone or calling cards. Mail drops–this means a UPS or FedEx store, not the post office. Frank recommends establishing a corporation and putting any kind of must-have loan or lease into that corporation’s name. New computer if possible. Never use the Internet at home–go to a local wifi hotspot. No social media. Everything has to be new and as vague as possible. In order to keep in touch with family and friends, have a designated call time and change phones frequently.
Disappearing is complicated, and this is just a VERY SMALL synopsis of how to do it. If you’re interested in learning more, I’d highly recommend Frank’s book. He writes in a fun style and is honest about the life he’s led.
What do you think? Could you disappear if you had to? Cut off contact with all friends and family? What would it take to make you that desperate?
Great info here for authors–or others needing it.
Oh, and I suspect all of us who have attempted to build a “platform” would have a helluva time getting rid of that. Hmnnn.
Thanks, Amy! And that was my thought as I was reading this book. I kept thinking about the trail I’d left and how I could never disappear. Scary stuff!
I went immediately to all the work I’ve put into creating a “brand”….
I experienced a mini-stalking a number of years ago. A friend from my health club fixed me up with a “great” guy. He turned out to have some serious psychiatric issues and he go out of control very quickly. I’m very, very glad I live in an apartment building with doormen. They were instructed to tell him I was out and they took a certain amount of abuse from him.
About a year later, I ran into him in a social situation and he was very hazy about who I was, etc. I can only assume that he had a new object of affection to follow (or several) in-between my final farewell and running into him.
Candy, that’s way scary! The idea of stalking does scare me. I’ve had some friends (popular authors) who had such things happen. It’s such a helpless feeling, too. God bless your doormen!
Stacey Joy Netzel
Wow, interesting post, Stacy! I may have to get Frank’s book for research for a future book. Thanks so much!
That’s exactly why I bought it – lots of great info my series I’m working on. And Frank was great about getting back to me on a couple of questions I had. Glad you enjoyed!
Wow, crazy stuff to think about. I bet authors could think of lots of false information to lay. But it would be challenging. I hope I never have to do that.
Sonia G Medeiros
It’s terrifying how much info is available about all of us and much of it online. It seems like it will get harder and harder to disappear. Or maybe it will be too easy for those with enough tech skills. Fascinating post though!
It really is, and I often don’t think about what I’ve got out there. If I need to fill something out or whatever, I do it. The tech skills are beyond me, but there are plenty of people out there who can pull it off, and that’s scary.
Thanks, and thanks for the shout out yesterday!
Great info, Stacy! I took an online class with Frank through an RWA chapter a few years ago. Very interesting man. I also have the book. Not sure I’d be able to pull it off, but would certainly give it a try if needed.
Very cool you got to take a class from Frank. I emailed him with some questions specific to my WIP, and he was very quick to respond. Definitely an interesting man. I don’t think I could pull it off, but it was a hell of a read:) Thanks!
Tiffany A White
GREAT info, Stacy. My best friend and I have both had tiny bouts with stalkers… neither of us had to disappear, but it was still a very scary time. I’m glad everything worked out the way that it did because I don’t know if I could just disappear.
Man, that’s scary. I’m glad you guys didn’t have to disappear. I can’t imagine having to constantly look over my shoulder. And I don’t think I could disappear. I couldn’t leave my family.
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Jennette Marie Powell
Fascinating info, and it makes sense – it would be way easier to replace good information with bad than to get it removed entirely – if that’s even possible. Given the amount of technology that’s a part of our every day lives, I’d be very skeptical that anyone could remove everything. Your book sounds great!
Yes, it makes sense but it would be such a huge job. And there are so many little things you might forget, like a grocery card or warranty. Thanks so much, hope you enjoy:)
Until it happens to you it seems like a fantasy. I can assure you it is not! I ended up more or less on the run from a would be partner. I lost access to my home and found it difficult to run my business. If you run a business with public access you have a hard job to escape from it. Luckily in the end, police arrested her as she smashed in the windows of my house. Sadly she had to spend some time in jail for the damage and for injuring a police officer. It seems to have worked but these issues are deadly serious if you get caught up in them and your life is completely changed whatever the outcome.
Wow, that is terrifying. I’m glad you managed to get free of her. Yes, I think about that all the time – being in the Internet public eye is terrifying, and you can have info out there that you don’t even realize.
Thanks for sharing your story!
Before I bit the bullet and began building an online author platform, I had no twitter account, no Facebook, no blog, nothing. I did not go as far as paying cash for everything and using a prepaid cell phone, but I was pretty careful. I had a hard time deciding to do this. I am always aware of the dangers of being so visible online. And I sometimes wonder if I am making a huge error.
I feel the same way. I’ve never been particularly careful about online stuff, but as I become more visible, I always have the scary part in the back of my mind. And after reading Frank’s book, I realize how easy it is for someone with some skill and patience to track someone down.
I found you through WDC “Today I Blogged About…” Glad I don’t have to deal with this; but I know it’s all too real for some people. Good information here, and good story ideas too.
Hi, and welcome! Yes, there is a ton of great information in Frank’s book, and there are certainly several story ideas. Thanks!