Have you ever wondered what it would be like to start over? What if you could disappear and, months later, re-emerge as a deckhand on a long-haul fishing vessel, or tend bar in the Caribbean?
What if you could wipe the slate clean and emerge as an entirely new you? No baggage, no history. As we sit here on a drizzly English morning, tapping out these words on a crumb covered keyboard, it all sounds very tempting indeed…
Like the 70s classic sitcom character Reginald Perrin, it is possible to disappear completely and never be found; emerging with a new identity. But you have to get it right.
You only hear about the people who fail at this; John Darwin – “the Canoe man” – who faked his death for half a million quid in life insurance. Then there was fallen Serb despot Radon Karadzic, who evaded war crimes charges for a decade with a new name, a bushy beard and a job as a faith healer…
All of these characters committed “pseudocide” to evade the law; they disappeared and changed their names. But we’re staying on the right side of the boys in blue here. All the advice we’ll give you is 100% legal and designed to help you reboot your current life for one that’s more awesome.
Step #1. Pick a Day & Plan Ahead
You’re going to have a lot of planning and preparation to do if you’re going to get this right. It’s easy to just disappear. You walk out of the front door and never come back. The hard part is making sure that you have a new life to go to – with no connection to the old one.
So, pick a day. Make it at least six months away. Make it more if you’re going to need time to save money. Whatever you do, stick to that day. Call it D-Day, disappearance day; and don’t tell another soul.
Step #2. End All Contracts
The last thing you want is a reason for people to come after you – so get your affairs in order before you go. Treat it like a house move and create a list of all the services you pay for; gas, electricity, mobile phone, council tax…
Make sure you’ve paid up to date and that the contracts are cancelled. The same goes for any higher purchase deals you may have, any credit agreements or loans.
You may be wondering why? The answer is, we’re telling you how to disappear, not commit fraud. When you owe people money, they will never stop trying to find you. You might just end up with a new, very uncomfortable en-suite bedsit – in jail. And some missing teeth.
Step #3. Get a PAYG Burner Phone
You’ll need to rid your life of anything that’s tied to your old identity. Goodbye, then, contract phone. Owning a contract phone is entering a credit agreement with a communications provider.
The data we hand over to telephone companies is staggering. Your name, address, email address, DOB, credit history, Mum’s maiden name, name of your first pet… You need two forms of ID just to hold an iPhone 5S in some stores. You might as well be posting all your personal information on Craigslist.
Get yourself an unlocked phone from a second hand shop – and pay for it with cash. Next, buy a Pay As You Go SIM with some talk time. Lebara Mobile do PAYG SIMs with between £5 and £30 of credit ready to use, available from most phone shops.
Step #4. Travel Light
Get rid of everything material you have. Your PlayStation, DVDs, computer and telly. Even your car. All the stuff cluttering up your flat or house right now will just hold you back.
- Stuff stops you from travelling fast
- Stuff can be used to identify you
- You can always buy more stuff later
If you play the long game and plan well ahead, you’ll be able to make some much needed cash by selling higher value items. Here’s a tip; sell privately to friends as much as possible. Using car boot sales is another option. Both these methods will leave less of a paper trail than eBaying your old junk.
Step #5. Use Cash Not Credit Cards
In the period leading up to your “disappearance”, save as much money as you can. Living on less will be good practice for the basic lifestyle you’re about to embark on.
Next, convert all that stash into cash. Bank and building society accounts are key ways private investigators are able to track your identity.
IOnce you’ve emptied your accounts, shut them down. Later, with a new identity established, you’ll be able to open a basic bank account again.
Step #6. Quit Social Media
Ten years ago disappearing would have been much easier. Now we have Facebook and Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat and bunch of other sites that many of us obsessively update. All that will have to stop
In fact, it’s one of the first things you can do. Stop posting selfies and pictures of your breakfast and passive aggressive digs at the people you work with. Then delete every account you have.
That last bit probably sounds like hard work, but it needn’t be. Use the website Just Delete Me to find direct links to the account removal page for every service you use. And, before you finally go, delete your email accounts too.
Step #6. Change Your Name By Law
True fact: you do not have to do anything to change your name, but start using a new name. As long as you use it consistently, in all your future dealings, you’ll soon amass a pile of documentation with your new name on it.
If you want to add the new name to official documents (a passport or driving license), you will need a “deed poll”. That sounds complicated, but it’s just a simple form with your old name and new name on it, notarised by two witnesses. You then present this form when applying for official documents.
The witnesses must 18 years old or over and not related to you – and that’s the only stipulation. They could (and to help you disappear) should be complete strangers. A chap named Dan Q set up an easy to use service called Free Deed Poll to help you through the process. Fill in the form online and you’ll be ready to roll.
Your passport, driving license and national insurance numbers will all stay the same. Changing your name is as far as you can go without breaking the law.
Step #7. Cut All Ties To Friends & Family
This will be the toughest part. If you want a completely new life, you’ll have to leave the old life behind – which also means leaving the people you know behind. That means, from D-Day onwards, there’ll be no more contact between you and your former loved ones.
Anyone you stay in touch with is a connection back to your old life. All it takes is a check of phone records or an intercepted email to give you away.
Of course, this advice may seem a bit drastic. Will you be able to walk away from your family and friends? If the answer’s no, disappearing isn’t for you.
Step #8. Start Your New Life
It’s D-Day. You’ve sold up, built a nest egg, settled your affairs and closed down every service, contract and account with your name on it. You’ve told no one, but in your heart you’ve said goodbye. You’ve changed your fricking name. It’s time to go. It’s time to commit pseudocide.
Use public transport to get yourself away from home and book into a B&B. Check in under the new name you’ve chosen and pay cash. Start looking for somewhere to live.
You won’t be able to use housing agencies as they’ll ask for references and will run a credit check. Scour newspaper ads and online classifieds instead. Moving to a place with a lot of people is a better idea than shacking up in a small village or moving to the sticks. In these remote places, everyone knows everyone else. Make the anonymity of the city work for you.
Your new home doesn’t have to be in the UK. As an EU citizen you can live and work without a visa in any of the 28 member countries.
Remember, though you’re technically able to travel to any country within the EU without a passport, most countries need one as ID. That’s one good reason to change your name by deed poll and get new identification documents before D-Day.
Step #9. Change Your Appearance
Start changing the way you look as soon as you can without arousing suspicion. Grow a beard if you’re a man. Dye your hair and change the style. Wear glasses if you don’t already wear them or switch to contact lenses if you do.
The important thing is that these changes must be sustainable. It mustn’t feel like you’re wearing a comedy disguise, or you’ll never carry it off.
Why bother if you’re moving away? There’s CCTV on every street corner, every mall and every shop you go in to. We bump into people we know in the strangest places. Make sure that you don’t look like the old you when that happens.
What Next For Your New Life?
What you do now with your baggage-free life is up to you.
You’ll have an opportunity to reinvent yourself from scratch. Buy a second-hand camera and document life on the streets as you volunteer in a soup kitchen. Build a log cabin out in the woods and live off berries and squirrels. You could move from town to town, taking casual jobs and occasionally turning into a big green monster every time someone annoys you. We don’t recommend the last one.
Whatever you do, it’s up to you. Free of family influence and the judgement of friends; free of the past’s embarrassments. It’ll be a lonely adventure – but it will be an adventure.