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?
—PHILIP ZIMMERMAN, DER SPIEGEL
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is potentially more devastating than if they went through life smoking in bed, shampooing with gasoline, and taking out-of-date aspirin.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 client.
• 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 night.
• 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 blanks].
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.
TOTALLY UNFORESEEN TIDAL WAVES
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 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.
• You 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 maybe 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 him?
“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 jail . . . 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 credit-card 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-N-E-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 goals.
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 black-hat boys and/or the law firms may have to 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:
WHO SHALL I TRUST?
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.
“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!)