Tools for Possibilities

Street Smarts

Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 45

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Obscuring your identity

How to be Invisible

This a book about how to hide from people who want to find you, such as ex’s, disgruntled associates, opportunistic lawyers, private investigators, stalkers, the press, etc. Hiding means obscuring your identity. It is not about hiding from governments, because as Luna observes, “privacy” is a matter of economics; anyone can be found using enough money, which is what governments have. Luna classifies the 4 levels of obscurity one can achieve by assigning them 4 levels of money paid to find you. Level 1 is hundreds of dollars, Level 2 thousands, and Level 3 tens to hundreds of thousands. Level 4 is the government. The more it costs to find you, the harder you have to work to remain hidden.

This book reveals the many tricks one can do to hide your location, your assets, your identity, while still paying your taxes. Most of these tricks are legal, or at least in the gray zone of “not outright illegal.” (For instance, by supplying true but irrelevant facts, rather than stating something false.) There are many legitimate reasons for not wanting to be found by someone (spousal abuse, escaping revenge, identity theft, etc.) but I think the overriding one that motivates this book is the fear of having assets seized in a frivolous “deep pocket” law suit.

What is clear from this guide is the degree to which one has to disconnect from ordinary connections in order to achieve the higher levels of obscurity. Very few people will want to live with the constraints required to completely mask your true identity. Yet you are only as hidden as your weakest link, which could be one of a thousands everyday connections such as an old account, forgotten password, unexpected stop at a border, or an old friend. Higher levels of disappearing demand relentless attention, and in many ways privacy becomes a full-time obsession, as it has for the author.

Even though he tries hard in this third edition, Luna is not keeping up to date with the digital world. Hiding is harder, but there are also new opportunities as well. However because Luna advises people to stay off social networks, he is not ahead of the curve. (These days if you don’t have a Facebook account full of friends, that is a sign you are fake.) A younger generation will have a harder time implementing these tactics, although the strategy remains the same.

I live my life in the complete opposite direction from what this book advocates, being as transparent and open as possible at all times. Life is too short, and openness has treated me well. Luna would call this naive, and it probably is. There are not many of his suggestions I will actually follow, because I am not battling an ex, not running from the press, not trying to hide assets from unscrupulous lawyers. But as the author notes, the time to enable privacy is before you need it.

Like many other tools, it’s good to know these options exists, even if you have no plans to use them now. Being aware of what possibilities we have for deep disguise and obsessive privacy is empowering. And of course, if you are trying to find someone, this book has all the tricks they may be using. I learned tons and consider it a bargain education. — KK

  • Level ThreeThis will almost certainly require a move from your present location. Both your home (or rental property) and you vehicles will be in the names of anonymous limited liability companies (LLCs). Your home address will now be hidden from all but your closest relatives and friends. It will no longer appear on your annual tax returns, or anywhere else. If you follow the directions in chapter 12, “E-mail and the Internet,” your Internet/e-mail connections will be under cover and the black-hat boys and/or 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.
  • I learned this one from a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) agent I met, while staying in a motel that was near a flooded area. Some years ago he bought a $98,995 motor home under another name, and did not license it. (He thus saved not only the license fees and road tax, but an $8,513.57 sales tax as well.) For $12 he got a fifteen-day permit to move it to a rural location in another state. From time to time he moves it, each time getting a temporary permit. Try to find out where this agent actually lives!
  • Watch For This Sneaky TrickSuppose a private investigator wants to hear you talking to your lawyer (or mistress, or whomever). He may place a conference call, recording every word. Here is how it works. The first call would go to you, and when you answer, the PI punches HOLD and then speed-dials your lawyer. you start saying, “Hello? Hello?” Then your lawyer comes on the line. He recognizes your voice. Each of you may then assume the other person placed the call, and start to chat!
  • Suppose you wish to send $25,000 from Vancouver, British Columbia, to a friend in Helsinki, Finland. You would hand $25,000 cash to a Vancouver money changer (Hawaladar) in Vancouver, and receive code words (or an agreed signal such as a secret handshake) and a contact address in Helsinki. No actual cash moves out of Canada. Instead, when your friend gives the code to the correspondent Hawaladar in Helsinki, he will receive the equivalent in euros (less a commission) from money that is already there. To review:There are no written documents. The exchanges are based on mutual trust (perhaps for that reason unpopular in the United States?).Only local currencies are used. Thus, if you are sending money from the UK to Mexico, you pay in pounds and the receiver in Mexico collects in pesos.This exchange cannot be traced because no money crosses a border.
  • Since the IRS treats one-member LLCs as sole proprietorships for tax purposes, there are no income tax consequences. If you use your LLC for a part-time business, for example, you will merely report earnings and expenses on Schedule C and submit it with your 1040 tax return. Repeat: The income – -if any — is listed on your personal tax return. Nowhere on the tax form will the name of your limited liability company appear. As far as the IRS is concerned, your limited liability company is invisible.”How can I prove I own the company,” I’m often asked, “if my name doesn’t appear anywhere?” If privacy is the goal, I recommend New Mexico LLCs because they do not show ownership in the Articles of Organization (which are a public record). The best way to prove ownership, then, is to have the original LLC documents coupled with an operating agreement.

How to survive jail

Behind Bars: Surviving Prison

Yes, you are a good person. But a relative or friend may not be so law-abiding. And stuff happens. Here is what to do if you are ever arrested (mostly what not to do) and what you can expect if put behind bars. Written by two professors of criminology; one was a former correctional officer, and the other served eleven years in federal custody, including maximum security. They know what they are talking about, and they dispense their straight dope with surprising clarity and uncommon elegance and wit. (One chapter is called “You’ve Got Jail!”). They’ve written a guidebook to a distant country and its alien customs and ways; may you never arrive there. You get street-smarts from inmates and wise counsel from the Man. I rank my books by how dog-eared they are; this one had nearly every page marked and underlined. This is one of the books you want to read before you need it. — KK

The first thing you need to remember [if arrested] is keep your mouth shut and do not discuss your arrest or case with anyone, police or fellow inmates.

Jailhouse holding tanks are usually bugged with hidden microphones and video cameras. This technology is only incidentally for your protection. Its primary function is to provide the judicial system with an opportunity to gather more incriminating evidence.

  • Whomever you call, never discuss your case on the phone. Any admission of guilt will be used against you in court. Let us repeat: Any admission of guilt will be used against you in court.The same warning applies to mail, both sent or received, which will be opened and copied by jail staff. Remember, you have no privacy in jail, and every word you say, phone call you make, or letter you write, can be used in court to make a case against you or drum up additional indictments against you or others.
  • In general, with few exceptions, attorneys want their money up front, in advance, or they leave you to throw yourself on the mercy of the court. The reasons are simple enough. If you are found guilty and sent to prison, you will be in no mood to pay your legal bill. Also, many of their clients are crooks who are not overly inclined toward scrupulous bill-paying in the first place. These facts lawyers know only too well, so they will exert great pressure on you to pay up front before your case is decided. You must resist their demands for large sums of money and only pay the attorney a portion of what they ask.Defense attorneys are like stockbrokers: They collect their fees and commissions on the amount of business they do, no matter whether their customers win or lose. As officers of the court, their first allegiance is to the legal system, even at the expense of their clients. Most lawyers who practice in criminal courts make a good living losing most of their cases, a fact that they rarely share with their clients.
  • You may think the 14th Amendment guarantees you due process, meaning bail, attorney, and a trial by peers. Unfortunately, after being locked up in the county jail, you discover that bail may be denied, lawyers are expensive, and few defendants ever get a trial. The fact is, most people plead guilty to a lesser or reduced charge simply because they get tired of being locked up in jail, their legal defense funds run out, and they fear the possible consequences of losing a trial.These are the cold, hard equations of crime and punishment. Most cases never go to trial. The attorney persuades the defendant (often after the lawyer has bled the patient dry of money for pre-trial hearings) not to go to trial, arguing that if they lose — and they probably will — they will be sentenced to the full extent of the law.Yes, you have a Constitutional right to a fair trial, but if you exercise that right and lose the case, the prosecution most likely will demand severe sentencing penalties, in return for your having made them take the case to trial.
  • Another possibility, rarely understood by first-time defendants, but well known to those with lengthier police records, is that once you plead guilty, which becomes public record and part of your police criminal justice dossier, you are more likely to be rearrested, and are easier to convict.
  • The Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) is thought by convicts to operate a better system than most states. The prisons are cleaner, with more desirable food, and the prison staff is better educated, trained, and paid. It is fair to say that most prisoners would prefer to do federal time, day for day, as compared to state time.That said, federal prisoners are usually allowed fewer material possessions than state convicts. Individuals serving time in state prisons may have their own televisions, collections of books, music, clothes, and posters or pictures hung on their cell walls. Federal prison cells are more austere. These prisoners are restricted to only basic items, such as five books, toiletries, and a few changes of institutional clothes, no television. All of these possessions must be able to fit in one small locker.
  • You will find that every cellblock has “jailhouse lawyers” who will give you more truth than your attorney ever dared to share. (In case you were wondering, jailhouse lawyers are looked down upon by prison administrators, because they can file legal briefs for themselves and fellow inmates; it’s not unusual for cons well versed in the law to find themselves transferred frequently.)

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