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The Rules of Privacy

To be successfully private requires the observance of several crucial rules.

As an investigator I am typically able to find about 90% of the people I'm hired to find. It's very very hard to maintain complete privacy. There are however a few tips I can give you.

Don’t draw attention to yourself

Don’t be overtly covert. Privacy is about being covertly overt –seeming like normal folks at the surface level. If you behave mysteriously or suspiciously, you’ve already lost, in the long run, your war for privacy. The general public and the government shouldn’t have any idea that you’re a private person.

Privacy is always complicated – think it through

Even the most basic privacy stance (without the use of aliases and ID) is still fairly complicated. For example, you wouldn’t want the bill from your secret voice mail sent to the mailing address reserved for government and generic commercial correspondence.

Therefore, you must draw out the linkages of who-knows-what with an electronic-style schematic. You simply will not be able to conjure and manage all this in your mind – trust me on this. Without a schematic you’ll miss some hidden crossovers, and if you’re ever really scrutinized, the investigator will most assuredly draw out a schematic and discover them.

Privacy is expensive

Privacy is expensive. Even the most basic stance will cost about $ 40 per month. Don’t be greedy. Recognize the costs (emotional, social, and financial) and pay them without grousing about it. Don’t try privacy if it’s too costly, because you’ll get cheap on yourself and ruin the whole game.

Privacy is inconvenient

The best laid-out plan with all the expensive frills can be – no, will be – devastated by just one lazy slip. Laziness will be most tempting in the use of telephones. It’s highly inconvenient to have to leave your house to make an alias call across town on someone else's WiFi. Or to get a burner phone to use and change on a regular basis. Yet if you succumb to laziness that one time, and your line has a pen register or trap, that one phone call will unravel your tightly wrapped scheme.

Just one good loose end is all an investigator needs. Loose ends are created by poor planning and lazy tradecraft. I’ve read several hundred true-crime accounts to understand this well. In a multi-million dollar insurance fraud, the allegedly deceased husband (from a small plane crash in the ocean) kept in touch with his wife by calling her at the same pay phone at the same time. Yes pay phone, older book and story. His supposed death was brilliantly planned and executed. He went to ground without error. Calling her was clever (no long-distance records on her line), but using the same pay phone was lazy. The PI, having followed her, became suspicious since it’s not normal to be called at a pay phone. He simply bugged the pay phone, and discovered his location in San Juan. Had they used several pay phones, they would have pulled it off.

Be consistent – be thorough

If bulletproof privacy is important to you, then think it through ahead of time, be consistent, and fight the urge of convenience. Nothing else will do – trust me on this. Privacy measures add up to a lifestyle which rewards you with the tranquility you’ve dreamed about. The privacy life-style is an indispensable means to that end. You cannot enjoy that end without those means. Know this in advance and make a quality commitment. Don’t fool yourself into thinking half-assed measures will accomplish your goals. They won’t.

Work your story out in advance

Don’t allow yourself to be surprised. Know beforehand what is required of a transaction and be prepared for it.

Always have a benign, logical explanation

When asked for your phone number, reply that it’s private, or that your phone is broken and haven’t had a chance to get a new one yet, or that you’re staying with friends and can’t give out their number, or that you’re just passing through town.

Privacy requires lying

Know in advance that you will most likely have to “lie.” Would you tell a mugger about your money belt, or would you “lie”? Similarly, our system and society is bent on stealing your quiet joy. You will have to “lie” to protect your privacy.

Be unremembered

Surly people are not only remembered – they’re talked about. “This guy came in today – geez, what an Asshole!” The last thing you want is to be talked about. Keep your cool and avoid making poor impressions. Nervous behavior will strike people as odd. It makes them curious, if not outright suspicious. Nervousness is quenched by confidence –confidence is gained by success – success comes from experience, and experience comes from, well, experience. This isn’t armchair stuff. You’ll have to actually go out and do it. After a while, it’ll be second nature.

Privacy requires your alertness

This is especially true if you’re due for any official scrutiny. You must develop sensitive antennae and keep them up at all times. Before being moved on, you will have some advance warning: frequent airplane overflights, vehicle drive-bys, a noticeable change in the attitude of bank and postal clerks, a sudden increase in hang up calls, new acquaintances who ask too many questions or too readily agree with your views, your friends and family being quietly sniffed out, etc.

Stay alert and you’ll probably avoid being surprised. Alertness, however, is not paranoia. Paranoia is a mental disorder of delusional grandeur and persecution so acute as to be paralyzing. You probably aren’t so deserving of persecution, so don’t whip yourself into a frenzy. Do as much as you can for yourself, relax and try to enjoy life.

Your public face

When in public, act like the public. Never draw attention to yourself. At home, you can skulk about all you want, but in public, do not be overtly covert.

This is absolutely vital when you are establishing your voice mail service, buying plane tickets, getting ID, etc. The clerk must feel perfectly comfortable with the transaction. Don’t blow it by being nervous, sarcastic, impatient or rude. Be polite, smile and practice an agreeable banter. Such an attitude is oil to the transaction. Do not, however, be too polite or officious – do not try too hard.

Know in advance the documentary requirements for the transaction and have your “legend” well buttressed and rehearsed. Do not be caught off guard, or else you’ll probably stammer and ruin the deal. RELAX! To the clerk, you’re just another public face. Be fairly cheerful, yet nonchalant.

Do not make a fuss about: the long wait in line, the bureaucratic pointlessness of the thing, and ID or SSN requirements. You’re there to complete the transaction, and so is the clerk. Give her what she needs, and she’ll return the favor. Do what it takes to accomplish your goal. Regarding the SSN, you either don’t have one or you don’t know it, or give her a fake one (research the proper birthplace 3 digit sequence and have the fake number done on a metal card).

Once you’ve got your paperwork, ID, tickets, etc. you should politely and smoothly bid the clerk a “Good day!” and leave. Don’t gush relief at the counter – have your party later. It just takes a bit of practice. The first few times you’ll understandably be nervous. That’s why you should start with the small stuff first (a mail drop, etc.). Then, when it comes time for bigger transactions, you’ll be ready.

These are just a few basics tips on privacy to get you started on your private life.

Keep your head down and keep the faith,


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