Cover Your Tracks

Tips for Preventing a Stalker From Finding You

by J.T. Zuzga, Private Investigator

The British Journal of Psychiatry published an article entitled "The Impact of Stalkers on Their Victims." One of the most striking statistics revealed in that article was that 39% of stalking victims relocated from 1 to 5 times [to evade their stalkers]. If that percentage is applied to the annual number of people stalked in the United States, about 1.4 million, (as estimated by the National Institute of Justice), it can be conservatively estimated that over 500,000 moves are made every year by victims in the U.S. to evade their stalkers. And that is if each victim only moves once.

Unfortunately, we don't have to look too long to find an account about a stalking victim, who after bearing the emotional distress, frustration and expense of relocating is found by their stalker within weeks or even days of making the move. Many are overwhelmed by a fear and sense of hopelessness. The move they had hoped would return some sense of security, safety and freedom has done none of those things.

As a private investigator, I have conducted many searches for "missing persons," the greatest majority of which result in the location of our target subject. The purpose of this article is to share some insights into techniques and methods used by investigators to find people. I'll also offer advice to relocating victims which will hopefully improve their chances of not being found. In short, my goal is the help stalking victims "cover their tracks."

First there are a few things those relocating should know:

Truly obsessed stalkers are COMMITTED to the hunt.

Though most stalkers suffer from personality or mental problems, they are usually of above average intelligence and have the mental capacity to organize and manage a search. Unlike most private investigators, they often don't worry about breaking the law and will pose as police officers, employers, friends or doctors to get information. Some have even been known to get a job at business which may hold information about their target such as a utility company. They will devote whatever time and often considerable money to finding their victims, regrettably sometimes even employing private investigators to help them. Though I should note here that most private investigators are careful and conscientious about screening clients. Most, but not all.

Understand that even with a complete identity change, it is very difficult for someone to completely "disappear".

Stalking victims, like everyone else, have knowingly or unknowingly been leaving behind a "paper trail" from the time they were born. It starts with a birth certificate. Then comes the social security number, driver licenses and driving records, voter registration, magazine subscriptions, bank accounts, employment records, utility records, charge accounts, warranty cards, deeds and an almost unending list of other places or documents which contain information about you. All of which can be accessed, sometimes as easily as turning on a computer. Technology has allowed private companies to collect vast databases of information about everyone from virtually all of the sources mentioned above and more. And they SELL that information. Simply moving and changing your telephone number is by no means enough to avoid being found.

To cover your tracks, you'll need to make finding information about you as difficult as possible. We want to make it such a long and difficult search that the stalker will become frustrated, give up, move onto someone else or at least strain his resources to the point that he can no longer afford to look. So let's get to work.

First of all, assume that EVERY time you give out personal information to anyone or any organization, it will find its way into the database of a company willing to sell that information. Which in fact, is what happens much of the time. In this age of technology, very little personal information stays private. Keeping that in mind, here's what to do to decrease the likelihood of being found:

Name & Date of Birth

Two of the most important pieces of information universally used for identification and therefore for tracing people are full name and date of birth. So to start with, DO NOT use your middle name or middle initial. This can be a very important identifying piece of information. In fact, use only your first initial whenever possible. To a PI (or stalker) finding Deborah T. Brown is much easier than finding D. Brown. Unless absolutely necessary, do not use your date of birth when filling out forms.

Social Security Number (SSN) and Credit Information

For private investigators and anyone searching for another person, a SSN is "golden." Your social security number usually cannot be changed and follows you throughout life, even when there is a name change. IT MUST BE PROTECTED. Credit headers, which can be legally obtained from credit records, are constantly updated by credit companies and that information is sold. Headers always contain information about addresses and sometimes contain other personal information. Do not give out your SSN unless it is absolutely necessary. Many companies routinely ask for a SSN even when they don't legitimately need it. If an organization asks for your SSN, ask why they want it. Talk to a supervisor. Find out if they need it or just want it. If your driver license number is your SSN, have it changed.

Address

DO NOT give your new address to anyone, except for a very few trusted family and friends. Make sure that they understand that they may not give the address to anyone and should not leave it in an address book(s) other people have access to. Make sure they know not to have anything shipped or sent by a third party to your address, including magazine subscriptions. NEVER put your address as the return address on anything. Stalkers (and PIs) routinely go through trash looking for discarded envelopes at times when the subject of their search may be sending a card (like on Christmas or Mother's Day). Do not have packages mailed to your residence.

Get a commercial mailbox in an area somewhere away from your residence, preferably in another city. Do NOT use a US Postal Service Post Office Box. Use the commercial mailbox address whenever an address is needed. If the organization "requires" a residence address, simply list your box number as an apartment number. Your mail will get to you and they won't know the difference. Also use this address for all personal documentation like driver's license, vehicle registration, etc.

One more time. Use the commercial mailbox as your address for ALL correspondence. DO NOT give out your real address or any part of it (like zip code) to anyone but a very few trusted friends or relatives.

Phone Number and Phones

DO NOT give out your new phone number to anyone unless it is absolutely necessary. Many retail establishments ask for your phone number as a means of tracking their customers. A hair styling chain may want this information, but they'll cut your hair even if you don't give it out. List your phone number under a different name and tell the phone company not to list your address. The phone company should not have a problem with this. The bills should be sent to your commercial box. Account Information should be protected with a password (see Utilities). This way you don't need to try and get an unlisted number. Contrary to popular belief, unlisted or unpublished phone numbers can be bought without much difficulty.

Long distance phone records can also be obtained. A committed stalker who knows or finds out your mother's phone number can get a list of her long distance calls which will include any made to you. Have friends and relatives calling long distance call from a pay phone.

Cell phone numbers, pager numbers and fax numbers should also be similarly protected.

Get caller ID and have the phone company put Complete Blocking on your number. This way your calls cannot be picked up by someone else having caller ID. There is also a device which can be purchased from electronics stores which will block your number on outgoing calls. One downside of using this device is that it won't let your computer modem work. If you have Complete Blocking and need to call a friend whose number will not received blocked calls, you can selectively unblock a particular call.

Do not call 800 or 900 numbers from your residence phone because numbers can be captured (and later sold) by the owners of the numbers, even if you have call blocking.

You should also be aware that cell phones and cordless phones are essentially radio transmitters. Though illegal to do so, the transmissions can be picked up by anyone using scanning equipment which can be purchased legally at many electronics stores.

Utility Bills

Have your utility accounts encoded with a password that only you know. Many times accounts are verified over the telephone using a date of birth, SSN or mother's maiden name which your stalker or a private investigator may have. Use a password which is not obvious. Do not use your dog's name, child's name, your middle name, etc. After you've set up the password, test it. Call the utility company and ask for your billing information. If they don't ask for a password, talk to a department head or at least a supervisor. Then test it again in a week or two.

Checks

The address on your checks should be the commercial mailbox account. Do not list a phone number. If someone asks you for one, tell them you don't give it out, give them a work number or a fictitious number. Whenever possible, pay in cash. The fewer companies taking information off your checks, the better.

Public Records & Court Records

There is a wealth of information available at no charge to anyone who knows where to look for it. These records are available from the County Recorder (property records, tax liens, deeds, voting registration, etc.), the County Assessor (property & address information), the Secretary of State (UCC filings, fictitious names, company names, etc.), the Corporation Commission and a variety of other state and county agencies which record and store information. If you are purchasing property, probably the best way is conceal your name is to purchase it or transfer title through a trusted friend who is unknown to the stalker. Voting records require residence information, so, civic duty aside, it is a good idea not to register. However it may be possible to file for confidential voter status.

Superior Court records which include most criminal, civil and domestic records are available to anyone and can be searched by name. Depending on what type of case it is, the record may have information on address, SSN, tax records, employers, arrest records, etc. If current information about you is in these records, you may want to hire a lawyer to petition the court to close your files. However, understand that much of this information has already made its way into private databases and will be available to a private investigator, even if it is no longer publicly available information.

Trusts

Establishing a trust may be a way to handle payment of bills and property ownership anonymously. You'll need a lawyer to do this. Be aware however, that information about trusts often appears in County Recorder records, which are available to the public.

Driving and Vehicle Registration Records

Make sure that your SSN is not listed as your driver's license number and that your commercial mailbox is listed as your address. The same holds true with your vehicle registration which in addition to your address will have information about who holds the lien on your car. So it's important to use your commercial mailbox as your residence when dealing with car dealers or loan companies.

Internet

 If possible, it is probably a good idea to have a friend establish the account for you, using their name and information. Though Internet providers and vendors advertise that transactions are secure, and for the most part are, I here again suggest caution. Remember, not too long ago hackers got into a FBI database. As a whole, the Internet is far from being a "secure place".

Once online, NEVER give out accurate personal information or pictures of yourself to strangers or companies on the Internet. This includes phone number, address, physical descriptions, hobbies, favorite songs or quotes which may be requested in member profiles. Do not choose a screen name which is a version of your real name or something which may lead a stalker to you such as name which incorporates something the stalker may associate with you like a hobby or past time, i.e. BoatGirl. If a new online acquaintance asks too many personal questions too fast, back away and change your screen name. Do not post anything, which may identify you on a bulletin board or in other public forum. Make sure your friends do not mention your name in public forums. Don't buy anything online.

Conduct a web search with your own name as a keywords and using several search engines. Many people are surprised to find their names come up as hits in seemingly obscure places, like in a coworker's web page where they innocently posted pictures of you at a company outing. If you do find your name listed, find out if it can be removed. Unfortunately, information on the Internet is often quickly passed throughout the web. At the very least, you'll know where and what information is out there.

Friends, Family, Neighbors

Make sure that anyone who does have any personal information about you knows that it needs to be held in confidence. Advise them of your situation so that they are alert to anyone asking for information about you. Keep this group as small as possible.

Employment

If your relocation includes a change of employer, make sure that the appropriate people are aware of your situation so they know how to respond to inquiries. This is especially important if you are in a profession which may make it easy for the stalker to find you. If you are a librarian, for example, and the stalker has traced you to a general area, even a large city, it would not take too many phone calls to locate you.

Those who are not able to change employers may be especially vulnerable. Beyond making your employer aware of your situation, use special caution when going to or leaving work. Choose different routes home. Be alert for a car following you. If you think you are being followed, make four consecutive right or left-hand turns. If the vehicle stays with you, do not go home or to a friend's house. Instead, go to the nearest police or fire station or anywhere there is a large group of people. Honk your horn and draw attention to yourself. If you have a cell phone, call 911 and let them know what is happening.

Professional Licensing & Associations

If you are in a profession which requires licensing, request that your name or information not be listed or given out without your permission. If that is not possible, at least use your first initial and surname and commercial mailbox address in the listing.

If you are a member of any professional or other association, either cancel your membership or request that your name be excluded from any directories which may be published by that organization.

Your Residence

If you are in an apartment, condo or townhouse complex, make sure your name is not listed on your mailbox. Do not place any exterior decor or sporting equipment outside which is familiar to the stalker. In a recent case, a young woman's stalker (an old boyfriend) identified her unit when he noticed a distinctive wreath hanging on her front door.

 

Following these guidelines will help close many doors to a stalker trying to find information about you. Be as careful and meticulously in covering your tracks. Your chances of remaining undiscovered will improve significantly.

Good Luck, Be Safe.

J.T. Zuzga & Associates, L.L.C.

Scottsdale, Arizona 

 

 

 

End Stalking In America, Inc.

endstalking@aol.com

 

Disclaimer: This site is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal or mental advice. Professionals should be contacted for all legal advice, mental and threat assessments.


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Home Page     Table of Contents      What is Stalking     Forms of Stalking     Traits of Stalkers     Mistakes Victims Make

Reactions of Victims     Stalking In The Workplace      Safety Tips    Building Your Case      Filing A Police Report

Obtaining Police Reports      Court Orders      Questions After Filing       Cover Your Tracks      Changing Your Social Security Number

Understanding The Judicial System     Definitions      Victims' Rights In Arizona     Arizona Statutes      Victims Speak Out

Evolution of E.S.I.A. - "My Story"      Firearms-Personal Protection     State Stalking Laws    Recommended Reading

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