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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Driving and Vehicle Registration Records
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
End Stalking In America, Inc.
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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