Almost everybody undergoes a certain type of investigation in their lifetime just like Frank Tromper. Whether it involves credit, a job, or a business transaction. One time or another to a greater or lesser degree, everybody has experienced being scrutinized, sometimes even unknown to them.
Although most investigations are not very rigorous, it is fairly easy to turn up enough information (or the lack thereof) to spot a completely fictitious identity. For example, a prospective father-in-law runs a check on his daughter’s suitor, and turns up with no records of the person’s past. That would be quite alarming.
This is why although it is possible to fabricate an identity from scratch, and many people have done it successfully, it is extremely more difficult. In many cases, manufactured identities have lots of holes and may easily fail any investigation compared to a genuine identity used by an imposter. This is why people who want to change their identity, do so by looking for a good one to assume.
ASSUMING A LIVING IDENTITY
While it is important to build your documentation on a genuine identity, it is a mistake to assume the identity of another living person. Many small time criminals have made this mistake and it has cost them a trip back to jail. They lift a guy’s wallet or find some credit cards while engaged in a robbery and go on a coast-to-coast spending spree. Maybe they just use the guy’s ID and don’t try to spend his money. But what they seem to forget is someone out there has an interest in locating them and putting a halt to their charade: the guy whose identity they copped. And if the theft is reported the police may be looking for someone using the victim’s identity.
Of course, there are imposters like Frank Tromper who have a definite need to appropriate a specific person’s identity. Even then, it is very tricky to collect documentation to support the hoax. The imposter might find himself explaining to the authorities how he managed to get a duplicate drivers license after the speeding ticket he received was traced to a man who wasn’t even in town that day. The imposter’s request for a copy of “his” birth certificate will leave a paper trail that’s easy enough to follow. And a duplicate passport, if discovered, could lead to serious trouble.
When the State Department realizes it has issued passports to two different people with the same exact name and vital statistics, the shit is going to hit the fan! One passport is going to be revoked, and there are lots of places in the world where being without that litle blue book could literally be a fate worse than death. Of course, it would be difficult for the State Department to cause a traveler much trouble because there are no records kept of the exact whereabouts of U.S. passport holders. The real trouble would come when the imposter tried to enter the U.S. again or renew the passport.
Then there is the danger of crossing trails with the rightful holder of your assumed identity. The chances of this are not as slight as they may seem when you include all the people who know the original person well and might take more than passing notice of the “coincidence” of names. We’ve all heard of the “doctor” who finds himself behind bars after the “real thing” discovers the impersonation and blows the whistle. While there may be persons like Frank Tromper who have a need to appropriate the identity of a living individual, it is decidedly a mistake for a disappearee.
In the unlikely and unwise event that the identity of another living person is assumed, it should be that of someone who is totally undistinguished and unremarkable. Doctors, lawyers, or any other professional or official persons are so thoroughly documented that the likelihood of an imposter being spotted increases dramatically. It would be much better to assume the identity of an ordinary Joe Doakes who makes his living taking the hides off dead cows or repairing golf carts.
A BUILT-IN SECOND IDENTITY
Oddly enough, some people don’t have to look any further than themselves to find a suitable new identity. Millions of people in the United States are inadvertent phantoms”; that is, their current documented identity is not the one they started out in life with. This group includes foundlings who were “given” by their parents to another couple who raised the child as their bonafide offspring, adoptees who took the name of their adopting parents without voiding their original birth records, people raised under false names so their false parents could collect more welfare benefits, etc. Many children of single mothers take the name of their “father” when mom marries or remarries.
Often the first knowledge the individual in question has of his identity situation is when he applies for a passport, or to collect Social Security or something of that nature, and discovers to his horror that there is no record whatsoever of his having been born. At least not in the place or on the date or under the name he has always regarded as his own.
Each and every one of these inadvertent identity changers has a second identity readily available. It will usually be a simple matter to document the identity he has lived with all his life, and it will also be easy to document the identity under which his birth was actually registered. For the disappearee, the only disadvantage in using his original identity is that it is a rather obvious ploy if the disappearance is thoroughly investigated by people with lots of time and money at their disposal. Of course, it is very rare for such an investigation to be conducted, so this method shouldn’t be overlooked.
RESURRECTING THE DEAD
If you aren’t fortunate enough to have a built-in second identity, the best way to get an identity is to use one that no one needs anymore: the identity of someone that’s died. One of the beautiful things about the United States is that there’s very little correlation between birth and death records. The official papers on births and deaths are kept in the smallest political subdivisions, such as towns, cities and counties. There is no central federal agency that keeps tabs on all this information. And the rules and regulations on recording births and deaths differ from state to state.
Because a great many people die without enough documentation on them to establish their place of birth, there are a huge number of identities that can be appropriated simply by finding their birth place and getting a copy of their birth certificate. Chances are that you will be able and willing to do a more thorough job of researching the deceased’s identity than the bureaucrats who handled the official paperwork when he died. Let’s look at some of the ways to find the right corpse.
A friend that you went through the service with, and that either died in combat or is “missing in action” is an excellent choice. You probably know a fair amount about his life to help you back up your new identity. Since he died outside the United States, there is a good chance his death was not officially registered in the town where he was born. This method is even better if your buddy never got around to getting a Social Security card, but there are ways to resolve that problem.
For many of the same reasons, the friend who died as a child is as good a choice as the war buddy. You may know a great deal about your childhood friend’s early life that will help support your ruse. If he died in a city other than the one he was born in, chances are there are no records of his death in his hometown.
If you can’t think of someone you know personally that died in youth, you can cruise the graveyards in any town looking at the tombstones. These usually give the deceased’s original name, date of birth and date of death. Sometimes they include the names of the parents and the place of death, which only make it easier to then get the ID you need.
A logical place to look for an identity is the obituary columns of newspapers. These are particularly good sources in small towns and rural areas because there are fewer obits to wade through, and because they usually give much more detail about the deceased’s family, age, place of birth and death, and reason for death. You can then investigate anyone of the proper age who was born in a distant city.
Another item to look for is newspaper accounts of disasters like plane crashes, train derailments, volcanoes, tidal waves, fires, etc. Many times the papers will give a list of those who died in such accidents. If the death happened outside of U.S. territory then there is almost no chance that the individual’s birth records have been connected with the death.
If you have access to the personnel records of a large company, an employment agency or a government agency, you’re In Like Flynn. In the records you’ll find complete dossiers of dozens of employees, ex-employees, deceased employees, and all their families. The information will likely include background, education, and the name, place and date of birth all neatly spelled out. The names of relatives, friends, past employers and where they live may also be in the files – all grist for the mill of the identity changer. Sometimes there are separate files for deceased employees, which makes the job easier; while most companies are very protective of their personnel files, they don’t worry that much about the silent majority.
The Right Fit
It is easy enough to find the identity of a dead person to acquire – someone whose birth and death records never crossed – and you can therefore be a little bit choosey about exactly which identity you take. You want an identity that suits your purposes well, so it is best to consider some of the secondary characteristics of the identity you are going to appropriate.
There are advantages and disadvantages to certain surnames. Don’t choose a name like “John Smith” or “John Doe”, because such a name cries out to be investigated if you ever get stopped by a police officer. The best names seem to be those from the British Isles or Northern Europe because they are fairly common all over the U.S. One name may fit great in Flint, Michigan but go over like a lead balloon in Flippin, Arkansas.
Spanish or Spanish-sounding surnames should be avoided. This is due to the immigration difficulties between the U.S. and its neighbors to the South. Anyone with a Spanish-sounding surname is checked much more thoroughly at the border with Mexico. In fact, I’ve seen immigration officers interrogating Hispanics in bus stations as far north as Albuquerque, New Mexico. While the name is really a small detail, it is the details that often trip up identity changers.
You also want to look at the education of the person whose identity you’re taking. Hopefully, they already have a good college degree that will help you get a job. If not, you may have to go back to school, which is not as bad as it sounds. Universities are excellent places to spend time while you are getting used to your new identity. Students come under less scrutiny than your average working stiff. Also, employers and/or neighbors don’t seem to ask as many questions about your past if you’ve only recently graduated from college.
You may want to avoid any identities that have very specialized training in their backgrounds. You would probably be foolish to acquire the ID of a doctor, not only because you will have to assemble an enormous amount of documentation to support this identity but also because you may be called on to use your professional skills – which you don’t really have. Taking the identity of a demolitions expert would also be a foolish choice, because you never know when some arsonist is going to trigger a police search for people with “your” documented skills.
It would be nice if you could find the identity of someone who was engaged in work that you, yourself, can perform. Or perhaps the person whose identity you assume will have experience in an area of interest to you. If you can’t find a good occupational match, the next best thing is a general kind of background that could be adapted to a variety of different jobs.
As a final note, you don’t even want to think about assuming the identity of someone who left a family behind when they went. Chances are their ex-wife or kids are collecting Social Security or some other benefit as a result of the death. When you appropriate such an identity there are excellent chances that you will trigger a connection to the dead man’s family. If someone’s monthly check disappears because of you, it won’t be long before the matter is cleared up – to your detriment.
DOCUMENTING YOUR NEW IDENTITY
As we have seen, the best way to build a new identity like Frank Tromper is to assume the identity of someone who’s died without having their death officially noted in the place they were born. If you believe you have found the right identity to assume you may still have difficulty locating that person’s place of birth, which is essential. Let’s take a look at a few ways to uncover this information.
Several of the methods used to find a good identity will also provide the details you will need to document it. Obituaries, gravestones and newspaper accounts of disasters are all likely to contain information about the place of birth, the date of birth and the parents’ names. The obituary of a person may provide the name of his former employer. Using a ruse you may be able to obtain the information you need from his employer’s personnel file. If the person was a childhood friend or relative, you probably know some people to contact that would know their date and place of birth.
I know of one instance where a person knew the name and place of residence of someone who’d died that he thought would be a good identity to assume. Using a mail drop and letterhead run off in the deceased person’s name, he wrote off to the U.S. Census Bureau to see if they had any information that might help him. The Census Bureau wrote back requesting $7.50. He sent them a money order through the mail drop. The information he received in return was not only enough to get the birth certificate he needed but was in and of itself official enough to get a passport.
If you are having a difficult time of the research or live in a distant town where records aren’t handy, you can pay someone to do the research for you. Law school students or moonlighting legal researchers are the best types to hire. They don’t ask too many questions and they like the color of your money. Most of them are fairly sharp, and locating birth records is child’s play for them.
All identification in all countries comes back to the original registration of birth. So the first thing an identity changer needs to do is acquire the birth certificate of the original holder of the identity being assumed. To do this, you will need to know where and when the person was born and, ideally, the parents’ names and the mother’s maiden name.
Other than the sources already mentioned, one place to get this information is from birth notices in the newspapers. You will find that many births are never announced in the papers. This is because many of us are bastards, in more ways than one, and newspaper editors are very tactful about such matters. In fact, the birth may not be announced if the parents had a big society wedding five or six months prior to the birth. In these cases hospital records and church baptismal records may come in handy.
Once you have the proper identification, you need to then request a copy of the birth certificate. You needn’t be worried about arousing suspicion. Lots of people do not have either their original birth certificate or a copy. They get lost, their parents never gave it to them, they get destroyed in fires or floods, etc. In fact, the lack of an original birth certificate is so common that the U.S. Passport Office provides information on how to go about requesting a certified copy. Contact your nearest Passport Office to get this information.
There will usually be a small fee for the duplicate birth certificate. When requesting one, you should use a letterhead run off in the name of the person whose ID you are after. You should use money orders for all payments required, and conduct your communications through a mail drop. That will make it harder for anyone looking for you to trace you, should something unexpected come up.
If you counter resistance to your request, there are ways of getting around it. I know of one stuffy county clerk who would not provide a birth certificate to a friend of mine who wanted to acquire a specific identity. My friend simply found a lawyer who had just hung out his shingle in the town where the deceased was born. My friend told the attorney that he was looking for a missing heir and needed to see the potential heir’s birth certificate.
The lawyer didn’t even raise an eyebrow. He said that his fee would be fifty dollars, payable in advance. My friend laid out a U.S. Grant, the lawyer deposited it in his vest pocket, then told my friend to make himself comfortable in the waiting room. The attorney then headed across town to the courthouse. A half hour later my friend had not only a certified copy of the birth certificate he wanted, but copies of both the individual’s parents’ birth certificates too.
Once you have the birth certificate, getting the rest of the documents you need is a piece of cake. We’ll take a look at a few of the more important pieces of ID you will want to acquire.
Social Security Number
One of the trickier pieces of ID to get will be a new Social Security number. As we stated before, it is extremely inadvisable to use the number that came with your new identity because you may cause all sorts of bells and whistles to go off at the Social Security Administration. And it is even more important not to use the number you had in your former identity, again because the inconsistency between names and numbers is going to catch up with you. The SSA may not say anything as long as you keep paying into the system, but when your turn comes to be on the receiving end, look out.
The tricky part about getting a Social Security number is making up a clever ruse to satisfy a snoopy clerk who wants to know why you’re applying so late in life. First of all, it’s none of their business. No one says you have to tell them anything. Their job is to take names and issue numbers. And most clerks will do just that. They don’t get paid a fortune to fill out those forms, so chances are they aren’t too sophisticated and probably don’t give a damn. But if you don’t want to draw any unnecessary attention to yourself, it could be handy to have a ruse at the ready.
There are a lot of logical reasons for a person not to get a Social Security number until late in life. A person just released from an institution like a prison or a mental hospital may never have had a card. Someone who’s been a “perpetual student” spending years accumulating degrees may not have one. Probably the best ruse is that you’ve been living abroad since your parents moved to Canada when you were a teenager. Any of these ruses should be enough to bore the clerk into issuing the number.
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