Blue Line

How do people disappear

September 26, 2011  By John Fainaccio

Over the past several years newspaper headlines and television news media have been inundated with stories of investment advisors who have conned their clients out of millions of dollars and have disappeared seemingly into thin air.  Recently, I’ve been asked to conduct radio and television interviews, and the theme was always the same, “How do people just disappear?”  

This seemingly new phenomenon is not a new occurrence at all, in fact, it has been around since the creation of the monetary system.  

In this article, I will attempt to explain the process of disappearing in brief, without going into too much detail for obvious reasons.

So, How Do People Disappear?


The process for successfully disappearing under the radar is one that must be methodical and detail-oriented, often involving months and even years of psychological and logistical planning.  Like a recipe, leaving out any of the key ingredients, will leave nothing but a bad taste in your mouth.

Psychological Preparation

The psychological preparation is much more difficult than the logistical aspect. A decision must be made that once the disappearing act is put into effect he (to simplify matters we will use the name Joseph Smith) can never look back. He must abandon his old life and identity and start his new one.  Joseph Smith the shammed investment advisor will disappear into the mist and re-emerge as Jonathan Green the wealthy entrepreneur.  This decision may be easy for some and difficult for others.  Mr. Smith has to also come to grips with the fact that he can never return home again. He can never call his friends and family, especially not on birthdays, anniversaries or holidays. Never attend his daughter’s wedding or be there for the birth of his grandchildren.   

Breaking any one of these rules will almost certainly lead to his arrest.  

Logistical Preparation

If Mr. Smith has accepted the psychological challenges, then he can move on to prepare logistically to ensure he can live the remainder of his days on the stolen money.

Since no one will be suspecting Mr. Smith of any criminal activity prior to his disappearance he has sufficient time to funnel money into offshore accounts most likely to countries that have not signed the MLAT (mutual legal assistance treaty) with his home country.  

A Name By Any Other…

As his victim’s money is being wired outside the country Joseph realizes that to increase his chances of a successful getaway, creating a new existence for himself is a must. How does one change their identity without attracting attention? 

  1. The Graveyard Robber- Many identity thieves steal their new identities from graveyards by finding a deceased person having approximately the same year of birth as them but usually having died before the age of sixteen. We won’t go any further on this one.

  2. The Government Employee/Entrepreneur- In many developing countries where the average daily salary cannot support a family, it isn’t difficult to find a government employee who for a few thousand dollars, sometimes less, will create official documents for a new identity.

  3. Passport Dealers – The stolen or phony passport business is a huge industry.  For a few thousand dollars one can purchase a passport in almost any name.


It’s 7:30 am on a Tuesday and Joseph has breakfast with his wife as he normally does.  He lets her know that he won’t be home for supper due to his weekly Tuesday night meetings. 

As he gets in his BMW he calls the office letting his secretary know that he will be meeting with clients all day outside the office.  Instead of driving to his non-existent meetings he continues on to the airport and gets on a flight to Mexico City.  Once he arrives in Mexico he discards his cell phone, credit cards, passport and any other documents linking him to his old identity.  He can never use them again.  He goes to his airport locker picks up his new Jonathan Green identity, buys a two-way ticket with cash for Belize that does not have a MLAT agreement with his home country.  Upon his arrival he visits the bank where he funneled a portion of the money and makes a withdrawal.  In the course of a business day he has made his escape and no one is the least bit suspicious.  

By the time law enforcement begins the search Jonathan Green could be in his 5th country using several different identities. All the authorities have is that he took a flight to Mexico and disappeared.

How Are They Caught?

Only a small percentage of those who disappear and are wanted by authorities ever disappear for good.  More and more countries are quickly moving towards becoming a cashless society which means that more and more transactions can be traced which makes disappearing a lot more challenging, but certainly not impossible.
The most common reason for getting caught is the breaking of one or more of the aforementioned rules. One is all it takes.

After nearly a year, Joseph is living in paradise off his stolen millions, which have bought him a beautiful beachfront home equipped with his very own cook and maid. He enjoys his days on his private white sandy beach and warm turquoise water.  Joseph’s feeling pretty untouchable at this point thinking, if they haven’t caught him yet they never will. 

Missing his wife he decides that one phone call back home to invite his wife to meet him in Cancun for a week to “explain” everything wouldn’t hurt.  The authorities back home, keeping track of all phone calls made to his wife’s phone, noticed a phone call from Central America and that the very next day his wife booked one ticket to Cancun, Mexico.  

Authorities setup surveillance on his wife and guess what happened next?

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