© 1999 by John Q. Newman Illustration by Nick Bougas
WANTED: ONE WHITE MALE, 30 TO 40, DYING OF AIDS OR SOME OTHER INCURABLE DISEASE FOR FINANCIAL PARTNERSHIP. CALL 555-7768.
An advertisement like this might appear in a newspaper classified section in the near future. It is the latest method of identity changing, made possible by the AIDS epidemic. Tens of thousands of single males are dying the slow agonizing death of the late stages of HIV infection. These individuals are typically destitute, having exhausted all of their insurance benefits, and are no longer able to work. These hapless victims form one side of this new identity changing equation.
The other side of the equation are healthy, usually heterosexual white males who want a second chance at life. These men want to leave behind a troubled past that might include bankruptcy, divorce, or even civil and criminal legal problems. The traditional methods of identity changing do not interest these people, because of the risk and enormous amount of work necessary to either fabricate a new identity out of thin air, or to use the classic "dead infant" method of procuring a new birth certificate.
Tens of thousands of single males are dying the slow agonizing death of the late stages of HIV infection.
These methods also bring with them the risk of exposure. A 40-year-old man applying for his first drivers license or Social Security card will face a lot of scrutiny by identification-issuing bureaucrats. One slip-up, and the new identity seeker could find himself on his way to jail.
When the two sides of this equation connect, a mutually beneficial outcome for each can result. The seeker of the new identity can offer the terminally ill man financial security in his last days. A few hundred dollars a month will provide the opportunity to remain in one’s home, eat decent food, and live out the last days with dignity.
The odds are very good that, with the exception of the medical problem, the identity that is to be acquired has no serious negative records or other drawbacks.
The seeker of a new identity obtains an identity that already has been documented with a real Social Security number, drivers license and other documents. After the real owner dies, or even before, the new identity seeker can simply "step into" this ready-made identity with a minimum of fuss.
What are the advantages of obtaining a new identity this way? The odds are very good that, with the exception of the medical problem, the identity that is to be acquired has no serious negative records or other drawbacks such as no outstanding arrest warrants, or criminal records. Any financial black marks, such as late bill payments, were probably due to the illness. The acquirer of the new identity can bring these bills up to date, and be on his way to a solid credit history in a short period of time. The question in many minds is, in this age of computerized databanks, what specific steps must be done to pull off this type of identity borrowing or transferring successfully?
The first step involves making sure that the future decedent does not die in the same county or state in which he was born. Most county registrars will cross index birth and death certificates of those who die in the same county of birth. A few states do the same on a statewide basis. California is an example.
This is important because it means that the birth certificate will stay clean in the future. If the individual "taking over" for John Smith needs a copy of "his" birth certificate in three years, it will still be available without any problems.
The next step involves the Social Security Administration. When a person dies, if the relatives of the deceased apply for the Social Security death benefit, the Social Security number of the deceased is retired, and placed into a database known as the Social Security Death Index, or SSDI. This database is updated quarterly, and is widely used by credit bureaus and other government agencies to detect people using the Social Security numbers of dead people.
The key trick here is to realize that the Social Security number does not get into the database just because the person dies. It gets into the database because the death benefit is claimed. The payment of the death benefit is official confirmation in the eyes of the Social Security Administration that the individual has, in fact, died. If the death benefit is not claimed, and it is only about $300, the number will not get into this file.
The key trick here is to realize that the Social Security number does not get into the database just because the person dies. It gets into the database because the death benefit is claimed.
The next items that must be handled carefully are other identification documents the deceased has. The motor vehicle department, passport office, and other agencies, should not be notified of the death. When these agencies are notified of a death, they cancel all identity documents issued to that person, and also list the individual as being deceased in their computer records. This effectively prevents this identity from being used by another individual in the future.
Another strategy is to obtain a new license before the terminally ill man has died. This is easier to do than it seems. It is necessary that the individual whose identity is to be acquired bear a general resemblance to the acquirer. The same race, eye and hair color, and height and weight are necessary. One can proceed by two methods:
The acquirer could go to a motor vehicle department office in the same state, and claim that he has lost his license. If he has supporting documentation, such as a birth certificate and Social Security card, the clerk may well issue a duplicate license on the spot.
If a person in search of a new identity can help a destitute individual who is dying of AIDS or some other horrible disease to leave this Earth with a little dignity and comfort, what is the harm?
The only danger here is if the clerk can call up an electronic image of the real license holder. If the imposter looks very different, and the photo on file is not yet ten years old, you might have some difficult explaining to do.
A simpler method involves going to a neighboring state with the birth certificate and Social Security card, and applying for a state identity card in that state. When the clerk asks if the imposter already holds a drivers license, he would answer yes, and tell him from what state, but that it's lost. The clerk can verify the out-of-state license on the computer. This ruse can often net a new license in the new state. After the clerk verifies the old license, he will send a note informing the previous state of the new license. The original state will then cancel the old license.
Once the decedent’s old documents have been replaced with ones bearing the acquirer’s likeness, he can safely start to make plans to live under the name of the deceased. But some precautions must be taken here as well.
The new life needs to be started hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from where the real individual died. Some records of the death will exist. A death certificate will be filed with the county, and a funeral notice might be posted in the newspaper. The family of the deceased will probably not know about the arrangement between the dearly departed and the imposter. If they did, they would probably go to the police.
Another way the imposter permanently separates himself from the deceased is to change the deceased's name in a far away state to something different. Once the change of name order is filed, he can then get a new drivers license and other identification issued in this name.
He can also obtain a new Social Security number. The Social Security Administration will issue a new number if he can show that he has been the victim of credit fraud or identity theft. An easy way to generate evidence of this is to fill out a few credit card applications with the Social Security number of the deceased, but a different name and address. A few weeks later order a copy of the deceased's credit report.
These spurious names and addresses will appear on a credit report. File a complaint with the credit bureaus. Take copies of the credit reports and credit bureau complaints to the Social Security office and tell them you want a new number because someone else is using yours. Show them the proof. They will accommodate you.
Once you have the new number, you can safely apply for insurance and credit with either the deceased's true name, or the new name you have legally created. As long as you do not use a previous address of the real individual, the computer will see you as a different person.
This method of identity changing, like most methods, is illegal. But one can raise this valid question: If a person in search of a new identity can help a destitute individual who is dying of AIDS or some other horrible disease to leave this Earth with a little dignity and comfort, what is the harm?l
John Q. Newman is America's foremost writer on the subjects of identity, identity changing, and new identities. He is the author of Understanding U.S. Identity Documents, The Heavy Duty New Identity, and numerous other books.