In 1991, I was facing a 10-to-life sentence in federal prison for running an LSD conspiracy in the middle-class suburbs, or Fairfax, Virginia, an affluent area right outside of Washington DC. The witnesses were lining up to give the feds the details of my little hippie empire. My choices were clear – either go to trial and face life in prison, or rat dudes out to get a reduced sentence. Neither were options I fancied. So I made my own luck and took off. I absconded and became a fugitive from the law.
I felt like the dude from Catch Me If You Can. I’d been selling drugs on the College circuit, Marijuana and LSD, to 15 Colleges in 5 states.
Have drugs, will travel.
It was my vocation. I was a full-time drug dealer and had been since I was 17 years old. Going on the run was something new, but I always thought I was an outlaw. I glorified and romanticized the whole lifestyle.
Every College campus I visited had several fake ID mills up and running.
I had fake ID already.
All the College kids wanted to get into bars. Inventive kids processed fake ID’s in their own makeshift DMV’s. These ID’s wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny, but they would hold me down in a pinch, or until I could get one through official means. Which wasn’t as far-fetched as it seemed.
I’d read several books put out by Loompanics and Paladin Press, underground publishers that had volumes on all types of illicit subjects including how to get fake ID. I perused books like The Paper Trip (1 and 2), Understanding US Identifying Documents, Disappear Forever, and Reborn in the USA*. They gave me detailed instructions on how to get fake ID’s from legitimate sources.
Through researching those books, I devised a method that worked for me during my time on the run. I would go to College libraries and scour obituary listings in newspapers on microfilm. I spent days and days doing research, multitudes of hours spent finding candidates that would work and allow me to get identifying documents.
I was looking for someone that was born around the same year as me. Someone who was born in one state and died in another, someone who was so young when they died, that they wouldn’t have a lot of history to their name.
As soon as I had the info from the obituary, I could order a death certificate from the Vital Statistics Bureau of the state where the death occurred. It was an easy transaction. Type a letter, insert a money order and have an address to send the death certificate to. As a fugitive, I had several PO boxes that I used as my physical address. Once I did the paperwork, I just sat back and waited for the death certificates to roll in. It was an adventure in fraud.
With the information from the obituary and the death certificate, I could get the birth certificate. To obtain a birth certificate all you needed to know was the person’s full name, the father’s full name, the mother’s full maiden name, date of birth and place of birth. I would type up a nice polite letter, insert the money order and an address to send the certificate to and voila, a United States identifying document sent to me from an official government agency.
Once I had the birth certificate I was home free. To get a driver’s license all you needed was a birth certificate and verification of your social security number. It was easy to do that, but hard to get a social security card, especially if the person’s whose info you were using already had a social security number. It was easier to just by pass it all together by getting a W-2 form from your employer with all your info on it.
That was the premise, but what I did was buy a box of the government W-2 forms from a supply wholesaler. Then I had an unlimited supply of paperwork to fudge my social security number (for identification purposes). In one of the books I had, there was a chart that explained how social security numbers were generated, it went by states and years and only the last 4 numbers were random.
I was in Texas, so I would look for the first 3 numbers for Texas, then the year that I wanted, usually around the person’s birth or shortly there-after. Once I had the digits, I would type them on the W-2 form and put a local restaurant as my employer. It was easy. I could be whoever I wanted to be and as long as I had the documents to back it up. I was good. I always had an ID to produce when needed.
I had 20 something files going on at any time. It took months and months to build an ID kit and as a fugitive, I wanted to have as many ID’s as possible. I used to rotate through them when I drove. Always driving a car in someone else’s name. I would take out the fake ID when I sat down in the car and review the information very quickly, filing it in the forefront of my mind. Just in case I was pulled over and had to recite it verbatim.
I was finally caught, but not through any ID that I’d obtained. I got arrested with a friend who had a half-pound of pot in the car. I was released when he said the pot was his but they took my prints and matched them up in 3 days. For whatever reason, I was on the US Marshall’s Top 15 Most Wanted list. I was one of the top priorities in the Nation. It was a surprise to me. As a first-time, nonviolent offender who never carried a gun, it seemed a waste of resources.
But the feds got their man and all my ID’s. I don’t know if the same process would work today. It wasn’t that an elaborate scheme, but it did the job. A simple premise to find someone who was born in one state and died in another.
The technology is there to cross reference birth and death certificates, but so many people move around in the states, it’s really not feasible. The cost to cross-reference would be tremendous. So the paper trip, as I explained it, still might work today, but whatever system is in place can definitely be exploited with a little ingenuity.