Monday, June 29, 2009

Five steps for surviving the loss of your job, your home, and your savings

I feel qualified the answer the above question because I ran completely out of cash four times—in 1949, 1953, 1974 and 1979, and yet never missed a meal. (Full disclosure: During one six-weeks stretch in 1949, my meals consisted solely of bread, peanut butter, and milk.)

Here are five steps I recommend to those of you who’ve lost your job, your home, and/or your savings:

1. The first step for an alcoholic is to admit he has a problem. Your first step is to stop blaming others and admit that you borrowed money to buy a vehicle or real estate that you could not pay cash for. Resolve that other than going to a pawn shop in an extreme emergency, you will never, ever, borrow money again.

2. Move in with your parents, in-laws, or find a cheap place to rent. In fact, if you still have a small but steady income, such as from an internet business, move to an area such as northern Minnesota where you can rent a decent apartment for $300-$400 a month.

3. Pawn or sell everything you can part with, no matter how little you get for it. It does not matter what you originally paid for your digital camera, home theater system, mountain bike, violin or exercise equipment. What you needed now is CASH, at any cost. You can always buy new stuff later, once the emergency is over.

4. If you are unemployed, use Craigslist to search for a new job anywhere from Fairbanks to Key West. When you find that new job, ignore the pleas of your mate (if any) to stay close to relatives and old friends. MOVE! (When you strike it rich, you can always move back.)

5. Once you get a few paychecks and need to buy a car, follow the advice of Maria Lopez, 34, a petite seƱorita from Ogden, Utah. She writes:

“Well Jack, I didn't check the oil of my old car, so I killed my cute little red Honda Civic. From previous experience, however, I knew that you can get a really good deal on transportation if you buy a car that's been in an accident but has an excellent engine. I watched the classifieds and found an ad for a 1988 Mazda 323 that had body damage so the owner was only asking $300. When I test drove it, the engine ran great. So my dad said it was a good deal, and we bought it. As of this past January, I’ve driven it over 65,000 miles and it's never needed any major repairs …”

The above information is taken from How to survive the loss of your savings, your job, and your home.

Monday, June 22, 2009

If one of the bad guys takes down your license plate number, what can you do?

I will not list the variety of legal reasons for which you may suddenly wish to change your license plate number. I will, however, list a recent example that involved one of my consulting clients. (Names have been changed.)

David White spent a long evening at the home of Maria Flores, an attractive young Mexican widow who lives in a village nearby. His beige Camry was parked in her driveway.

When the time came to leave, David opened Maria’s front door, snapped on the outside light, and spotted two men at the back of his car. One was holding a flashlight and the other had a pad and pencil in his hand. David yelled and reached into his jacket as if to withdraw a handgun. Both men fled. He called me at sunrise the next morning and asked me what to do.

“I need to use my car today but these guys have got my license plate number!”

"It can't be traced, David." (Following my instructions, it was titled in the name of a New Mexico LLC with a ghost address.)

"But these guys and their pals will be watching for it!"

“I'll meet you down at the licensing bureau when they open,” I said. "You'll get a new plate that shows you contribute to a law enforcement memorial. You’ll pay an extra $40 a year, but you get the plate right away.”

I keep a drawer full of decals and bumper stickers for every occasion, and I selected one before heading out to meet David. His car now has a new license plate with a silhouette of some law enforcement officers on the left side, and also a prominent decal in one corner of the rear window:


(How David arranges to meet with Maria in the future will be up to him. My duties ended with the decal and the plate change.)

Monday, June 15, 2009

How PIs normally track down your bank account, and how you can open a secret bank account

When a PI is hired (usually by a law firm) to locate your bank account, he will start by running a database search to get a history of your addresses. He will also check civil records filings in the county court houses where those addresses are located because they may reveal the name of your bank.

If he fails to find your bank account near your current residence, he will then search banks and court records near your former addresses and expand from there in concentric circles. Because it is a time consuming and expensive effort, he will probably stop searching after the first bank account is found. (Most PI's charge a separate fee for each bank account located.)

Another possibility is that the PI will hire a confederate to pick up your garbage. (Yes, some people still just tear up bank statements rather than shred them!) He may also pull up your credit report, which can be a trove of banking information.There are many more ways that an unusually smart (or crooked) PI can track down your bank account.

To reduce the chances that your account will be found, close your present account. Then open a new one in a state far from where you live, and bank by mail. Do not use a credit card tied in to that account. Then, if you wish to keep extra savings in a secure location, open a second secret bank account in Canada. Bulletproof security!

More information, along with step-by-step instructions about how to open hidden bank accounts in both the U.S. and Canada, is contained in Invisible Money.

Monday, June 8, 2009

How you can hide your identity when you stay at a hotel

Suppose it is known that you will be in a big city on a certain date, and that you often stick with a certain hotel chain? How would you like to hide your identity and thus avoid calls from persons such as ex-employees, ex-wives, ex-inlaws, or even private investigators?

In days gone by, you could hide your identity by checking into a hotel under any name you liked, pay cash, and that was it. No longer, of course. All major (and most minor) hotels will not rent you a room without a valid credit card and government-issued ID. So can you still hide your identity in 2009? Yes, you can.

Since I am a privacy consultant, many readers of How to Be Invisible know that I often meet my clients at the Westin in Bellevue, the Encore in Vegas, or the Pan Pacific in Vancouver, BC. Does anyone ever try to call me there?

Perhaps, but I have no way of knowing because callers will be told, "Mr. Luna is not registered here." How can this be?

Like a magician who reveals a magic trick, when I reveal my secret, it will seem to be obvious. Nevertheless, only a few of my clients who've had personal consultations with me use this system. Here is how I hide my identity when staying at a hotel:

I have a single Visa credit card account, originally issued in my own name. However, I later applied for a second card on the same account. Reason: I needed to separate expenses when I traveled in my "professional" name. The second card was issued with no problem. You can do the same. Your reason can be that you use another name as an author, an actor, a musician, or whatever. No one will check.

Then, when you travel, you have a choice. Either travel under your real name but give out the professional name, or vice versa. When checking in, you will be asked for ID. Show your passport. Even when you've made your reservation under the assumed name, my experience has been that all the clerk wants to see is your picture. If a question should ever arise, just explain that the name in your passport identifies you, but the reservation was made in your professional name because your credit card is in that name.

And that, folks, is how you can hide your identity when you stay at a hotel.

(Note: I have not checked this out overseas. If any of you European readers have been able to hide your identity while staying at a hotel, please contact me via e-mail or with a post to Canary Islands Press.)

Monday, June 1, 2009

How to protect your laptop or netbook when you travel

Let's assume that a PI firm is on your trail, employed by a law firm with unlimited funds. They are after your list of sent e-mails (encrypted or not) and they use illegal associates who are skilled in computer theft.

I myself do not send confidential e-mails. (For that, I use snail mail). Nevertheless, I do take steps to protect my computer files as a general practice. First, I travel with an Asus Eee netbook which weighs about 3 pounds and has a six-cell battery with a nine-hour life. It's easy to carry in a slim shoulder bag so I often take it with me when I leave the room. Otherwise, it fits into most room safes. (I just took the picture shown here while meeting with a client for a consultation at the Encore in Las Vegas.)

If your hotel room does not have a safe, then you may wish to travel with a suitcase that has combination locks. Slip your laptop into the suitcase before you leave the room, and lock it.Or, if the room contains a tall piece of furniture (such as is used to house the television set), lay the laptop up there when you're away from the room. Maids, when cleaning a room, can sometimes be fooled into letting a stranger posing as the room's occupant slip into the room. The excuse will be something like "I forgot to pick up my laptop." However, when a quick glance around does not reveal it, the intruder may assume you have taken it with you.

Protecting your computer at the airport presents a different series of dangers and may--if enough interest is shown--be the subject of a future post.