Alas my application for the Vanish challenge was rejected (I did get a nice thanks but no thanks email though). Although I am not the most technically savvy person, thus not one to be a "searcher" who hunts down the contestants, I was damn sure that I could hide out in plain sight for a month and collect up the $10,000 prize. Here were some of my ideas, feel free to add your own ideas in the comment section below...
- Location matters. If you know that the people who are hunting for you are some of the most technically savvy in the country, you obviously wouldn't want to be hanging out in techie hot spots (Bay Area, Seattle, etc), where people would be more likely to have heard about the contest or be an active participant. I would head for places where the demographics would support a group of people less likely to know about or be participating in the contest (rural areas, Indian reservations, South Central LA, etc).
- Technology matters. The people who would be interested in participating in such a contest are the hackers, techies, and others who will go to great lengths to follow your every move through technology--credit card swipes, Twitter reports, cell phone transmissions, etc. Thus, use cash, minimize your communications via web, minimize your (obviously prepaid) cell phone use, etc.
- Your habits matter. The guy who originated the contest was found because he used technology to search out a gluten free pizza. Um, strike one (technology) and strike two (how many people would be searching out a gluten free pizza??). More often than not, if you ask detectives and those who search for people in hiding, it's the people's habits (which of course are well researched ahead of time) that trip them up. In other words, if you are going into hiding and you have a two pack a day smoking habit along with a taste for dive bars, pole dancers, and Jack Daniels, unless you become the stellar opposite of these habits, you will be much easier to find.
- Your looks matter. When people try to disappear, they think that dying their hair or shaving it off completely will be a good enough disguise. Wrong. A good disguise requires a total transformation so that you actually become another person. Uniforms are good since people often look, and quickly dismiss, a uniform and barely notice the person in it. How closely would you look at a nun in full nun's dress? Or a guy dressed as a janitor who is sweeping up trash in a city park? A woman in a McDonalds uniform with her hair pulled back and no makeup? Taking on a homeless disguise is also effective as most people barely acknowledge and quickly want to be away from the homeless people they encounter.
- Your persona matters. Store security, undercover cops, even Air Marshals are fairly easy to pick out of a crowd no matter how dressed down they are because the air about them is different. Their body language usually affects a subconscious, confident, intimidating manner just because they can't get past their training. The way people speak matters--if you look like a minimum wage waitress but sound like you just escaped from an Ivy League college, people will notice. People who have just returned from deployment in a war zone or just got released from prison are easy to spot because they have so many mannerism that served them well in their previous environment that they stick out like a sore thumb in your average American community.
- Your price tag matters. The more someone wants to pay to find you, the bigger the target you become. If the price is high enough (and in some circles that isn't very much), your best friend will turn you in. In other words, if you are on the run, trust no one.