How a bitcoin evangelist made himself disappear in 15 steps

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In October 2017, a SWAT team descended on Jameson Lopp's house in North Carolina. Someone — it still isn't clear who — had called police and falsely claimed that a shooter at the home had killed someone and taken a hostage. After police left, Lopp received a call threatening more mayhem if he did not make a large ransom payment in bitcoin.
After being threatened, Jefferson Lopp decided to do something about maintaining his privacy. Credit: Shutterstock and Janie Barrett
To scare off future attackers, Lopp quickly posted a video on Twitter of himself firing off his AR-15 rifle. He also decided he was going to make it much harder for his enemies — and anyone else — to find him ever again.
Lopp, a self-described libertarian who works for a bitcoin security company, had long been obsessed with the value of privacy, and he set out to learn how thoroughly a person can escape the all-seeing eyes of corporate America and the government. But he wanted to do it without giving up internet access and moving to a shack in the woods.
Many celebrities and wealthy people, wary of thieves, paparazzi and other predators, have tried to achieve Lopp's vision of complete privacy. Few have succeeded. Advertisement
Lopp viewed the exercise as something of an experiment, to find out the lengths he'd have to go to extricate himself from the databases and other repositories that hold our personal information and make it available to anyone willing to pay for it. That helps explain why he was willing to describe the steps he's taken with me (though he did so from a burner phone, without disclosing his new location).
1. Create a new corporate identity.
People end up in databases when they fill out forms to buy property, register for credit cards or complete run-of-the-mill transactions.
Because Lopp wanted to continue to do such normal consumer things, he needed a new name and address that wouldn't give away his personal information. When he asked lawyers who specialise in privacy the best way to do this, he was told to create a limited liability company, or LLC, to serve as his new identity.
Creating a corporation is not difficult. But in most states, Lopp would be registered as the owner. That would make him easy to track down if someone learned the name of the LLC. Nevada, Wyoming and New Mexico, however, don't require corporations to record their owner. Lopp took advantage of that. For good measure, he set up a few corporations to use in different situations, in case an adversary tied him to any one LLC.
2. Set up new bank accounts and payment cards.
Some of the most personal and widely tracked information we generate is through our financial transactions. To make new purchases that weren't tied to him, Lopp opened a bank account with one of his new LLCs and created a corporate credit card with an online company that did not require him to list his name on the card.
To ensure he doesn't tie too much information to the corporation, he makes most purchases, especially when buying something online, with prepaid debit cards that don't list his name or his LLC.
3. Carry cash.
The most anonymous way to buy things, of course, is to simply use cash. Lopp now carries enough to handle most daily transactions. (He wouldn't say how much.)
4. Get a new phone number.
Our phone records allow the phone companies — and anyone who subpoenas or hacks them — to know everyone whom we've spoken with. Lopp stopped using his old phone number, which was linked to his real name, and set up a new one under his corporate identity.
He also started using a service to generate new, throwaway phone numbers that masked his master account. For his conversation with me, Lopp used a number that started with the 917 area code. "I created this number a few minutes ago and I will probably delete it shortly thereafter," he said. "And it will only cost me a few dollars to do that."
5. Stop using the phone for directions.
To make sure his phone wasn't keeping a record of everywhere he'd been — and potentially transmitting it to apps he was using — he turned off all its geolocation services. When he drives and needs directions, he uses a dedicated GPS device that isn't otherwise tied to him.
Lopp wore a number of different disguises to blend into public life. Credit: Wolter Peeters
6. Move.
Lopp's old house was inextricably tied to him, so he and his dog needed a new one. (He doesn't have any children, and he declined to comment on whether he has a significant other living with him.) When he found a property to buy, he used the LLC and a cashier's check from the LLC's bank account to pay for the house in full. A mortgage was not going to be possible.
7. Make up a fake name for casual interactions.
Lopp didn't want his new neighbors to blow his cover. When he introduced himself, he used a pseudonym. At first, he felt odd about giving people a fake name. Now, Lopp says, he feels weirder telling people his real name.
8. Create a VPN for h...