Invisibility: Increasing OPSEC – Part 3, by St. Funogas

(Continued from Part 2.)

Social Security Number

It goes without saying that our social security number shouldn’t be given to anyone unless we’re legally required to provide it, and that’s not very often. On the other hand, if it’s a private business they can also deny us service. But there’s a caveat.

After selling an item to a business for a large sum of money I went straight to their bank to cash the check. The amount of cash was small enough to avoid government paperwork but the bank demanded I write my social security number below my signature on the check. In those cases the Social Security Administration advises us to ask what law requires us to provide the number to them. Cashing checks is not on the list so I asked to see the bank manager but he was in a meeting. To speed the process up, I finally used a fake number but one I could reproduce if necessary: the first three numbers of my Dad’s (I memorized it from my childhood military dependent’s ID), the middle two from my former spouse’s number, and the last four of mine. They gave me my money.

Under no circumstances should we carry our social security card in our wallets or give a false number to a government agency who requires it.

Use Cash

Always paying cash is another big change we can make towards protecting our privacy and the easiest way to provide anonymity with financial transactions. Back in the olden days, I used my credit card with every transaction possible so I could receive the 1% rebate from my bank. One day while looking at my four-page credit-card statement, even before I started on my invisibility journey, it struck me: “Wow, you can tell my whole life just by looking at this: where I’ve traveled, where I slept and ate while there, whether I buy more at Aldi or Trader Joe’s.” The NSA also knew all the small details from electronic receipts in Trader Joe’s computer: whether I was the cheese connoisseur who bought Manchego or the frugalist who bought cowchego. I greatly downsized my credit card use after that, using it mostly for online transactions. Contrary to Carl Maulden’s advice, credit cards are not as good as cash.

I built almost my entire house and shop using cash. I’d withdraw $500 from my bank ATM on my way to the hardware store. If I didn’t spend it all that day, I’d hold on to it until I needed more. All my purchases were anonymous to governments and financial institutions. Again, while perhaps unnecessary in that case it’s still an important habit to develop. Oftentimes we don’t find out until after it’s too late why we should have taken certain precautions. Using cash also denies the giant megabanks from getting their fee from the credit card transaction. That always gives me a warm fuzzy feeling.

The most common reason people give for not carrying much cash is that they may lose their wallet or purse. The probabilities of that are slim and for me personally, the loss of the cash in the rare event it did occur would be negligible compared to the anonymity that cash provides.

One warning about cash: There are legal requirements for banks to fill out paperwork when amounts of cash exceed $10,000 so beware. Be the gray man and keep it way under that amount. I had two experiences with this back when I was younger and more naive. The first time was when a relative who had lived through the Great Depression and never trusted banks again went into his root cellar and handed me $75,000 in cash as a loan to buy my house. I found out about the paperwork when I deposited it into my checking account.

The second time I cashed a client’s large check at his bank before flying 1,200 miles home. I lived two miles down a dead-end road which branched off near the end of a 14-mile long dead-end road. I couldn’t believe it when 23½ hours later a LEO was stopped in front of my house on a one-track shady lane, craning his neck looking for a number on the house or mailbox. Once he saw it he drove off, no doubt checking on me to see if it was the sort of location for a meth lab which were common in the area at that time. It definitely wasn’t, but it was a very distasteful Big Brother experience that taught me about the government and large amounts of cash.

The bottom line is, be the gray man and don’t deal in large amounts of cash at banks. It’s fairly certain the way our country is going this will be even more important in the not-so-distant future. I would expect the $10,000 amount to be lowered significantly if it hasn’t already. Bank cashiers will tell you they’re not allowed to disclose what the amount is but it’s easily found on the internet.

Be careful with cash. Do an Internet search on the topic of civil asset forfeiture. With no due process government representatives including LEOs can confiscate your money and property just because they suspect (or not!) you may be involved in illegal activity. You’ll find too many stories about people carrying cash to purchase a large item, or to deposit a loan into their bank account as I did, who were pulled over by the police for various reasons. They found the cash and confiscated it on the spot. Many people never get it back. It may help to keep receipts of where you got the money: canceled checks, photocopies of large checks you’re cashing, store receipts when you are using their debit card cash-back option, etc.

One of the most egregious examples of civil asset forfeiture involved an FBI raid of 1,400 safe-deposit boxes at US Private Vaults. In what has been described as the largest armed robbery in history they confiscated $86 million in cash and tens of millions more in gold and jewelry, with customers having little prospect of getting it back, two years later. A judge dismissed the most recent suit that was brought by victims.

Cell Phones

One conspiracy theory universally pooh-poohed is the now well-known conspiracy fact that even when turned off, our cell phones can be accessed remotely by the powers that be. They can turn on cell phones we turned off, use them to track our movements, take our photo using the camera’s selfie function, record our conversations, etc. Only by physically removing the battery can we truly turn the phone off, but even this is no longer possible on most phones. Big Brother is alive and well making sure our whole life story is well documented by the NSA.

I don’t travel locally with my cell phone. It’s a convenience, not a necessity, and the odds I’ll need it for an emergency of some kind are pretty small. The tracking function is disturbing and as mentioned, the “off” button only makes us think it’s off. Again, it’s probably not necessary for most of us to leave our cell phones home but a good habit to develop based on the direction our country is headed. For me, OPSEC is far more important than carrying my phone around.

As evidenced recently by several mainstream media stories about slain college students, missing wives, and vandals shooting up transformers at grid substations, this location-tracking information, call-time info, and even web searches are readily available to law enforcement agencies. Search phrases like: “bank cash amounts requiring paperwork” will set off alarms which can later be used against you with the suspicion that you’re either trying to launder money, dealing in drugs, or other illegal activity. “Opium extraction from home-grown poppies,” “cannabis fertilizer requirements,” and “how to set up a bookie operation” will also get you on the red-flag lists. In one recent case, a man who was suspected of murdering his wife had searched: “how to dismember a body.”

When I upgraded my cell phone last year I copied the files I needed from my old phone before deleting them. I then deleted every app that no longer worked such as the internet browser. I thought the old phone would be good to carry around when I go to town so I could use the notes app, calculator, camera, calendar, alarms, etc. Much to my chagrin, even with the SIM card removed the satellite tracking and maps features were still functional. I put the phone in a drawer and let the battery run down.

Remember that huge Virginia gun rally in January 2020 when 25,000 armed gun owners showed up to protest the governor’s anti-gun legislation? Since probably 95% of them were carrying cell phones, the Feds had no problem “taking attendance” to make a list of all participants by comparing it with the list of phones usually in that area on a regular basis. Even if you can’t live without your cell phone, for these types of events it’s best to leave it at home.

Giving out our phone number – Sometimes we’re required to provide a phone number, or else. In those situations where I feel my number is none of their business, I use the old home telephone number my mother made me memorize before I headed off to kindergarten. It’s one of the few phone numbers I can remember, and more importantly, easy to reproduce if ever necessary in a given situation. Two other phone numbers work well. The Santa Claus hotline (605-313-4000) is good but the best is 908-355-9969. It rings and rings but nobody ever picks up. False phone numbers will also keep you off the lists of people who are calling you 23 times per day wanting to see if you’ll fall for their latest scam. Providing your phone number to a person or company you don’t know and trust is always a bad idea, especially over the telephone or on the Internet.

One more unrelated thought: When filling out forms for doctors, dentists, or whoever, I don’t answer the majority of the questions and they don’t reject the form. Give that a try next time you want to keep as much personal information as private as possible.

(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 4.)