Starting Anew: The Complexities and Realities of Erasing Your Identity



The notion of erasing one’s identity and starting a new life is a recurring theme in literature, movies, and television.



From abused spouses faking their deaths to escape tormentors to witnesses entering protective custody to avoid retribution, these dramatic transformations capture the imagination.

But is it possible to truly erase your identity in reality? The answer, while nuanced, generally leans towards no, at least not entirely without official intervention. This blog delves into the possibilities, legalities, and realities of changing one’s identity.


Witness Protection: The Government’s Role in Identity Erasure

One of the most well-known methods of erasing one’s identity is through the U.S. Witness Security Program (WITSEC). Administered by the U.S. Marshals Service, WITSEC protects witnesses who provide crucial testimony in significant criminal cases.

Participants are given new identities, birth certificates, Social Security numbers, and other documentation necessary to start afresh.

How WITSEC Works:

  • New Identity: WITSEC provides an entirely new identity, including a new name, Social Security number, and often a new backstory.
  • Relocation: Participants are relocated to new, undisclosed locations where they can start over.
  • Support: The program offers financial assistance and guidance to help participants integrate into their new lives.
  • Legal Shield: WITSEC ensures the new identity is recognized legally, offering a comprehensive shield against former ties.

While WITSEC is effective, it is reserved for individuals in specific circumstances, primarily those involved in criminal cases who need protection from retaliation. For most people, erasing their identity without government intervention is considerably more complex.

Changing Your Identity Legally

For those not eligible for WITSEC, legally changing one’s identity involves several steps, primarily through name changes and, in some cases, changes to one’s Social Security number (SSN). However, these changes do not erase one’s past but rather add a new layer to one’s existing identity.

Legal Name Change:

  • Process: Changing your name varies by state but generally involves filing a petition with the court, publishing the name change in a local newspaper, and obtaining a court order.
  • Documentation: Once approved, you can update your legal documents, including your driver’s license, passport, and bank accounts.

Changing Your Social Security Number:

  • Circumstances: The Social Security Administration (SSA) allows changes to your SSN under limited circumstances, such as in cases of identity theft or abuse.
  • Process: You must provide evidence of your situation and a compelling reason for the change. The SSA will issue a new number but will still link it to your original identity in their records.

Practical Challenges of Erasing Your Identity

Even with a new name and SSN, erasing your identity is nearly impossible due to the interconnected nature of modern databases and record-keeping systems. Here are some of the practical challenges you might face:

Linking Data: Modern databases can often link new identities to old ones through various data points, such as credit history, medical records, and employment history. This makes it difficult to dissociate from your past completely.

Legal and Financial Implications: Attempting to hide from debts or legal issues through a name change can result in significant legal repercussions. Creditors and legal entities can often track individuals despite name changes, leading to potential fraud charges.

Social and Emotional Toll: Starting anew with a new identity can take a significant emotional toll. Building a new life involves severing ties with friends and family, adapting to a new environment, and constantly maintaining a fabricated backstory.

Why People Consider Erasing Their Identity

There are various reasons why someone might consider erasing their identity, some of which are more valid and recognized than others:

Victims of Abuse: Individuals escaping abusive relationships may seek a new identity to avoid their abusers. Legal name changes and relocation can offer a fresh start and a sense of safety.

Identity Theft Victims: Those who have suffered from severe identity theft might need to change their identities to escape the repercussions of financial fraud.

Personal Reinvention: Some people wish to start over for personal reasons, such as escaping a troubled past or seeking a new life away from old associations.

Illegal Methods and Their Consequences

The idea of completely erasing your identity often leads people to consider illegal methods.

Historically, one such method was “paper tripping,” in which individuals assumed the identity of deceased infants. This practice involved obtaining false birth certificates and using them to create a new identity. However, modern digital record-keeping and interlinked databases have rendered this method largely obsolete.

Risks of Illegal Methods:

  • Criminal Charges: Identity fraud is illegal and can result in severe criminal charges, including imprisonment.
  • Insecurity: False identities can be easily uncovered, leaving individuals vulnerable to legal action and retribution.
  • Moral and Ethical Issues: Assuming a false identity involves deceit and can have significant moral and ethical implications, mainly if it consists in manipulating the identity of a deceased person.

Creating a New Identity: Steps and Considerations

For those determined to start anew, here are the steps and considerations involved in legally changing your identity:

  1. Legal Name Change:
    • File a Petition: You must submit a name change petition to the court in your jurisdiction. This typically involves filling out forms and paying a fee.
    • Publish the Change: Some states require you to publish your name change in a local newspaper to alert the public.
    • Court Order: Attend a court hearing where a judge will approve or deny your request. If approved, you will receive a court order confirming your new name.
  2. Update Your Documents:
    • Driver’s License and Passport: Use the court order to update your driver’s license and passport with your new name.
    • Bank Accounts and Credit Cards: Notify your bank and credit card companies of your name change to update your financial records.
  3. Social Security Number:
    • Application: You can apply for a new SSN if you meet the criteria for a change (e.g., identity theft or abuse).
    • Evidence: Provide the necessary documentation to the SSA to support your application.
    • New Number: Once approved, your new SSN will be issued, but it will still be linked to your original identity in SSA records.
  4. Relocation:
    • Move to a New City or Country: Relocating can help distance you from your past. Choose a location where you have no previous ties.
    • Establish a New Life: Find new employment, build new social connections, and adapt to your new environment.
  5. Change Your Appearance:
    • Physical Changes: To avoid recognition, consider altering your hairstyle, wardrobe, and appearance.
    • Behavioural Changes: Adopt new habits and mannerisms to further distance yourself from your old identity.

The Role of Professional Services

Given the complexities of erasing one’s identity, seeking professional assistance can be beneficial. Services like Amicus International Consulting offer guidance and support for individuals looking to create a new identity legally and securely.

Services Offered:

  • Consultation: Professional consultants can provide personalized advice based on your specific circumstances.
  • Legal Assistance: Assistance with the legal processes involved in name changes and relocation.
  • Security Measures: Strategies to protect your new identity and ensure privacy.
  • Emotional Support: Guidance on coping with the emotional challenges of starting anew.


The idea of erasing one’s identity and starting over is alluring, particularly for those facing extreme circumstances like abuse or identity theft.

While it is nearly impossible to erase your identity in today’s interconnected world, legal avenues exist to help you create a new life.

Changing your name and, in some cases, your Social Security number can provide a fresh start, but it requires careful planning and adherence to legal processes.

Relocation, changing your appearance, and adopting new behaviours can help establish a new identity. However, it’s crucial to understand the challenges and limitations involved and the potential legal and ethical implications.

Professional services like Amicus International Consulting can assist in navigating this complex process, ensuring that your transition to a new identity is as safe and secure as possible.

Ultimately, while the journey to a new identity is fraught with challenges, it is possible to start over and build a new life with the right support and preparation.