# How can someone that has lived for hundreds of years avoid suspicion in the modern world? [closed]

If someone has lived say two or three hundred plus years and has attempted to remain a part of normal human society without arousing suspicion, how easy would this be?

Would it be difficult for someone to live outside the system, but remain part of the world? If they have this longevity and they do not seem to age, say they are perpetually in their twenties or thirties, and thus move around constantly to avoid suspicion, would this easily work? Could it? Getting employment, housing, insurances, an ID of any kind, so on, and so on, wouldn't these and other such things be an issue again and again?

And even if they had things like...a SSN or medical records...once they changed identity that's out the window so then what? Could this life be easily lived, especially in the modern world?

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• Can he do the standard-if-slightly-implausible trick of adopting his nephew but never being seen in public together and then dying at 38 shortly after his nephew has turned 21? – abarnert Sep 4 '18 at 21:23
• You would have to accumulate vast wealth. That way you could essentially bribe authorities to turn a blind eye to identity theft and accounting peculiarities etc. You would live as an employee of your own estate. Perhaps from charity money from a trust fund like the Nobel prize. Periodically firing staff and replacing them, parachuting yourself back in. – Richard Sep 4 '18 at 23:52
• You seem to be quite confused about what living "off the grid" actually means. It really has nothing to do with living "outside the system" as far as IDs and other paperwork goes: it just (in its most basic form) means not being connected to the electric grid. Which is pretty simple these days, at least in places that get a good bit of sunshine. Just buy a few solar panels and a Tesla Powerwall. See some of the ~340 million Google hits for more. – jamesqf Sep 5 '18 at 4:50
• live under the radar not off the grid. - As long as you requite the love of any sneaky reporters (that get a sample of your sword that's been folded over two thousand times which lets them figure out that you're immortal) so that you don't get blackmailed... you should be good. – Mazura Sep 5 '18 at 7:29
• Duplicates should abound - check worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/29557/… – bukwyrm Sep 5 '18 at 15:21

Here are some ideas :

• Certain identity documents (like social security cards or driver's licenses) aren't essential to get by. If you are willing to accept the low-paying work, you will be able to find jobs that look the other way.
• You don't have to live in the United States. While the U.S. and U.K. have a great deal of tracking, the rest of the world does not. In many places, you are who you claim to be. Especially if you can look and sound like a local.
• Some parts of the United States are basically wilderness: Alaska, parts of Hawaii, Texas, New Mexico, upstate New York, even great swaths of Europe. You can be a squatter or homesteader (basically picking a spot and building a home there with no regard as to whether you own the land), and not be bothered by authorities.
• Generational memories are poor. About every thirty years, people will easily accept that your long-lived person is his own son or daughter. Even photographs (which are fairly modern) can be dismissed with a strong family resemblence. If people get too pushy, it's time to move.
• Please avoid the "my long-lived person is rich off compounding interest and good investments". This is just a personal preference because it seems to be used a lot in this genre. Practically: a long-lived person is just as likely to make investment mistakes, or have savings wiped away by disaster as everyone else.
• A long-lived person is going to become very smart. This is usually just reduced to convenient expositionary flashbacks, but I feel it's really not taken advantage of. The long-lived person, depending on how much effort they've put into learning, is almost guaranteed to be both a polymat and polglot. He will probably pick up: farming, ranching, building, electronics, heating and cooling, advanced finance (cash, loans, bonds, stocks (connected to building)), (futures, hedges, commodities (connected to farming)), first aid, chemistry, minerology, forestry, astronomy, literature, art, government (socialism and capitalism both, we vacillate between the two nearly every 60 years), law. What is "basic" knowledge in one generation later becomes "niche" or "rare" or "arcane"; but the person with access to all of the early stuff more clearly can understand the later stuff built on top of it. Likewise, the long-lived person will probably fluently speak whatever languages have come through the region(s) in which he or she had lived, because at some point it becomes convenient to pick it up.
• Mail order (and equivalent) has been around for a while. The person can have access to nice things and remain anonymous.
• WRT "smart": I am not convinced. They will learn a lot, for sure, but assuming an otherwise regular human brain, they will also forget a lot. Compounded with the fact that they probably learned wrong in the first place (science is quite different from 200 years ago), I'd not expect them to be much "smarter". Life experience, yes. Outdoors skills if they lived in the countryside, yes. "Smart" in science? Not unless they dedicate themselves to it, and even then either they'll focus or only have basic knowledge. – Matthieu M. Sep 5 '18 at 7:20
• @John my understanding from people who are fluent in several languages (and that does not include me) is that, after you have been exposed to a few languages, you start recognizing patterns that make learning new languages easier. I agree that the speech of this long-lived person might be dated if it's been a long time since they last heard it. For example, the last time they heard English was the 1830s. – James McLellan Sep 5 '18 at 8:08
• I agree the character could be willfully ignorant, and fall ever further behind. But, assuming a more baseline person who only puts in an average amount of work to stay current is going to have accumulated an impressive amount of understanding for his/her apparent age. Not to mention exposure to skills. In the early 1900s, knowing how to work on an engine was almost an essential life skill. Knowing radio and electronics in the 1930s. Knowing how to operate a computer in the 20th century. – James McLellan Sep 5 '18 at 8:34
• Anecdotally, My grandmother has a photo on her desk of my father at age 15 which is indistinguishable from photos of myself at the same age. She regularly calls us both by the wrong names. I am not a vampire. – Ruadhan Sep 5 '18 at 8:38
• @Ruadhan I have a similar story. A photo of my grandfather when he was college age. I saw it on my grandparents fridge when I was at school and ask when I took the photo, because I didn't remember it. We looked so much alike, I couldn't tell the difference. – James McLellan Sep 5 '18 at 8:52

It sounds like your big worry isn't "living off the grid", but avoiding all of the problems that come with having a job.

With decent compound interest, work isn't an issue. The range of people who aren't so incompetent with money that they'd have starved by now but aren't competent enough to save up enough to live on the interest is probably very narrow.

The problem is, how do you transfer the principle from one identity to the next? I'm assuming you don't want to do the standard "I adopted my nephew" plot device.1

Up to the late 20th century, this wasn't too much of a problem for a man of means. As each loophole was closed, new ones opened. You'd have to pay enough attention to move from Swiss numbered accounts to Bermuda, from US municipal to corporate bearer bonds, etc., but that's not too hard.

But by the end of the 1980s it was getting hard to invest any new money in anonymously transferable implements, and by the end of the 2000s, the last of the existing ones stopped paying interest.

One option is to just ignore that change. There are plenty of movies that still make US Treasury bearer bonds and even Swiss numbered bank accounts into plot devices, even though they haven't been useful for money laundering for decades.

Another possibility is to turn to crime. I'm sure you can make the right contacts who will be willing to launder your money for a reasonable fee. Or maybe they have some legitimate businesses you can invest in and give the profit to some other person with no questions asked.

Or just make it a plot device. Every 20-25 years, for 300 years, your protagonist has been able to roll over his money to his new identity. 1995 was a bit of a problem, but he pulled it off. But in 2018, nothing's working. He's delayed things for a bit by transferring a bit of precious metals or other commodities, but those aren't going to appreciate in value the same way as financial instruments—and besides, if one guy buys \$100M worth of gold and loses it and another guy finds \$100M worth of gold later that year, the IRS and other agencies are going to notice pretty quickly.

1. This has never been very realistic; it's just one of those things you get away with in stories because everyone else in the genre does it. You can try to make it feel a bit more realistic by mentioning the adoption papers and inheritance taxes and so on. But let's assume you don't want to use the same old plot device at all.

• Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – L.Dutch Sep 5 '18 at 6:56
• What about having the assets owned by a corporation? Privately-held corporations don't have to report their owners to the state; they do need to pay taxes and have a "registered agent" (attorney). In real life the attorney can change over the years; perhaps it is the protagonist himself. – DrSheldon Sep 5 '18 at 10:32
• In the last years you could easily have invested a huge share of you money into several crypto-currencies. Massive losses and gains of millions of dollars were not uncommen. You could even just make up some ridiculous crypto coin like doge-coin and just use it for hidden transfer of money to your new identity. – Falco Sep 5 '18 at 11:24
• After the troubles your old man started having in the 80s when "refreshing" he started working early on the problems, getting the needed papers 20-25 years before actually needing them. Get a job in a hospital or date the right employee, and birth records are faked easy enough. Valid birth cert, SS card, etc. Build that fake ID over the years, enroll a fake kid in kindergarten, register as home school due to traveling, etc. When you need to be 25 again, you now have a "real" 25 year old person to become who no one will notice being replaced by flesh and blood instead of imagination.... – ivanivan Sep 5 '18 at 14:23
• It could be... but it also addresses the "hard time doing it in 2018" problem you mentioned, which is why i posted a comment instead of a redundant answer. Just a way to solve that problem, unlike finding the birth cert of a child that died young or is MIA, etc. – ivanivan Sep 5 '18 at 15:43

A privately owned company which is owned by a foreign privately owned company which in turn is owned by another privately owned company

The company hold the assets and the person is issued with a company credit card. He has a driver so doesn't need a licence. Staff are kept on short contracts and replaced regularly so they never really notice the person not aging.

If the companies taxes are all above board and everything is squeaky clean, the government won't look at anything too hard. You stay out of photos and be a recluse as much as possible nobody would even notice.

You could virtually avoid all forms of ID

If he has lived hundreds of years, than surely he has lived for at least a hundred years before the modern amenities that you refer to as the 'grid' were developed. 150 years ago there were no supermarkets, no electricity, no hospitals and no id cards. Rural areas had no running water or sewage.

A pioneer that crossed the Appalachians to settle ohio in 1790 certainly didn't have anything like a 'grid'. Therefore, if you fellow had the skills of a early American pioneer (or Medieval peasant, or whatever), then they should be fine.

While it would be difficult to get a job in a big city, it would not be so difficult in a smaller town. It wouldn't be hard to get a job as a seasonal worker in an agricultural region, not should it be that difficult to farm an abandoned field or otherwise marginal area. Once a decent food source is established, this person can use his skills to barter for anything additional he might need.

One skill that your guy might have in abundance, that is not so common today, is animal husbandry. Sheep and horses don't work any different than they did 500 years ago, and veterinary or general animal knowledge skills might go a long way in a smaller town. Once the person is established and reasonably well known, having a government id wouldn't be a deal breaker. If you go to Idaho or Montana, it isn't that hard to find people who are into being off the grid, anyways.

• He might even be adept at avoiding the census man.... – JBH Sep 4 '18 at 21:33
• There was a real life case about some Mafia guy who ran away after a botched murder or something and started a farm in Idaho. He actually made it for like 40 years until he was finally caught. – Robert Columbia Sep 5 '18 at 1:00

Income:

If they have lived for hundreds of years they have had enough time to accumulate enough money to live off the interest. Doing so anonymously these days is going to be something of a problem but I don't think it's impossible:

Once you have plenty of money you "die" and leave your wealth in a few trusts. They are managed by large banks or the like and are directed to disburse assets to the unidentified individuals who are able to adequately authenticate that they are the intended recipients. Back when you set this up that probably would have been by means of messages encrypted by one time pads. These days you would have directed them to replace those with a public key cryptography system--directions signed by your private key are to be considered valid. This would be much more secure as while one time pads are cryptographically unbreakable they provide no protection against embezzlement by fake orders. A dirty trustee can't fake a message signed by your private key, though.

Note that this approach avoids the problem of having to keep establishing new identities, but it does raise your taxes as the disbursed money won't have an associated tax number and thus will be subject to backup withholding (IIRC this results in a flat 30% tax rate.)

You can get around by taxi or bus, you won't be able to drive or fly unless you make a suitable fake identity and that's growing ever harder. You can direct one of your trusts to buy a house and maintain utilities on it.

Note that this will not withstand government scrutiny, but they don't go around poking into the details unless there's a reason--keep your nose clean and I don't think there would be that scrutiny.

• I think your ideas about "living off the interest" ignore the effects of inflation. To give a few random examples from my own lifetime (in the UK) when I was a teenager beer cost £0.10 a pint compared with £2.00-£3.00 today. The wages from my first job were about £9 per week which now would be a pretty poor rate per hour - but back then a week's lodging cost less than £5. Going back further, I have the bill from my grandfather buying everything he needed to set up house when he got married - the total cost was about £20. Returns on most investments adjusted for inflation are very low. – alephzero Sep 5 '18 at 8:19
• @alephzero Inflation-adjusted returns on low-risk investments averaged over a century may be pretty low, but they’re still positive, and more than enough that you can easily live on the interest forever. If your average return is only 2% per year, you can have a solid middle-class life with only a few million invested (which puts you nowhere near the 1%—especially since we’re talking a 2018 few million; run the compound interest and cost of living backward and it was no worse in your grandfather’s day). – abarnert Sep 5 '18 at 16:10
• @alephzero "Living off the interest" is the common term but to actually make it work you need to be invested in stock, not bonds or other things that actually produce interest. Put most of your nest egg in stock, keep 5-10 years worth of spending in low risk instruments (so you don't have to sell stock in during market declines) and spend 1% of your stock investment per year and you can easily do it forever, including increasing your spending along with the economy. You probably could even spend 2%/year. – Loren Pechtel Sep 6 '18 at 4:11

There's another issue that you overlook which has become a genuine problem for people trying to assume new identities such as police going undercover: your online trace.

We live in a world where you can Google up a list of known members of a New York mob family. Where the first thing a new member of a biker gang does after being patched in is take a selfie with the boys. Where, even if you don't have a Facebook page, there's reasonable odds you're mentioned on someone else's. And the younger you are, the more likely this is to happen.

Someone suddenly showing up without any prior apparent presence is going to raise flags, and the longer you're around the more likely you will leave some trace, even through other people. I was speaking to a police officer a few months ago and he mentioned that it was easy to figure out which of his peers were engaged in undercover work; they were always reluctant to appear in group photos, and tried to avoid appearing in any photos.

Your long-lived person is going to deal with that more and more; even if they actively avoid attracting attention, someone is going to refer to the weird young guy who lives out in the woods. And over time, people are going to wonder why that weird young guy is still a young guy.

In my part of the world, living off the grid is a way of life

Imagine a world of no cellphones, computers, electricity, motor vehicles, even plastic does not exist, no metals too, etc etc... and you just have a patch of land, the forest, a a stream, you now have yourself a home.

Clay pots are good containers for anything, sure they break easily, but you can replace them very quickly if you have clay. Fire is the only thing that could be difficult, specially rainy seasons (we only got two seasons here) Food is a PLENTY, you got fruits, vegetables, poultry (if you choose), fishes in the stream, bugs in the roots (as long as you can classify edible bugs), snakes, anything can be eaten, so you choose your meal everyday.

clothes can be a little... complicated too (in "outsider" standard) They range from leaves, to animal skins, into... nothing.

hunting tools and weapons are always sharpened wood instruments, sharpened stones and slingshots.

You wont have to worry about... insurances.

If poisoned by animals or insect, you have to slit yourself open near the location of the sting or bite so that the bad blood could flow out, but you risk yourself losing blood, and pray if the poison was released. Most of the time, its 50/50.

Alternative medications are the solutions for health problems, But theres no question that hygiene is sacrificed in a off the grid life (no soap, or plumbing) do always remember DO YOUR BUSINESS DOWNSTREAM.

All in all, I have seen people that are amazed when they see my rubber shoes, how they call us foreigners because we ride cars and how they are amazed when we magically replicate them through our phones. living off the grid still works until today, unless progress cuts down all the forests like we always do.

Lets say your protagonist has lived for 300 years up until now.

1708 - 1808: He learned about common diseases, the art of hunting using only primitive tools and herbal medicines, he also acquired knowledge on how to start fire without flammable liquid gas and a little bit of chemistry.

1808 - 1908: He learned about the types of soil, where to harvest clay, architecture and engineering. weather reading, poultry and plant cultivation. he also learned medication from this time.

1908 - to present: lives of the grid for the rest of his life

BUT Things change when it becomes like this

1708 - 2018 Lives in the cities

09/05/2018 decides to live off the grid

I assure you, he will die in one month (maybe less)

• Maybe he’s actually immortal, so he won’t die in a month. Sure, he’ll be lying there broken, with a pack of hyenas who come by and eat the magically-regrowing meat every time he heals enough to be worth chewing on, but he’s alive, and contributing to the ecosystem, and off the grid. :) – abarnert Sep 5 '18 at 16:21

This will actually be pretty easy, as long as you stay out of criminal databases where they have your fingerprints or biometric data. If you move to another city or different part of town you will have no problems with persons remembering you look like your old self. If you are in a country without an actual central database, you can probably easy live a long time with the same ID. With good makeup you can probably easily live in an age range of 18 to 50 and will only look "quite young" or like you had good anti-aging-surgeries.

When you need to renew your birth date (every 30-40 years) there are several possibilities:

1. Forge your birth certificate (relatively easy, especially if it is from a rural hospital without electronic verification) - then just ask for a correction on your ID card, where your birth date seems to be misprinted -> show your birth certificate and your young face as proof.

2. If you have "lost" your ID card you need (bribed) relatives to verify your identity. Find someone who has a child your target age, where the child is missing/presumed dead. You can bribe them with some bogus story about an abusive family you need to get away from. If they vouch that you are their son and that you have lost your papers, you will get a new ID.

3. If you want a fresh start, you can apply as an immigrant without any proper papers. It is a tiresome process but you can eventually get an ID and a permit to stay. So you can just generate a completely new ID without any ties.

4. You can live in a country in which most people look vastly different and will probably not recognize the subtle differences between someone who is from a different descent. If you are caucasian you could steal the identities of students abroad or immigrants in an asian country and could probably get by if the person looked somewhat similar to you.

You will need some sort of income, and the IRS plus its equivalent in every other country are pretty good at tracking electronic money.

So you will need a job that pays in cash - say, masseur, or the oldest profession.

From there you can buy prepaid credit cards and use those to pay for AirBNB. That gives you a place, and the electricity, water, gas and internet will be billed to someone else.

You can use the same cards for food and transport - for all purposes, the electronic transfers are between the card issuer and the service or goods provider. You can charge the cards at ATM's, pharmacies or supermarkets.

I do that with cards and AirBNB all the time - not because I want to be off the grid but because it's much less bureaucracy to get an AirBNB than to properly rent an apartment (and it's usually better value for your money than hotels). As for credit cards the prepaid ones won't rape your assets with insane interests, and you can control your expenses much better with them.

• (*cough *) centuries-old, um... entertainers? Oh, there's gotta be a better way.... – JBH Sep 4 '18 at 23:49

From the dawn of time we came; moving silently down through the centuries, living many secret lives, struggling to reach the time of the Gathering; when the few who remain will battle to the last. No one has ever known we were among you… until now. -- juan sanchez villalobos ramirez

Buying an identity on the darknet costs a little over $20. That's all digital but with that information you could begin applying for legit cards; this is identity theft but something that happens. Your immortal would have to live a little outside the law if they'll be assuming identities. Forged documents will run you more money but if your immortal is living outside the law it would just be a cost of living. A quick search shows a good quality scannable fake ID can cost about$200 USD, pick your state.

Look at how people living normal life spans assume identities and you can apply the same for your immortal.

Millions of people live in the real world under assumed identities, blending into modern society. A network of landlords, health clinics, and other businesses cater to the undocumented community. The part about living for 300 years seems like a non sequitur to answering this question, but this special person would need to periodically acquire a new identity so that their physical appearance matches their documented age. After several decades of this routine, they would master all aspects of it.

For centuries and millennia the most common form of wealth was owning land. If the immortal person accumulates wealth, they are likely to own more and more land.

They could acquire landed estates in several different locations and have tenants farm them for rent. And they could come to one of the estates and live there for maybe 20, 25, or 30 years as the relative and representative or overseer of the landowner. And when they decide to move they hire someone as the overseer for this estate and then announce that the owner has died and the new owner hired someone else as the overseer.

Then he would go to another estate he secretly owned and announce that the owner died and the new owner appointed him as the new overseer of the estate. And he would use a different name than at the previous estate.

If he has three or more widely separated estates he could stay for 20 to 30 years in each in rotation and nobody would remember him from previous stays when he returned to an estate. How many local people would be certain that he looked exactly like someone they hadn't seen for 60, 75, or 90 years? Very few.

If he is successful he may be able to buy new estates every few decades, so that if he eventually has 10 estates and stays at each one for 20 to 30 years, his stays at each one will be 200 to 300 years apart and nobody will remember him from previous stays.

Or maybe he might have a business that involves travel.

Here is a sort of a reverse story to the one you propose.

Christian Jacobsen Drakenberg died 9 October 1772, and claimed to have been born on 18 November 1626, thus allegedly dying age 145. In his case he looked like an old man for decades and nobody bothered him saying that he should look older (i.e. like a dead corpse) by now.

There were two times when Drakenberg could have been replaced by another, and presumably younger man.

A sailor, Drakenberg was captured and enslaved by Barbary pirates in 1694 and didn't escape until 1710. It is possible that the Drakenberg who escaped in 1710 was not the man who was captured in 1694. The returning Drakenberg was said to look only 60 years old, not 84. If he was a sixty year old impostor he would have lived to be "only" 122. If he was only 40 he would have lived to be "only" 102.

In 1732 Drakenberg traveled from Denmark to Norway and returned with a birth certificate from his birthplace which is now considered to be a forgery. He would have been 106 ears old if he was who he claimed to be, and possibly 62 to 82 years old if he was a 40 to 60 year old impostor in 1710. If Drakenberg was replaced by a look alike but presumably younger impostor during the trip, the impostor should have looked as old as the 62 to 106 year old man he replaced, and thus should have looked roughly 102 to 146 years old when he died in 1772.

So Drakenberg is believed to have been either one man who lived a very long time, or two or three men who claimed to be one man.

And possibly the second Drakenberg was an immortal man well over a hundred years old in 1710, who knew a slave named Drakenberg who died in captivity, and when he escaped took Drakenberg's name to appear decades younger than he was, and on his journey in 1732 found a younger man who resembled him and got that man to return and impersonate both him and Drakenberg, while he took the younger man's identity.

And perhaps he repeated that over and over again.

I might also point out that Old Parr (1483-1635) was reputed in his village to be about 150 years old when aristocrats heard about him. It is reasonable to suppose that his age was probably exaggerated by decades, but it is also reasonable to suppose that he should have been decades older than the oldest people in the neighborhood if the locals believed in his vast age. In any case, he was reputed to look very old, but much younger than most men his reported age - who would look like long dead skeletons - and wasn't reported to harassed by people accusing him of using witchcraft to live so long.

I might also add that Katherine Fitzgerald, the Old Countess of Desmond (died 1604) was reputed at the time to have lived to be 140, or more reasonably 120, and yet no accounts of her life mention villagers with torches and pitchforks attacking her castle or accusing her of using witchcraft to attain her allegedly unnatural age.

Her husband, Thomas Fitzgerald, 11th Earl of Desmond (1454-1534), would have been 150 years old in 1604, so unless their marriage was a May-December one, or even a February-December one, she would have lived over a century.

Or perhaps the immortal man could be some sort of merchant or banker who has a privately owned business, as was normal until a century or two ago, with branches in different cities. And if he marries and has children, he could eventually arrange a fake death and leave his business to his widow and children in the will.

But he might make arrangements before death to give a big part of his business to a fake identity of a trusted employee, or partner, or illegitimate son, and also leave that fake identity money and part of the business in the will. And do that over and over again to various other fake identities over the generations.

And show up from time to time at one of the branch offices under one of those fake identities and and become the branch manager, and save up enough money to open one or more branches of his own, etc.

And whatever methods he used to hide his unnaturally prolonged relative youth over the centuries and millennia, he would have more and more trouble in recent times as society becomes more and more bureaucratic and obsessed with record keeping.

He would probably have to create some sort of charity to hold much of his money and have to spend much of that money on actual charitable stuff, while remaining in charge of the charity long enough to hire himself under a fake id as the next hardworking but reclusive head of the charity, and repeat every generation or so.