eli5: How do the cops/FBI help someone create a whole new identity?


How does this work? Like do they help them get all the paperwork done? Or like, do they create a fictitious history for them? Because I would imagine having any trace of their old identity with credit history etc could put them in danger if the people they testified against etc. happened to come across them.

In: 24

Obviously, the specifics of this are hazy exactly because the witness protection program doesn’t want to tell people what and how things are done, so that people don’t figure out what to look for.

But it is likely that completely new identities are created from the ground up — new social security numbers, new names and corresponding ID cards. Effectively a lot of sanctioned forgery of identity. Perhaps even whole new credit histories. But again, the secrecy is part of the schtick and we can’t say for sure.

The U.S. Marshall service handles the Witness Security Program. It’s a separate branch of law enforcement from the regular police or FBI or whatever.

They can give someone a new identity because an identity is just a name on some government-authorized files. The Marshalls have the authority to go into those records and add identities (it’s doubtlessly a bit more complicated, but let’s not bore ourselves).

As for the credit history and everything, they really generally aren’t needed. The Marshalls, when necessary, provide financial aid for the people they protect. They’ll likely help them get a job (details are hazy on this, since they keep most of it a secret), but big things like cars or houses are often provided. There’s no need for loans, so no need for a credit score.

The info in my post comes from the Marshall’s website and an interview I once saw of a former protectee. It’s possible I got things wrong, since they keep as much of the process a secret as possible.

To add to what others have already said, people will believe you when you tell them your name is John Smith, why wouldn’t they? The rest is paperwork.

It’s not actually the cops or the FBI, it’s the US Marshalls. It’s also only really done for high-level witnesses in important cases.

Your basic identity is your name, Social Security number, and where you live and work. They can give you new ones of all those. Names are easy, the government is where your SSN comes from anyway, and they have the budget to give you a new house and job. They’ll also have people who deal with your appearance. A simple shave and haircut can work wonders. Tattoos can be added or removed, and scars can usually be altered.

When somebody moves into your building and introduces himself as John Smith, you don’t question it, you just start calling him John Smith. He works at the donut shop, and mostly keeps to himself.

John’s credit history will be tied to his new name and SSN, and it’s very unlikely that anyone who knew Frank Castle in New York City are going to bump into John Smith in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Not impossible, just unlikely.)

If John stays in contact with any of Frank’s friends and family, then he might be found, and they simply won’t give him a third chance. He was told to cut all contact with everybody when they put him in the program.

The US Marshalls run the program and they get eligible participants new names and IDs and stuff like that. As long as they cut off contact with their old life and keep their head down and don’t try to do a bunch of stuff putting their name or info out there, they will be fine. Some people get dropped from the program because they can’t follow the rules.

Here is a guy named Michael Franzese – he used to be in the mafia and now does videos about mafia life and stuff. He has some negative things to say about the program. Of course his brother testified against their father then went into the program, then got out of it.




Um, good luck, whatever your plans are, or at least in your good plans.