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View Full Version : Is having an alternate identity illegal if you don't commit any illegal acts with it?


astro
09-11-2005, 01:14 AM
Let's say (for whatever reason) I establish an alternate identity and craft an entirely separate persona using every means at my disposal short of forging documents.

If I pay cash for everything, and commit no illegal acts using this alternate identity, can I be charged with anything simply for using my second identity?

Tapioca Dextrin
09-11-2005, 01:25 AM
It would depend on exactly what you mean by "alternate identity". If you want to call your self "Bob", and reserve restaurant tables in that that name, or even if you decide to call your self "astro" and post to messageborads, then it's going to be OK. If you want to go further (i.e. have any meaningful documention) then it's going to be pretty much illegal.

astro
09-11-2005, 01:38 AM
It would depend on exactly what you mean by "alternate identity". If you want to call your self "Bob", and reserve restaurant tables in that that name, or even if you decide to call your self "astro" and post to messageboards, then it's going to be OK. If you want to go further (i.e. have any meaningful documentation) then it's going to be pretty much illegal.


Well let's say using cash I rent a house, and depositing a large sum start a bank account using that address, go on from there. As long as I can avoid anything that requires a Social Security # or birth certificate I should be able to manage. As long as I'm not relying on false documents is any of this necessarily illegal?

Little Nemo
09-11-2005, 01:39 AM
Offhand, I'd say it would be almost impossible to create a documented alternative identity without commiting an illegal act.

Little Nemo
09-11-2005, 01:43 AM
After seeing your second post, I'd guess what you're describing might be legal. There's nothing illegal about changing your name, and what you're suggesting is an unofficial temporary name change. Assuming you could find somebody to agree to rent you a house without you showing any proof of identity, I can't see any law being broken.

Tapioca Dextrin
09-11-2005, 01:48 AM
Well let's say using cash I rent a house, and depositing a large sum start a bank account using that address, go on from there.

According to my bank, to open an account, you need
Information you’ll need (for each applicant):

Social Security Number
Driver's license number, state and expiration date
Date of Birth
Employer name and work phone number
Telephone numbers
Current home address (and previous address if less than three years at current address)



To help the government fight the funding of terrorism and money laundering activities, U.S. Federal law requires financial institutions to obtain, verify, and record information that identifies each person (individuals and businesses) who opens an account. What this means for you: When you open an account, we will ask for your name, address, date of birth and other information that will allow us to identify you. We may also ask for your driver's license or other identifying documents.

sleeepy2
09-11-2005, 03:17 PM
I had a mailman explain to me that using a fake name when ordering through the mail is mail fraud.

Don't know if this is true or if my mailman was just annoyed with me.

Colibri
09-11-2005, 04:19 PM
I had a mailman explain to me that using a fake name when ordering through the mail is mail fraud.

Don't know if this is true or if my mailman was just annoyed with me.

So what was the fake name you ordered with? ;)

Dragwyr
09-11-2005, 04:33 PM
Don't certain celebreties in the media do this very thing? They have their given name, but they also have thier stage name that they are famously known by.

I also know of one magician that has two distinct identites and most people think he is, in fact two different people.

RealityChuck
09-11-2005, 04:49 PM
You can use any name you like as long as it's not an attempt to commit fraud. If you order something by mail and have it sent to a false name, there's nothing wrong as long as everyone involved gets paid.

The PO may have internal rules that only allow certain people to receive mail at an address. But you could open a PO box and specify that "My Alias" is one of the names that can receive mail there. The PO will deliver. It's even easier if you go to a UPS Store and set up a private mailbox.

Checks mailed to your alias can be endorsed by the false name and then reindorsed by you. (That's a third-party check, and is legal -- though many businesses won't accept them because of problems collecting if it's bad. But a bank will deposit it into your account, at most with a rule that the funds won't be released to you until the check clears).

Starting a bank account now seems to require ID, but even then, you can talk with the bank manager and they may be willing to create an account in your false name as long as they have a record of your real name and SSN.

Zahava424
09-11-2005, 05:01 PM
I remember seeing an interview with Martin Sheen (I think on the Ellen DeGeneres show) in which he said he had two social security cards: One that said Martin Sheen (his showbiz name) and one that said Ramon Estavez (his legal name, which he never changed). He used the first for acting jobs and the second for waiting tables and things like that. Both cards had the same number; he just submitted a second name to the same account.
I wonder whether this is legal or whether he was the lucky beneficiary of a paperwork screw-up.

lorinada
09-11-2005, 05:27 PM
Although I am certainly not a lawyer, but I would think that the fact that you paid cash to buy the house really wouldn't matter since the transaction would also involve the deed and tax rolls. I can't help but think at least the tax end of it would be subjecting you to fraud charges.

rfgdxm
09-11-2005, 05:36 PM
Although I am certainly not a lawyer, but I would think that the fact that you paid cash to buy the house really wouldn't matter since the transaction would also involve the deed and tax rolls. I can't help but think at least the tax end of it would be subjecting you to fraud charges.
No, the tax end wouldn't. Property taxes are taxes on the property itself, not a person. If the taxes aren't paid for a certain period of time, the government seizes the property.

ryobserver
09-11-2005, 05:55 PM
It should certainly be possible to hold property, open bank accounts, pay taxes etc. under more than one name; otherwise it would be nearly impossible to operate a one-person business under a separate business name. Writers can and do use several pen names, and recieve mail and deposit checks made out to their pen names. I think in all such cases though, it's advisable to make sure appropriate letters explaining the situation are on file in all appropriate places so that everyone understands nothing shady is going on.

The biggest problem with using more than one personal name (not a business name) is that most people doing this are intending to commit fraud, hide assets from divorce lawyers, hide income from the tax collectors, commit bigamy or adultery, or engage in some other kind of deception. So anyone who finds out you're using more than one name will probably assume you're Up To Something until you prove otherwise. This could be burdensome.

Rucksinator
09-12-2005, 06:52 PM
Well let's say using cash I rent a house, and depositing a large sum start a bank account using that address, go on from there. As long as I can avoid anything that requires a Social Security # or birth certificate I should be able to manage. As long as I'm not relying on false documents is any of this necessarily illegal?

Astro, what kind of trouble have you gotten yourself into now? Maybe Bricker or Dewey or Random can help you.

I'm having a hard time thinking of a legal reason to do this, but maybe that's just what the DHS wants.

MaryEFoo
09-12-2005, 08:05 PM
Before 9/11, they had to show intent to defraud or some other crime before giving you a problem about using an alternate name.

Lots of people went by a nickname or their middle name, simplified or fancyfied the spelling of their last name, used pen names, etc.

To deposit a check in a business name, in California you had to go through a "Fictitious Business Name" procedure, registering it publicly. For a name ending in "Incorporated", you had to file with the State as a corporation and meet certain standards.

Now, I believe that the DHS, etc, have required financial institutions, employers, and so forth, to get more information from you before doing business. At one point, feeling paranoid about giving a credit card over the Internet, I tried to get the kind of card you fund by putting in so many dollars, and then use for transactions. That would limit any damages. My bank made it clear that there was no way of doing that without my name, SSN, address, and I think Date of Birth, being on record. So I didn't feel protected from identity theft.

I knew a couple of old cranks from before the 9/11 days that weren't paying taxes and were using alternate names to receive money--one was a furnisher refinisher/auto repair guy, technically competent, that worked by the job. And I had known another guy who, when he came out of state prison, dropped a letter from his last name, drove for Goodwill for some years ("social handicap"), and later worked other driving jobs under his new name.

When they went over airport workers with a fine toothed comb, they were "smoking them out", and you do wonder how many were dangerous lying fanatics, or security risks, and how many were just pore dumb SOBs trying to make a living.

MaryEFoo
09-12-2005, 08:23 PM
BTW, I'm descended from people who came into this State when people used to sing,
"What was your name in the States,
Was it Johnson or Thompson or Bates,
Did you murder your wife, and run for your life,
Oh, what was your name in the States?"

rainy
09-13-2005, 11:16 AM
Writers can and do use several pen names, and recieve mail and deposit checks made out to their pen names.

Really? I always assumed a pen name was a publisher-in-on-the-misdirection type of situation. So that if I penned something that was published as written by 'stormy' the check from the publisher would still come to 'rainy.'
Is this not how it works?

-rainy

Mr. Slant
09-13-2005, 03:23 PM
I came across an interesting book on keeping your personal information private.
The name was How To Be Invisible [1]
Some items gleaned:
1. Opening a bank account without giving your real name and SSN is practically impossible in the US.
2. Travelling on a common carrier airplane without displaying ID is impossible.
3. Buying a house under a business name is legal, and hiding that business name's association with your name is possible using the right LLC structures formed in the right states. It's nearly impossible, however, to do this if you're financing it using a mortgage signed for you personally.
4. Registering your vehicle under the name of an LLC that doesn't trace back to you is possible. That can help prevent road rage from turning into murder, among other things.
5. You may be able to receive mail under a bogus name at a Mailboxes Etc, but you'll need to produce real ID at most commercial mail receiving addresses to open an account. The government got into bed with those businesses bigtime after 9/11. The best bet is a small business that operates private mailboxes.
6. You'll definitely need to provide ID at most, but not all, post offices when opening a PO box. However, lying about your name at the post office when opening a PO is a crime according to the form you fill out when opening the PO box.

[1] howtobeinvisible.com

Lord Mondegreen
09-14-2005, 12:31 AM
2. Travelling on a common carrier airplane without displaying ID is impossible.

Unless you're under 18 years of age. Cite from American Airlines (http://aa.com/content/travelInformation/specialAssistance/childrenTraveling.jhtml#Identification%20Requirements).

Of course that could be a little difficult to fake for some of us (including this 42 year old ;) ).

TJVM
09-14-2005, 01:04 PM
You can use any name you like as long as it's not an attempt to commit fraud.
I've often seen this stated as the law in the U.S., but I find it a bit questionable. I don't know of any law that prohibits you from using whatever name you like, and I appreciate the logic of saying, “if it's not prohibited, then by default it's legal.” But I'm not sure it really plays out that way.

In particular, there are many contexts in which you are prohibited by law from providing any false or misleading information to another party. This would be the case in applying for a bank loan, for instance, or reporting your income taxes. There are many other situations covered by such laws – so many that it would be difficult to list them all (even assuming I knew them all, which I surely don't).

So here's the big question: if someone asks you to provide your name, is it false or misleading to give them a made-up name that you've never used before? I think that many people would say, “yes.” I'm sure you can come up with arguments to the contrary, to the effect that your name is whatever you want to call yourself (don't get all hung up on labels, man) but I'm not confident that these arguments will be well-received by law-enforcement authorities or a jury. If you were to get caught trying to borrow money from a bank using an “alternate” name, and the bank reported you for bank fraud, I'd advise you to hire the best criminal-defense lawyer you can afford, pronto.

Even outside of situations that aren't covered by a law of that sort, I'd worry about the “as long as it's not fraudulent” rule. Keep in mind that, if you get into a dispute, your conduct is going to be judged by some third party (cops, prosecutors, jurors). In the eyes of many people, using a “fake” name just looks fraudulent, on its face.

I'm not trying to say that you can't ever use a name other than your “real” name. There are some situations in which using different or “fake” names is socially sanctioned and expected, such as actors using stage names, or married women using one name professionally and a different name in their personal life. Also, it's probably ok to use whatever name you want in purely social situations, like parties.

But in my personal opinion, if you're dealing with the government, or you're dealing with private parties in a situation where money is changing hands, using a “fake” name (without disclosing that it's not your “real” name) is asking for trouble.

Of course, this whole issue is becoming academic, since it's hard to do much of anything these days without providing ID or a social security number.

Standard disclaimer: Nothing in this post is legal advice, and I'm not your lawyer. Consult an attorney if you have a real-life question.

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