Unless purposefully setting out to drop off the radar, nobody jumps on an airplane with the intention of becoming a missing person overseas. However, it is vital to remember that US citizens can and do disappear abroad, far from home, and without the critical support networks that support their everyday safety. Acknowledging this fact doesn’t have to mean skipping all of the incredible destinations on your bucket list. Instead, there are a number of safe travel tips that you can take to minimize the risk of your dream trip becoming a nightmare.
Through our work as international missing persons investigators at Lauth Missing Persons, we often venture overseas to pick up the trail of those whose loved ones are deeply concerned. By following the tips below, you can avoid becoming a worrying statistic—or warranting a call from your family to our team.
1. Research Your Destination and Stay Ahead of Danger
One of the first and most crucial safe travel tips is research. While danger and criminality can be lurking anywhere in the world, some destinations are much more dangerous than others. This makes it vital to do your research when planning any trip so that you can better understand the risks.
Investigate your intended destination online, including discovering if danger is more elevated in certain local areas or at certain times. Where possible, subscribe to live updates and travel advice, and monitor the local news so you’ll know if the situation on the ground changes. Whether traveling as a tourist or on a business trip, some locations may warrant a security risk assessment or professional support on arrival.
2. Create an Itinerary and Plan to Communicate With Loved Ones
Far too often, when we begin our work to find a missing US citizen abroad, we find that they didn’t communicate their most recent movements with their family or friends. This is a recipe for disaster if something untoward happens. In contrast, simple communication can dramatically increase your safety.
With this in mind, create an itinerary for your closest friends or family members and update it promptly if plans change. Communicate frequently, sharing details such as where you are staying and planned day trips, or even if something unusual has occurred.
3. Avoid Routine and Don’t Overshare Publicly
When it comes to safe travel tips, it doesn’t get more universal than oversharing on social media. Criminals are always on the lookout for those made vulnerable by routine behaviors. For example, a tourist who habitually takes a dark shortcut or visits the ATM at the same time each evening is an easy target for express kidnapping, a term that describes holding someone hostage and forcing them to withdraw money from their bank account.
You can protect yourself when traveling by mixing up your daily habits. You can also mitigate the risk of being targeted by keeping any social media or blog posts that share your location or plans private for as long as you’re in the area.
4. Prioritize Security and Backup Your Essentials
At times, a missing person abroad is simply someone who has lost all means of communication. When in an area with limited internet and cell phone coverage, losing your bag with documentation and financial means can be a crisis in the making.
This makes it pertinent to safely store essentials wherever possible and keep spare copies of travel documentation and ID in a secondary location. Keep valuables out of sight whenever around strangers and keep hard copies of crucial contact phone numbers.
5. Maintain Your Vigilance
Keeping your wits about you when traveling is always the strongest tactic when it comes to remaining safe. At times, this will mean choosing a better-lit street on the way home, while at others it will mean avoiding going out altogether.
Be vigilant about what’s going on around you, and if in doubt, refer to the old adage “If you feel threatened, leave. If in doubt, get out.” Always connect with those you trust if you feel unsafe traveling and consider reaching out to local police or your nearest US Embassy if you need urgent support.
What to Do If a Loved One is Missing Abroad
Whether you lose track of a traveling companion or grow concerned about a family member who is currently overseas, it is important to take any missing US citizen case seriously. Discover more about what can be done next on our free missing persons resource page, or reach out to the Lauth team if you would like the expert assistance of an international missing persons investigator.
If you’ve been following the fervent coverage of the missing person case of Gabby Petito, you’ll undoubtedly have heard about the disparity that occurs in missing person coverage in the media known as Missing White Woman Syndrome. Missing White Woman Syndrome is the cultural phenomenon in which stories about young white women receive the bulk of media coverage when it comes to missing persons. Other names associated with Missing White Woman Syndrome are Mollie Tibbets, Natalee Holloway, and Lauren Spierer—all young, beautiful white women who went missing under perilous circumstances. The high drama of their cases practically eclipses coverage of nonwhite missing persons, especially missing women of color. Petito’s case has reignited the national conversation around Missing White Women Syndrome, and prompted true crime fans to familiarize themselves with stories of missing women of color who have received a fraction of the media attention as Petito.
Modesto, California is incredibly familiar with high-profile missing person cases because it was the location of the Laci Peterson disappearance back in 2002. However, coverage of Susana Torres’ disappearance more than 3 months ago has not garnered national attention despite the harrowing circumstances of her disappearance. Susana remains missing after she disappeared from a grocery store parking lot in Stanislaus County, California back in April, 2021. Susana was kidnapped at gunpoint by her ex-husband, Javier Chavez, 41, who forced her into the car and drove off with their two young children in the back seat. Chavez reportedly dropped the children off at his mother’s house, then drove off with Susana in the car. She has not been seen since. Chavez is believed to have fled to Mexico, and investigators are currently working with the Mexican authorities to find him.
Few things exacerbate the urgency of a missing person search like the missing person carrying a child. Akia Eggleston was last seen on May 3, 2017 in the Inner Harbor area of Baltimore Maryland. At the time of her disappearance, she was eight months pregnant. She was reported missing on May 7, 20217, just a week before Mother’s Day, when she did not show up to her own baby shower. Despite the advanced stage of her pregnancy, and the circumstances of her disappearance, her case and all subsequent addendums to it have received little to no media coverage.
Nine-year-old Asha Degree disappeared more than 20 years ago in North Carolina. Her case shares details with Elizabeth Smart, but did not recieve the same level of coverage. Like Smart, Asha disappeared from her bedromo in the middle of the night between 2:30AM when her mother went to check on her, and 6:30AM when she went to wake her children for school. There were two eyewitness accounts from persons who claimed to have seen a young girl walking away from Asha’s home around 4:00 AM. Asha has not been seen since. The case remains an open investigation.
Lauren was a 30-year-old New Jersey teacher when she was last seen on Jun 28, 2021. She was last seen leaving a residence on foot in Yucca Valley, California. Lauren’s case shares many of the same details with Gabby Petito’s story—such as the fact that she had recently returned from a cross-country trip with her ex-boyfriend in a tour bus. She had been staying with the ex after they returned from the trip. Lauren’s case is just one of many that has gained new life since coverage of the Petito case escalated.
Missing child cases do get comparable media coverage to that of young white women, but this coverage very rarely includes children of color, like Sofia Juarez, who vanished in Kennewick, Washington in 2003. The circumstances of her case could have been clickbait fodder for nervous Facebook parents who share viral stories of attempted abductions by sex traffickers in the present day—but back in 2003 before the ubiquity of social media, it still did not receive ample media coverage at the time. Investigators have recently reported a credible witness account from a woman who claims she saw a toddler who matched little Sofia’s description being abducted by a young adolescent boy—a common tactic of sex traffickers. Investigators are continuing to follow all incoming leads.
Dulce Maria Alvez was also from New Jersey. She was just five years old when she disappeared from Bridgeton City Park while visiting with her mother after a trip for ice cream. Her disappearance was noticed when her younger brother informed their mother that he could not find Dulce. Investigators reported that Dulce may have been abducted by an unknown man who lured her into a red van. He was described as light-skinned, between 5’6” – 5’8”, with a thin build, no facial hair, and acne. Police said he was wearing orange sneakers, red pants, and a black shirt. Despite Dulce being placed on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list of missing children, her case remains largely unknown.
When a person goes missing, the onset of the investigation is already overwhelming for the family and loved ones of that missing person. Investigators who take the initial report need a cornucopia of information in order to get an idea of their schedule, their habits, and who they were close to in their lives. From there, investigators develop a plan for search and recovery of that missing person. One of the only things that could exacerbate these circumstances further is when a loved one goes missing abroad. International missing person investigations already require the cooperation of several entities that could be easily tied up in red tape. The apprehension associated with a strange country where you don’t speak the language and are not familiar with their legal system further compounds the panic that sets in when a loved one goes missing abroad. That’s why loved ones need to consult an international missing person investigator to ensure that no stone goes unturned.
Missing person investigations are inherently a tricky business. Though there are certainly observable patterns in missing person victimology, every case is different, and each case demands a unique approach. While a missing person report and investigation must be initiated with law enforcement, many families of missing persons will tell you that their local police or sheriff department was ill-equipped to handle the disappearance of their loved one. This could be due to a lack of labor, resources, or an overwhelming caseload for investigators. Regardless of the source of the issue, all roads lead to lost time in a missing person investigation. All missing person investigators will tell you that the first 48-72 hours of any missing person investigation are the most crucial, because that is the window of time when relevant witnesses and evidence are still fresh. Unfortunately, in the case of international missing person cases, the time in which it could take to properly facilitate the launch of a missing person investigation, these important leads could be lost. International investigations come with unique quirks depending on the country, but with regards to Americans who go missing abroad, families can expect to encounter problems with language barriers, lack of knowledge about the law enforcement systems in place, and general confusion when it comes to navigating the investigation.
One such case where an international missing person investigation faced similar issues was the case of Travis Sackett. Lauth Investigations International recently joined the search for the missing Batavia, New York man who went missing while travelling abroad in Ecuador back in February 2021. On the day of his disappearance, Travis was reportedly on his way to hike the nearby Imbabura Volcano. When he did not report to work the next morning on the farm where he had been working and living, his host reported him missing. In the initial stages of the investigation, searches for Travis by local law enforcement were very spaced out due to poor weather conditions, and valuable time was lost in the onset. Despite the crucial direction of local guides and the dedication of independent investigators, there have still been no answers in the search for Travis.
An international missing person investigator can run a concurrent investigation with local law enforcement into the disappearance of an American who goes missing overseas. While local law enforcement runs their protocol in missing person investigations, an independent investigator can turn over proverbial stones that law enforcement lacks the time or resources to investigate. If your family is struggling with a loved one who’s gone missing abroad, please reach out to Lauth Investigations International for a free consultation on how our missing person investigators can help you find answers.
There is an epidemic of people going missing in the United States that is on steady incline. It effects families across all classes, all races, all ideologies. Over 600,000 people are reported missing in the United States every year. Most of those reported missing are found not long after the onset of the investigation. However, that still leaves thousands of cases open and unsolved across the nation, with some jurisdictions having scant resources or inadequate experience to close those cases. On top of these shortcomings, some missing person cases will be inherently more difficult than others, typically because the missing person has some form of special needs. Whether the local authorities or an independent investigator is heading up the search, it’s imperative that they be able to mitigate the special circumstances of a missing person with special needs.
When we talk about a missing person with special needs, this can mean many different things. Missing people who have personal circumstances that would make the search atypical for investigators can be defined as special needs. The first thing that might come to mind is a missing person with intellectual disabilities or a person who requires the use of a wheelchair or crutches. However, they could also have a mental illness, have behavioral or personality disorder, or have external circumstances that would make their day-to-day life atypical, like houselessness or substance abuse. The investigator in charge must be well-versed in those issues, and consider them when developing a strategy for the missing person search.
While every missing person case will be unique in its own way, the early stages of most missing person investigations begin with similar approaches, typically by interviewing the family and getting as much information on the missing person as possible. Missing persons who do not have special needs will stick to routines that are in line with their careers, families, or interests—movements that are relatively easy to predict and deviations from these movements can be easily classified as suspect. When searching for a missing person with special needs, conclusions about these circumstances cannot be easily defined without further investigation. Lauth missing person investigators know the importance of keeping an open mind and an open ear in the early stages of a missing person investigation. Our missing person investigators give each case the unique attention it deserves.
When searching for a missing person with special needs, the families must have the consult of a responsive and communicative investigator. After all, the special circumstances of the case will need the guidance of the family in order to execute the search efficiently. Families must seek an investigator who will make regular progress reports, ask a great deal of questions, and take the anecdotal evidence of the family to heart when formulating a plan to find the missing person. At the conclusion of the investigation, that investigator will prepare a comprehensive report of all their findings for the family, answering all of the open questions in the case to the best of their ability, even when those findings may be difficult to hear.
Missing person investigators must also have a diverse recovery plan in place should the leads end in discovering the missing person’s location. The right missing person investigator will have the professionalism and humility to know when they are in over their head, and require the assistance of local law enforcement to assist in recovery efforts, particularly when the missing person has fallen victim to some form of human trafficking and is being held by volatile subjects. Whatever the precarious circumstances the case has led to, the best missing person investigators will always have contingency plans in place that prioritize the safe recovery of a missing loved one.
If you are missing a loved one with special needs, contact Lauth Investigations International today for a free quote on our missing person services. Lauth carries a glowing A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau and regularly receives 5-star reviews from our grateful clients. Call 317-951-1100 today or visit us online at www.lauthmissingpersons.com
Who would fake their own death? While we may find it hard to believe, it’s actually more common than we think.
To fake your death is also called pseudocide or a staged death is a case which an individual leaves evidence to suggest that they are missing or dead to mislead others. There could be a variety of reasons someone might choose to fake their death such as fraud to collect insurance money, those facing financial ruin, those wanting to evade police, or those who want out of a relationship. They all want to start a new life.
Pseudocide has been committed for centuries. Those who attempt this façade come from all walks of life, from ordinary citizens to authors, and even those in the corporate world. However, people that attempt pseudocide lack comprehension of the consequences, and lack knowledge of how to successfully carry their plan out.
To fake your death is not a crime, however, it is almost impossible to do it without breaking laws.
In 2014, Raymond Roth was sentenced for faking his own drowning at Jones Beach in a life insurance scheme and pretending to be a cop while attempting to lure a woman in Nassau County, New York.
He was sentenced to 2 to 7 years in prison and ordered to pay more than $36,000 in restitution to the Coast Guard and Nassau County Police.
On July 28, 2012, prosecutors said Roth was reported missing by his 22-year-old son Jonathan Roth who frantically called 911, saying his father had disappeared in the waters off of Jones Beach.
The 911 call triggered an intense water and air search costing thousands of dollars. No one witnessed Roth swim away and he was initually presumed dead due to drowning.
Prosecutors said in court that the father and son schemed to fake Roth’s death in hopes of cashing in over $400,000 in life insurance policies. The plan was Jonathan would file an insurance claim right away.
The plot was discovered when Roth’s wife, Evana, found emails between the father and son discussing the details of their plan.
Roth initially fled to Florida to hide out but was pulled over for speeding in South Carolina. In March of 2013, Roth plead guilty to conspiracy charges in the life insurance plot.
(Jonathan Roth was sentenced to a year in jail for helping his father fake his own death in Massapequa, New York.)
Roth’s son, Jonathan, apologized in court but was sentenced to a year in jail.
“Pseudocide isn’t inherently a crime,” said James Quiggle, director of communications for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud in Washington, D.C. “But it involves so many built in frauds that it’s virtually impossible to legally fake your own drowning. Frankly, you’ll only be drowing in fraud.”
“You may be stealing life insurance,” Quiggle continued. “Or your spouse is part of the con and files a false police report. You’re also avoiding a large variety of taxes, and defrauding lenders of your home and car. Then when you resurface with a new identity, you’re defrauding every government agency that processes your new identity—and old identity. And you’re defrauding new lenders if you buy a house or car under your new identity.”
Buying a “Death Kit” in the Philippines
As reported by Annabel Fenwick Elliott at Traveller.com, for $630 travelers can purchase a “death kit” complete with documents that “prove” your death. The process involves buying an unclaimed corpse from a morgue in the Phillipines.
One has to wonder if it is even possible to disappear anymore. Our every move is monitored by the National Security Agency, closed-circuit TV, phones transmitting our location, drones, even friend tagging us on Facebook.
Elizabeth Greenwood, an American author of “Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud,” was one of those people. In 2013, Greenwood was 27 years old and burdened with a six-figure student debt.
Greenwood initially went to a man named Franki Ahearn. Ahearn resembled a biker and has the word “Freedom” tattooed across his shoulders. Mr. Ahearn told Greenwood that he helps people disappear, not fake their own death because it is illegal to file official paperwork about a fictitious death, but legal to disappear.
In 2013, Greenwood “died” in the Philippines as a tourist. Several people witnessed her crash in a rental car into another vehicle in Manilla on a busy road. Doctors at the hospital there pronounced Greenwood dead on arrival. At least that’s what her death certificate says.
In reality, Greenwood is alive and living in New York working as a journalist.
“I’m dead on paper, but still kicking in Brooklyn,” Greenwood said.
Why did she do it?
Greenwood began thinking about making herself disappear after she had told a friend about her school debt and they responded in jest that she should just disappear.
“I began poking around online and discovered that death fraud truly is an industry with a whole host of experts and c onsultants to help you go through with it,” said Greenwood. “And there are far more people than you might imagine who had done it themselves, with varying degrees of success,” she added.
She decided she wanted to research the subject.
Why they do it in the Philippines
“In my early research, I dug up a 1986 Wall Street Journal article that quoted a representatives from Equifax insurance saying, ‘In one Southeast Asian country, there’s a private morgue that picks up dead derilicts, freezes the bodies, and sells them for insurance puposes.’ I found this totally intriguing , bizarre, and macabre,” Greenwood told Traveller.com.
Greenwood decided to work with two private investigators who consult for life insurance companies.
“Again and again, they named the Philippines as a hotbed for the kind of theatrical death fraud that involves false corpses,” Greenwood said. “They snigg out life insurance fraud all over the globe—it is attempted everywhere—but they told me some memorable stories about cases they’s worked on in the Philippines, so I wanted to checki it out myself.”
What is the cost?
The cost can vary widely. Generally it costs anywhere from $180 to $630, but it can cost some up to $36,000 to hire a professional fixer to have a professional fixer erase their past and create a new identity.
What does the cost include?
Greenwood stayed in the Philippines for a week, and while there, found some locals who obtained her death certificate from an infiltrator who worked in a government agency.
Greenwood never broke any law by filing the documents with the US Embassy.
Do they need a body to pull this off?
“If you are trying to cash in on a life insurance policy—obviously you’d need an accomplise to make the claim for you—you need a body, since without one most companies will wait seven years before paying out the claim,” Greenwood tell Traveller.com.
In black market morgues, one would need a death certificate, autopsy repport, police reports, a medical report and witness testimony.
Some may go as far as having a funeral for their decedent and filming it to submit to the insurance company, but unessesary.
What if a person just wants to disappear?
“If you’re not committing life insurance fraud, you needen’t go through all the extra trouble, Greewood said. “Staging a more open-ended, elegant excape, like disappearing while on a hike, usually looks more believable to investigators.”
Petra Pazsitka was presumed dead since 1985, and missing for twenty years without ever breaking any laws. German authorities discovered her alive in 2015. The only thing she was penalized for was failing to register herself alive.
As for risks Greenwood took to research her book, “In my case, I wanted to go through the motions to see what it felt like to obtain these documents,” she said. “Filing would’ve been illegal. Obtaining them? I’m not sure, and I’m glad I never found out. But I’m not going to lie, I was definitely nervous flying back to the States with my own death certificate in my backpack.”
Is faking one’s death happening more frequently?
Fraudulently dying happens frequently and Greenwood saw an increase in cases in 2008, when the United States suffered a financial collapse.
“I think it will always happen. People will always look for a way out,” Greenwood told Traveller.com.
It may be easier now because there are more ways such as buying documents on the Philippines or finding a source on the deep dark web, or finding a pravicacy consultant to help.
“But the reason people get caught is time-proof and universal. They just can’t cut ties to their old lives.
Modern day Sherlock Holmes
Thomas Lauth, the CEO of Lauth Investigations International, is a modern day Sherlock Holmes. A private investigator since 1994, Lauth specializes in finding missing persons.
(Thomas Lauth has been a private investigator for over 25 years and works with his team o0f private eyes to solve missing person cases.)
“Sometimes people want to commit pseudocide to reboot their life,” Lauth said.
The work private investigators do is very different than what is depicted on television. It is often 90% routine and can be very boring, but the remaining 10% is filled with surveillance and work in the field making up for that, many investigators say.
Lauth has worked on hundreds of missing person cases due to foul play, homeless due to mental illness or drug addiction, people with dementia, missing children and human trafficking cases, and those Lauth refers to as maliciously missing, who disappear on their own accord.
“People who commit pseudocide or go maliciously missing, are mostly men but I’ve seen an increase in cases that involve women who are primarily escaping violence in their relationship,” Lauth says.
After accepting a case of a missing person, Lauth assigns an investigative team to work closely with the family of the missing person, develop theories, physical search site logistics, create comprehensive data on the missing person, flyer and press release creation, along with a social media presence to help raise awareness of the missing person.
The Lauth Investigations team works collaboratively with NGO’s, government social service agencies, local, state and federal law enforcement, and the local community.
Lauth has worked on over 30 cases of malicious missing or pseudocide cases during his career. “In my 25 years of conducting missing persons cases a number of my cases have been malicious missing adults. Adults who chose to change their life for various reasons from abusive spouse to wanting leave family and kids behind. Its unfortunate individuals choose this route as it can put families in so much pain missing their loved ones and thinking instead they are deceased.”
The development of crowd-funding platforms such as GoFundMe has elevated an individual’s ability to see their financial goals realized. Whether the goal is retaining support for a passion project, or simply garnering a smaller sum to pull through a financial crisis or emergency, crowd-funding is making it all possible. One type of campaign that is becoming more and more vital is GoFundMe campaigns for missing persons.
When a person is reported missing, law enforcement jumps on
the case to follow up on hot leads, interview witnesses, and gather evidence.
While these services are obviously a public service, it’s not uncommon for the
families of missing persons to also hire a private investigator to conduct a
tandem investigation with law enforcement. Private investigators possess a
level of autonomy and flexibility that law enforcement does not, and this can
further progress on the case. Unless the private investigator agrees to do the
investigation pro-bono, the investigation will need funding, and GoFundMe is
just one of the many platforms where an investigation can be crowd-funded.
Signing up for GoFundMe is completely free, and setting up a
campaign is blessedly easy. Here is a step-by-step guide to setting up a
GoFundMe for a missing person.
Choosing an email address
We all have that extra email address for spam and other platforms so we don’t clutter up our primary email inbox. However, in the case of a GoFundMe account, it’s always best to use a primary email address. GoFundMe allows you to use the email associated with your Facebook account for easier signup, but it’s imperative that you confirm that you still have access to that email address before you begin.
Creating your campaign
After setting up the account, the next step is very simple. Just select ‘start a new campaign.’ GoFundMe allows individual users to have as many as 5 active campaigns running simultaneously.
When deciding on campaign goals, it’s important to remain realistic. You want an attainable amount for your specific goal. While the proposed retainer may be different depending on the private investigation firm you plan to hire, $10,000 is always a good starting target sum. GoFundMe allows you to edit the goal of the campaign, increasing or decreasing the goal as needed.
Creating a campaign title is crucial, because it is often the first thing potential donors will see when they see the campaign on social media or another promotional platform. It must be 35 characters or less, so every letter counts.
You must decide if you’re raising funds as an individual or as a team. In the case of many missing person campaigns, the campaign will be created and managed by between 1-3 members of the missing person’s family. If you are a private investigation firm managing a crowd-funding campaign, you’ll want to select the option to raise funds as a team. Like many aspects of the campaign, these things can be edited after the creation of the campaign.
Adding a photo and a story
After you’ve agreed to GoFundMe’s terms and conditions, you’ll need to select a campaign image. In the case of a missing person, just like a poster, you’ll want to use a recent photo of the missing person, preferably smiling, and ideally in the outfit they were wearing when they were last seen. It’s also important that you include the same information you would include on a missing person’s poster, including their full name, physical description, any medical conditions, and the circumstances of their disappearance. GoFundMe denotes effective stories as ones that are incredibly descriptive and straightforward about why you are raising money and how the money will be spent. In the case of missing persons, these aspects are as straightforward as they come. Because of the potential for scams surrounding crowdfunding campaigns of all kinds, you’ll want to be transparent about your relationship to the missing person and the name of the investigating entity where the funds will go. The more personal you make the story, the more likely you are to receive a donation to the campaign.
Sharing the campaign
You’ve made the campaign, but it won’t incur donations by just sitting there—you have to share it. Social media is one of the greatest tools available in a missing persons campaign. Of all the social media platforms, Facebook yields one of the highest levels of exposure to social media users. Facebook also has an interface that is designed for sharing contact quickly and easily. Twitter is an excellent platform to get the name of your missing person trending under a hashtag and increase potential donations. Don’t’ forget Instagram, where the missing person’s photo will be prominent.
Continue to share
Social media is powerful, but you will only get out of it what you put into it. After the initial creation and sharing of the campaign, it’s important that you make a consistent, repetitive effort to share the campaign on all available platforms.