Ex-mob girl Arlyne Brickman was an informant for the FBI on several members of the Mafia. She refused to participate in the Witness Protection Program.

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You've seen it in movies. The abused wife fakes her own death and starts over in a new town. A mob informant gets set up in the Witness Protection Program. Someone steals your identity, wreaks havoc on your life and forces you to become someone else. Changing your identity and starting over is a common motif in books and movies. But is it possible to do so in real life?

The quick answer is that no, you can't completely erase your identity in this day and age -- unless the government does it for you. Legally changing your name isn't too difficult. Legally changing your Social Security number (SSN) is possible as well, but only under certain circumstances. But even if you do change your name and SSN, the system will still have records that link the "new" you to the "old" you.

So who would want to erase their identity anyway? Probably a lot of people. Maybe you've acquired a large amount of debt and think an identity change will allow you to escape your creditors. Sadly, this isn't the case -- you'll be found out eventually. Perhaps you really are a victim of abuse or identity theft and it's the only option. These are two reasons the government recognizes as legitimate.

There are many services advertising on the Internet that claim to be able to change your identity completely and provide you with the supporting documentation. A little investigation reveals that these are mostly scams. They'll take your money and send you a bad fake ID or issue the same set of documentation to multiple customers. In the old days, paper tripping was an illegal, but real, way to change your identity. In a paper trip scam, one would find the gravestone of an infant that was born around the same time and assume his or her identity. You could even get an I.D. card after you provided a forged birth certificate. Modern computer record keeping has rendered this shady practice obsolete.

Your best bet if you want to erase your identity and start over is to change your name legally, move far away, take up a different profession and start a new life. You can even create a new persona -- from the way you dress to your accent and gait.

In this article, we'll look at the legal ways to change your name and Social Security number.