Almost everybody undergoes a certain type of investigation in their lifetime. Whether it involves credit, a job, or a business transaction. One time or another to a greater or lesser degree, everybody has experienced being scrutinized, sometimes even unknown to them.
Although most investigations are not very rigorous, it is fairly easy to turn up enough information (or the lack thereof) to spot a completely fictitious identity. For example, a prospective father-in-law runs a check on a his daughter's suitor, and turns up with no records of the person's past. That would be quite alarming.
This is why although it is possible to fabricate an identity from scratch, and many people have done it successfully, it is extremely more difficult. In many cases, manufactured identities have lots of holes and may easily fail any investigation compared to a genuine identity used by an imposter. This is why people who want to change their identity, do so by looking for a good one to assume.
ASSUMING A LIVING IDENTITY
While it is important to build your documentation on a genuine identity, it is a mistake to assume the identity of another living person. Many small time criminals have made this mistake and it has cost them a trip back to jail. They lift a guy's wallet or find some credit cards while engaged in a robbery and go on a coast-to-coast spending spree. Maybe they just use the guy's ID and don't try to spend his money. But what they seem to forget is someone out there has an interest in locating them and putting a halt to their charade: the guy whose identity they copped. And if the theft is reported the police may be looking for someone using the victim's identity.
Of course, there are imposters who have a definite need to appropriate a specific person's identity. Even then, it is very tricky to collect documentation to support the hoax. The imposter might find himself explaining to the authorities how he managed to get a duplicate drivers license after the speeding ticket he received was traced to a man who wasn't even in town that day. The imposter's request for a copy of "his" birth certificate will leave a paper trail that's easy enough to follow. And a duplicate passport, if discovered, could lead to serious trouble.
When the State Department realizes it has issued passports to two different people with the same exact name and vital statistics, the shit is going to hit the fan! One passport is going to be revoked, and there are lots of places in the world where being without that litle blue book could literally be a fate worse than death. Of course, it would be difficult for the State Department to cause a traveler much trouble because there are no records kept of the exact whereabouts of U.S. passport holders. The real trouble would come when the imposter tried to enter the U.S. again or renew the passport.
Then there is the danger of crossing trails with the rightful holder of your assumed identity. The chances of this are not as slight as they may seem when you include all the people who know the original person well and might take more than passing notice of the "coincidence" of names. We've all heard of the "doctor" who finds himself behind bars after the "real thing" discovers the impersonation and blows the whistle. While there may be persons who have a need to appropriate the identity of a living individual, it is decidedly a mistake for a disappearee.
In the unlikely and unwise event that the identity of another living person is assumed, it should be that of someone who is totally undistinguished and unremarkable. Doctors, lawyers, or any other professional or official persons are so thoroughly documented that the likelihood of an imposter being spotted increases dramatically. It would be much better to assume the identity of an ordinary Joe Doakes who makes his living taking the hides off dead cows or repairing golf carts.
RESURRECTING THE DEAD
If you aren't fortunate enough to have a built-in second identity, the best way to get an identity is to use one that no one needs anymore: the identity of someone that's died. One of the beautiful things about the United States is that there's very little correlation between birth and death records. The official papers on births and deaths are kept in the smallest political subdivisions, such as towns, cities and counties. There is no central federal agency that keeps tabs on all this information. And the rules and regulations on recording births and deaths differ from state to state.
Because a great many people die without enough documentation on them to establish their place of birth, there are a huge number of identities that can be appropriated simply by finding their birth place and getting a copy of their birth certificate. Chances are that you will be able and willing to do a more thorough job of researching the deceased's identity than the bureaucrats who handled the official paperwork when he died. Let's look at some of the ways to find the right corpse.
A friend that you went through the service with, and that either died in combat or is "missing in action" is an excellent choice. You probably know a fair amount about his life to help you back up your new identity. Since he died outside the United States, there is a good chance his death was not officially registered in the town where he was born. This method is even better if your buddy never got around to getting a Social Security card, but there are ways to resolve that problem.
For many of the same reasons, the friend who died as a child is as good a choice as the war buddy. You may know a great deal about your childhood friend's early life that will help support your ruse. If he died in a city other than the one he was born in, chances are there are no records of his death in his hometown.
If you can't think of someone you know personally that died in youth, you can cruise the graveyards in any town looking at the tombstones. These usually give the deceased's original name, date of birth and date of death. Sometimes they include the names of the parents and the place of death, which only make it easier to then get the ID you need.
A logical place to look for an identity is the obituary columns of newspapers. These are particularly good sources in small towns and rural areas because there are fewer obits to wade through, and because they usually give much more detail about the deceased's family, age, place of birth and death, and reason for death. You can then investigate anyone of the proper age who was born in a distant city.
Another item to look for is newspaper accounts of disasters like plane crashes, train derailments, volcanoes, tidal waves, fires, etc. Many times the papers will give a list of those who died in such accidents. If the death happened outside of U.S. territory then there is almost no chance that the individual's birth records have been connected with the death.