Researching The Millionaires

By Brad Meltzer

Ever play hide and seek? How good are you at hiding? Could you do it for a week? A month? What about for the rest of your life? Do you think you could stay hidden when the Secret Service, private investigators, and your employer are all looking for you?

Those were the questions I started with when I began my research for The Millionaires. To find the answer, I contacted a private investigator, gave him just my name, and said, “Find out everything you can about me.”

Within five seconds, he had my social security number. Ten seconds after that, he found my home address. And since his computer programs automatically add and subtract one digit from my street address, he also found all my neighbors. And not just from where I live now—he found neighbors from my first apartment in Washington, DC, to all the places I’d lived in college, to the building where I grew up in Brooklyn. From there, he found my parents’ and my sister’s social security numbers and addresses, and all of their neighbors. The web kept getting wider—soon he had dozens of people to talk to about me.

Within ten minutes, he had my unlisted telephone number, my former employers, the balances on my credit cards, even the fact that, according to my driver’s license, I need glasses. Bank accounts and phone records were even easier. And when the investigator went way back, he found that I once wore a skirt to high school. (The air-conditioning had broken down and I was protesting the rule that boys weren’t allowed to wear shorts.) We all think we’re anonymous. Not anymore.

Think it’d be different for you? Before you answer, think for a second about your garbage. That’s right—your trash. Dumpster Diving is what investigators call it, and the best ones know exactly how to read your life by what you throw away: There’s some discarded organic radicchio lettuce in the trash? You’re a person of particular tastes, and can clearly afford the more expensive greens. Under that is a wrapper for a pound of supermarket turkey. You buy the higher-priced, honey roasted namebrand—again, you’re not straped for cash. There’re pizza boxes, Chinese takeout containers, lots of packaging. You can afford to order out. There’s a wrapper for Tampax. You’ve got a girlfriend. But there’s only one wrapper. She’s not sleeping over. There’s a People magazine in there too—check out the subscription label—bam—now they have your girlfriend’s address as well. Go bring her in—that’s someone else to speak to.

And it doesn’t stop there. When you go to a restaurant, do you know who owns the electronic machine they swipe your credit card through? When you’re at the supermarket, do you use a discount shopping card? Or most important, when you make a phone call, do you know who can see every number you dial?

Everyone says Big Brother is coming. But the truth is, he’s been here for years. The Millionaires may be a work of fiction, but the research is all real. When Charlie and Oliver—the two brothers who are the heroes of the book—go on the run, you’ll see every sneaky little trick that investigators and law enforcement use to find them. You’ll step inside the elite world of private banking, where clients have to have a $2 million minimum just to open an account. You’ll find out how to really hide money from the government. And you’ll even see where the secret tunnels are below Disney World.

What would you steal if you couldn’t get caught? And where would you hide? As the chase begins, Charlie and Oliver quickly realize it’s not always easy being The Millionaires. Ready or not, here they come.

Brad Meltzer
Washington, DC
December 10, 2001