What to do if you're being followed

With Halloween upon us, now is as good a time as any to discuss what to do if you find yourself with a tail. While not so much a privacy topic, knowing what to do in this frightening situation is certainly a personal safety issue and something everyone should know how to handle. As with most topics I discuss, few people think they have anything to worry about and find little reason to concern themselves with the possibility of needing to know what to do in this scenario. Unfortunately, this is far more common than you might think.

Why would anyone want to follow you in the first place? If you're not a fugitive from justice, you're probably asking yourself the same question right now. The truth is, you may find yourself being followed for any number of reasons. Perhaps you or your significant other have a crazy ex out to get you. Maybe you cut someone off in traffic or offended some crazy guy sitting at the next table at lunch.

Even more seriously, maybe you're wrapped up in a nasty divorce or other legal battle and a private investigator or detective is keeping an eye on you and your activities. Then again, maybe a mugger has decided you look weak, clueless, and easy to pick off. No matter your tail's motive, you should always prepare for the worst case scenario and presume your follower is intent on causing you some type of harm.

Prevention

Obviously, the best thing to do in any bad situation is not let yourself get caught in the situation in the first place. A stalker, crazy ex, private investigator, etc will count on predictability. Humans are surprisingly predictable creatures and frequently fall into a daily routine without ever noticing. This routine makes it easy for an adversary to predict your next move and makes it much easier to follow you and spot deviations from this pattern.

For starters, mix up your routine. When I travel anywhere I mix it up and take a different route each time. Even when driving around my own town, I mix up my route and take different roads each time. I go out to eat at different places at different times on different days. I never let myself fall into a predictable pattern. This makes it practically impossible to know where I will be, when I will be there, and how I will get there. And for the love of all that is good and holy, don't tell the world where you're going on social media!

Are you being followed?

Before you can take action, you must determine for certain if you are being followed. The intelligence community follows a basic rule of thumb:

  • One time is an accident
  • Two times is a coincidence
  • Three times is enemy action

If you have a set routine, it's likely that you'll see the same people at the same places at the same times on the same days. After all, humans are creatures of habit. If you see someone who looks out of place or see the same person in more than two places, you're likely being followed. Luckily, there are a few ways to confirm this:

If you're walking on foot, try to mix up your routine - go somewhere else instead of where you would normally go. If the person follows you, repeat this tactic. If the same person is still with you, it's time to take action.

If you're in a car in the city, make four consecutive right turns. Nobody does that in the course of a normal day. If you still see the same car, you're definitely being followed.

If you're driving down the highway, take an off-ramp and immediately return to the highway, going the same direction as before. Again, nobody drives like this unless they're following you/

Take Action

So you're definitely being followed. You were suspicious. You took evasive precautions, and you've confirmed that you are being followed. Now, it's time to do something about it. Most importantly, you need to know what NOT to do:

  • Do NOT panic
  • Do NOT go home

Panic is a natural response for most people. However, in order to effectively remove yourself from the situation, you must keep a clear head. Fight the urge to panic and remember what you've learned. Also, you don't want to let your adversary know where you live, so resist the urge to go home and hide.

Losing your tail, if possible, is the best course of action. If you're on foot, hop on a public bus or subway at the last second or find a large crowd of people and start walking through them, trying to blend in. Cut around corners in a crowd, duck into a crowded elevator or other location. Whatever you do, be sure to keep your wits about you and do not put your immediate safety at risk. Be aware of auto traffic and other hazards while you try losing your tail. If you're driving, attempt to lose your tail by darting through an intersection as the light turns red. Use roads with lots of stop signs. These roads will give you more options and opportunities to use to your advantage. At any rate, never, under any circumstances, attempt to beat a train to a railroad crossing as a way to lose your tail. If you fail, you will have much bigger problems to worry about.

At any rate, if you're being followed, try gathering as much information about your tail as possible - physical description of the person such as height, weight, skin color, clothing, etc. - as well as the description of any vehicle they're driving such as make, model, color, any defects such as a specific light being burnt out, etc. Scoring a license plate is an excellent win as well.

While I personally prefer to avoid involving the police in matters, this is one exception to the rule (unless, of course, the police are the ones tailing you). If you've failed to shake your tail, or you feel threatened, your best course of action is to call a friend to pick you up or call the police. You can also drive to your local law enforcement agency as well. Oftentimes, a tail will break off their pursuit at this point to avoid interacting with the police. Give the police whatever information you have about your tail and let them handle the situation. Follow their advice and directions.

If you're feeling ballsy and you're in a public place with lots of people around, you can confront your follower. The best way to do this is simply ask if there's anything you can do for them. Don't be confrontational but let them know you're on to them. Only those with legal reason to follow you (detective or other law enforcement agent) would continue to pursue you after a confrontation.

Again, the best way to handle being followed is to avoid being followed in the first place. If you have someone you trust, let them know where you'll be when you're out an about. You'll have greater peace of mind knowing somebody knows where you are and can help you out if you find yourself in a bad situation.

Happy Halloween boys and ghouls! Stay safe out there!