Following up on an earlier ASG article about counter-surveillance, acknowledging and identifying that you’re indeed being watched is just the first step to defeating those tracking your every move. The more important follow-up questions are: how can you really be sure there’s someone following you, and if so, what do you do about it?
In this article, we show you what to do in case you find yourself a target of stalkers.
Yes, You CAN Become a Target
You may think that you’d have to be someone rich, famous or working in a “dangerous” job (such as military, intelligence or law enforcement) to become a stalker’s target, but this is a myth. As long as you have something of value or engage in any activity that puts you in contact with other people, you can still become a magnet for all manner of undesirable individuals or groups.
What you think of yourself isn’t the issue; you could be a target for reasons you may not even be aware of. They could be out to get back at you for something you may have done to them or someone close to them or for something you posted online that unknowingly offended them. You may have dated and rejected someone with a history of mental illness you didn’t know about. You might just fit the exact type of victim that a certain serial killer likes. You could be randomly picked by thieves, and they’re tailing you to see what valuables they can take from you. It could even be as simple as you being the “right” victim for a felon, and you just happened to be at the right place at the wrong time.
Whatever the reason you were “picked” as a target, it’s important you acknowledge this possibility and thus adjust your self-awareness accordingly. Don’t overthink or debate with yourself why you could be stalked; instead, focus on confirming your suspicion. If it turns out to be a false alarm, it’s better to have been hyper-aware instead of being lulled into a false sense of safety.
When confronted with this possible scenario, do the following steps:
1. Trust Your Instincts
Don’t waste time thinking about why you think you’re being followed and focus on confirming your suspicions. Practice situational awareness, and calmly assess your situation. If a “funny feeling” that you’re being followed persists, trust your gut and be on the lookout for things that seem to be out of place, as anything out of the ordinary could well be a sign that you do indeed have someone tailing you. Be observant, and keep your eyes peeled for these possible “signs”:
- Repetition: You notice the same person or vehicle in your vicinity multiple times during the course of your day, or commuters who embark and disembark from public transportation at the same stops as yours
- Suspicious behavior: You notice other diners at a restaurant who get up and leave after you without ordering or without finishing their meal, or who outright don’t order anything. At the park, it could be joggers who take an unusually long time to stretch out near you.
- Out of place attire: People who are too covered up especially in indoor environments (hoodies, glasses and ball cap combinations)
- Shifty eye contact: Someone who pretends to be reading the paper or browsing their phone, but keeps looking your way
Members of the intelligence community are taught that the way to differentiate a mere coincidence from someone who’s intentionally following you is to remember this rule of thumb:
- One time is an accident.
- Two times is a coincidence.
- Three times is an enemy action.
Should you notice that one person or vehicle turns up at least three times in the course of your day, that’s not by chance. Odds are they’re following you.
2. Confirm your suspicions
If you are more convinced that you’re being followed, there are measures you can do to check if you’ve really picked up a tail. Here’s what you do:
- Calm yourself and avoid fidgeting or getting shaky hands. Count to 10 and take slow deep breaths. Looking nervous could alert your stalker that you’re aware of their presence and cause them to take off or become more cautious in following you.
- If you’re on the street, keep walking. You can check if anyone’s following you by glancing at the side-view mirrors of parked vehicles, or the glass windows of stores you walk past.
- If you notice anyone tailing you, hail a taxi, take it around the block, then get out. Did someone do the same as you, or did a vehicle follow you on your short ride?
- Walk normally on your usual route, then pat your pockets like you forgot your keys. Do an about-face and go back the way you came. Did you see anyone suddenly turn around or go another direction? Do this also to get a good look at anyone who might actually be stalking you. You can describe their appearance later (see related section below)
- If you’re in your vehicle, look at your rearview mirror occasionally; watch for the same vehicle/s by noting their color, headlights and make and model. Circle a city block or get on a roundabout and go all the way around until you end up in the same road you started from. Did any vehicle stay on your tail?
- Also, if you’re driving, activate your turn signal and keep driving straight. Did the vehicle behind you use their turn signal to indicate the same direction as yours, and did they continue to drive straight as well?
If you’ve tried any of the above measures and you’ve seen at least one person or vehicle consistently follow you despite your irregular movements, then “congratulations”, you’ve just confirmed that you’ve got a stalker. Before making your next move, stay calm and avoid making up worst-case scenarios in your head. It warrants repeating that you shouldn’t concern yourself with why anyone might be following you and don’t worry yourself about what their next move could be.
A very important aspect of defeating your stalker is to get enough information on them so you can make a detailed description when you report the incident to the authorities. If you can only gather info on them by sight, take note of the following important details when you describe your stalker:
- Hair color
- Eye color
- Height – Make an approximation of their height by taking note of how they compare to surrounding objects when you saw them (e.g. Was he a lot taller or not much taller than the street signs or parking meters?).
- Build – Were they muscular, lanky or overweight?
- A limp or unusual way they moved
- Age range
- Distinctive markings like tattoos or scars
- Clean or dirty-looking
- Clean-shaven, or a beard and/or moustache
- Spoke English or other language, as well as possible accent
3. Gather Information
While on foot, you should take this opportunity to get a good look at your stalker. If you did the “pretend you forgot your keys” move and turned around, get a good look and take note of your stalker’s appearance. Filter out the unnecessary details like clothing, as these can always be changed; focus on your stalker’s physical features (see sidebar above).
If on foot:
- Use your phone’s camera and take a photo, or better yet, make a video of them. Narrate any details like, “This person was following me today. I saw them at the café, then in line at the store, and he’s here again.”
- If you’re in a public place and you’re feeling confident, confront them politely. Walk up to them and ask, “Can I help you?” or “What do you want?” By doing this, you’re making it clear that you’re alerted to their presence and you take away their “element of surprise”. Do this only if you’re prepared for any attacks, and there are a lot of people who can be witnesses or come to your aid.
- If you can only see a vehicle following you, get as much information on it as you can; remember or take a photo of the vehicle and its license plate with your phone’s camera.
4. Take Evasive Maneuvers
Now that you’re certain you’re being followed, don’t make the mistake of giving them exactly what they want – cornering you in a place where you can’t run or call for help. Remain alert and aware of your surroundings and avoid blundering into a secluded area. Stay in well-lit areas where there are a lot of people. You can evade your stalker and seek safety in a number of ways:
- Go to a familiar area that’s public and populated. Crowds may not deter them from following you, but they’re less likely to do anything drastic in a crowded public area.
- Use the subway, bus or other public transportation and get on the vehicle at the very last second to lose your stalker. Do this if you’re very familiar with the departure times of the mode of transportation.
- If you’re driving, mentally map out your route or use your GPS to get out of the area. Avoid any intersections as these are the perfect spots for getting abducted, and never stop at a parking lot.
- When driving, don’t let yourself get boxed in by leaving some “maneuvering space” between you and the vehicle in front of you. Keep your distance such that you can see the bottom of the wheels of the vehicle in front. This will give you the ability to veer away and step on the gas if you suspect your stalker is getting too close for comfort. Drive to a well-lit, populated area to discourage any attacks and have as many witnesses as possible, or search for the nearest police precinct and immediately pull into the station’s lot.
5. Don’t Go Home
After you’ve gotten away from anyone following you, don’t go home just yet. Head straight for the nearest police station and report the incident. If you go home, you’ll only write off the experience and you could give away your home address as he may have associates you don’t know about who can also follow you.
6. Report Your Stalker
Once you’re sure you were stalked, go to the police. Give as detailed a description of the individual and/or their vehicle as possible. If you were quick enough to take a photo or video, show these to the police as well. Be sure to go through the process of making the report and ask to be updated on your case. Stay vigilant and repeat the steps above if the stalker turns up again, and make sure have some self-defense items as part of your EDC.
No one can avoid or foresee whether you may become the target of a stalker, whether it’s a jilted ex-lover, disgruntled ex-employee, a would-be thief that picked you out of the crowd or even someone you inadvertently offended on social media. Remember that stalking in itself is considered a serious crime, and the best you can do to if you’re a victim of it is, as always, keep your wits about you and carefully get enough info on your stalker. Don’t try any heroics and confront any stalker yourself, especially in a secluded spot, even if you think you can “fight” them; they may not be operating alone and could be using this “stalking” tactic to bait you into a trap or ambush. Your best and safest course of action is to get info on them, disengage and report anyone stalking you to the authorities.