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What to Do If You’re Being Followed

You arrive at your favorite coffee shop in the ‘burbs and notice a guy in a green baseball cap standing behind you. You give him a friendly nod and go back to looking at the menu.

While you’re taking a bite from your Arby’s roast beef sandwich during your lunch break downtown, you notice that same guy in the green ball cap at a table outside. “Huh. Small world. What a coincidence,” you think to yourself.

Work is over, and you roll up to the gym to get your sweat on. While you’re walking to the entrance, you glance over and see Mr. Green Baseball Hat sitting in a car in the parking lot.

You get the sinking feeling that this third spotting isn’t a coincidence and that maybe this guy is following you.

What do you do?

Why Would Someone Follow You?

Unless you’re a criminal or suspect in some crime, you probably think you don’t have to worry about being followed.

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But even if you’re a law-abiding citizen, there’s a chance you could be followed at some point in your life by people who’d like to do you harm: an angry employee that you had to fire; a crazy ex; friends and family of said crazy ex; an unstable person you unintentionally offended at church; a weirdo you met once at a party who is now obsessed with you; the guy you accidentally cut off in traffic three miles back; a thief who’s decided you’re a good mark. The list goes on.

There’s also a chance you might be followed by a private investigator due to a divorce, custody battle, or other litigation you’re involved in. If that’s the case, you want to provide as little information to the PI as possible to avoid inadvertently giving your legal opponent fodder that somehow helps their case.

The chances of these kinds of people following you are slim. But if you do find yourself in this situation, it’s good to have a plan on what to do.

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure: How to Be Less Followable

If you don’t want someone following you, the best thing to do is to make yourself less “followable” in the first place. Stalkers, PIs, or people who want to do you harm count on the fact that you have a set routine that they can easily follow along with. You subtract that advantage, and make yourself less of an easy target, by making your schedule less predictable. If you can, mix up how you get to work throughout the week. Don’t go to the same places on the same days and at the same times.

Also, don’t broadcast your whereabouts on social media. Turn off location services that indicate where you’re posting from. Would-be stalkers will check this info so they can pinpoint your movements.

How Do You Know If Someone is Following You?

You’d be surprised how easy it is to tail someone without them knowing, as most people aren’t paying attention to their surroundings. So the first step to figuring out if you’re being followed is to start keying in on what’s going on around you. Maintain situational awareness while you’re out and about and establish baselines. What’s normal for the situation or environment you’re in?

Once you’ve established baselines, pay attention to possible anomalies. Is someone looking at you more than is normal and making an unusual amount of eye contact? Does a car you don’t recognize keep driving by your house? Has someone been showing up to your favorite coffee shop who doesn’t fit the typical crowd? These are anomalies and should put you on the alert that someone might be following you.

One anomaly to register is seeing the same person, in three different places. Ex-CIA officer Jason Hanson gives this rule of thumb used in the intelligence community:

One time=an accident

Two times=a coincidence

Three times=enemy action

In addition to noting anomalies, pay attention to your gut feelings. You’ll often intuitively know when something is wrong.

Then, if you experience those uncomfortable feelings, try to confirm them. How you do so will differ as to whether you’re in a car or on foot.

In a Car

If you suspect someone is tailing you in a car, you can confirm it by doing the following:

1. If you’re on city streets, make four right turns. If the car is still behind you after the fourth turn, they’re probably following you. Most people don’t travel in circles around city blocks.

2. If you’re on the freeway, get off and then immediately get back on. If you can still see the car in your review mirror, you’re probably being followed. Just as most people don’t travel in circles on city streets, most people don’t get off and then right back on a freeway.

You can also get over to the right lane of the highway, and slow down to 15 miles or so below the speed limit. All the cars behind you will soon pass by. If the one you’ve had your eye on doesn’t, it’s almost assuredly following you.

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