As much as we all hate to talk about it, crime happens in every city and every town in every state. It’s unfortunately part of living in a society with diverse groups of people. As true crime consumers, many of us think we’re more aware of potential dangers than other people. Perhaps we are, but there are still steps we can take to avoid becoming victims of crime ourselves.
Start of a New Series
I thought I’d start a new intermittent series about how to help prevent yourself from becoming a victim of crime, with perhaps an article a month with tips and preventative measures that you can take to protect yourself, your family, and your property. Don’t worry; this won’t interfere with the weekly posting schedule! New unsolved cases will keep coming out on Sundays.
Note that my goal is to help people avoid becoming a victim of crime in the first place. In a perfect world, we could all leave our doors unlocked all the time, never secure our valuable possessions, and walk late at night whenever and wherever we wanted to. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, and there are many predators and bad actors out there.
Additionally, these tips are not a fail-safe for all types of crime and criminals, but they can help keep you, your family, and your property safe. All that being said, here are some tips to help keep you from becoming a victim.
1. Trust Your Instincts
It may seem like a cliché, but it’s true. Your gut feeling can often be the most reliable tool for staying safe. It is the most complex creation of nature, and its early-warning-system or intuition is its most powerful asset in ensuring our own survival. I recommend Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear for reading to learn more about your instincts and how they work to protect you.
If you feel uneasy for any reason, don’t hesitate to leave the situation (if possible) or to reach out for help, even if you don’t detect any immediate danger. React quickly and take action to reduce your risk. Even if it may feel embarrassing or silly at times, it is always better to be safe than sorry.
Don’t Be Polite
Women especially are taught to be polite and not to offend people, to acquiesce to requests and demands. Criminals will often use this to their advantage, pushing boundaries to get closer in order to pursue their criminal intent.
Now, I’m not saying to go out and be rude to everyone around you. However, if someone is making you feel uneasy and/or uncomfortable, get out of that situation however you need to, even if it’s considered impolite. Here are some easy excuses to help get yourself out of a tricky situation quickly:
- “My mom’s calling me.” Put your cell phone up to your ear and walk away.
- “I’m late for a meeting at work and people are expecting me.”
- “I’m on my way to meet some friends and don’t want to be late!”
2. Lock Your Doors
This may seem obvious, but a lot of people fail to lock doors in their home or in their car. When I was living in North Carolina, there was a string of thefts in the nearby area. The thing that linked most the thefts together? The majority of the items stolen were stolen from unlocked cars: “In 62 percent of those instances, the car was unlocked, meaning these are highly preventable crimes.” People didn’t lock their car doors and all sorts of items were stolen, from cash to packages to firearms.
A locked door won’t stop every thief, but it will stop a lot of them. Many are just looking for a quick grab of items to sell off to a pawn shop, and it’s much easier to open an unlocked door than it is a locked one. Why bother smashing a car window (and potentially making noise to attract the whole neighborhood) when you can just as easily pick an unlocked car and steal from that one?
Still need more encouragement? Serial killer Richard Chase told investigators that he only entered homes that were unlocked since he viewed that as an invitation to come inside. Another serial killer, Richard Ramirez (The Night Stalker) also targeted homes that were unlocked. Lock your doors!
Home Safety: Lock Doors and Windows
It’s always important to be aware of your surroundings, but it’s especially important to take extra precautions when it comes to locking your doors at home. Use a solid core or metal door at entrance points and a heavy-duty deadbolt with a one-inch throw bolt. Make sure windows that have latches are locked, and invest in solid deadbolts for all doors.
Start with the front door and work clockwise around the entire inside of your home, finishing with the back yard, fence, and garage. Don’t forget to secure all sliding glass doors as well.
Car Safety: Don’t Leave Valuables in Your Car
No matter where you are, never leave valuables in your car or hide them. Thieves know exactly where to look for that extra set of keys or the items you have left behind.
Even if your car is locked, it is best to never leave valuables in there. However, sometimes leaving items in your car is unavoidable, so put them in the trunk, or at least out of sight. Remove portable electronic devices such as laptops, tablets, and cell phones from the scene completely as these are easy for thieves to grab and sell.
3. Listen Carefully
No matter which methods are used to protect yourself from crime, it is essential to always be aware of your surroundings. Listening carefully to your environment can help you identify any potential threats, even if you aren’t initially sure why you’re afraid of a certain sound. If something doesn’t sound or seem right, trust your instincts and take action to leave the situation safely.
If You’re a Victim
If you are a victim of a crime, listen carefully to the questions asked by law enforcement and reflect upon your feelings. Victim service providers can also provide support by listening carefully, speaking clearly, and asking open-ended questions. Many police departments have an Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) that offers resources to help victims of crime and provide educational materials on how to protect yourself from further harm.
4. Keep Personal Information Private
Identity theft and identity fraud are two of the most common crimes that can leave you feeling violated and vulnerable. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your personal information.
Start by keeping your important documents, such as your Social Security card and birth certificate, in a safe place like a locked fire safe or special tote for important papers. Don’t share personal information on social media (burglars can see dates you’ll be away if you post the days you’ll be out of town), and monitor your credit reports for any suspicious activity.
Avoid Internet Scams
Online and phone scams are becoming more and more common. Be aware of any online scams or frauds that may be targeting you. Do not click on links that have been texted to you by supposed “bank support staff.” Do not give out your two-factor authentication codes to anyone. And, of course, if something seems off or too good to be true, don’t take the risk.
5. Plan the Safest Route to Your Destination
It is important to plan the safest route to your destination, especially when walking. Choose well-lit and busy streets and avoid passing through parks, vacant lots, or unlit areas in places you aren’t familiar with. Main thoroughfares often have plenty of cameras and people around.
If you are walking alone, avoid wearing headphones or taking phone calls as robbers often target people they notice are distracted, not listening, or unaware of their surroundings. Being aware of your surroundings can help keep you from being the next victim.
6. Don’t Wear Expensive Jewelry or Carry Pricy Handbags
When going out, it’s essential to stay aware of your surroundings and take measures to protect yourself and your belongings. When it comes to jewelry and handbags, it’s best to leave the expensive items at home. Not only are they a target for thieves, but they can also draw unwanted attention.
Instead, stick with items that don’t stand out and that you don’t mind losing. To discourage theft, put wallets and purses away immediately after making a purchase, keep the bag in front of you while shopping or running errands, and try to get a specially designed “pickpocket-proof” bag or purse if you want added security.
7. Be Aware of Your Surroundings
It is important to stay aware of your surroundings and pay attention to even the small details, such as who is around you and what is going on in the area. Don’t be distracted by your phone, overburden yourself with packages or a bulky purse, and always remain alert to your surroundings.
Knowing your environment can help you take the necessary steps to prevent an attack. Be mindful of your surroundings: lock your doors and windows, don’t leave exterior building doors propped open, don’t let strangers into your residence, etc.
It may not be all that difficult to stand up straight, walk with determination, and be alert to your surroundings, but the challenge is to keep it up. Display an aware, confident attitude as attackers case out their victims and are less likely to choose someone who appears alert and aware. If at all possible, don’t walk alone at night or in unfamiliar areas.
8. Dress Down When Visiting Entertainment Districts
For those who live in or visit large cities, it is wise to dress down when visiting entertainment districts. Thieves know that entertainment districts often have people who are inebriated or otherwise less-aware of their surroundings which is why they target these areas. It’s easy to pickpocket or snatch a purse from someone who is distracted talking with their friends.
Keeping a low profile in busy public places can help reduce the risk of becoming a victim of crime. It is important to be aware of your surroundings and trust yourself. If you feel uncomfortable in a certain area, find a safer route or leave the area entirely.
9. Be Aware of Potential Offenders
Knowing the signs of potential offenders is an important step in avoiding victimization. If you are ever approached by someone who is acting suspiciously, it’s important to trust your instincts and stay away. If you feel like you’re in danger, alert the authorities or call for help.
The U.S. Department of Justice also provides information on how to recognize potential offenders on its official website. It’s important to remember that criminals can recognize and exploit our vulnerabilities, whether they are mental, emotional, physical, medical, or financial. Taking charge of your own safety is the best way to protect yourself from becoming a victim of crime.
Some serial killers went so far as to fake injuries like broken arms or legs to lull people into a false sense of security with them. Ted Bundy is one famous example of someone who faked injuries in order to get closer to his victims. They saw him as less of a threat because he had a cast on and, after they let their guard down, he murdered them.
10. Never Go to a Secondary Location
You’ve probably heard this piece of advice before, but it’s extremely important that you do not go to a secondary location with an assailant. The logic is that anything they will do to you in a public area is far less than if they get you alone where no one can hear you scream. Make them try something in public, where there are most likely security cameras, witnesses, and people who might help you.
Draw Attention to Yourself
Many assailants will back off if a victim is drawing too much attention to a scene. Be loud and yell at them to back off and yell for others around you to contact authorities. Put up a strong fight if they try to drag you into a car or down an alley — because it just might be a fight for your life. Go for the eyes with pepper spray or your fingers or anything else you have with you, and keep screaming for help.
These tips aren’t a panacea to avoiding all crimes, but they can help you and your family stay out of trouble in most situations. Remember to trust your instincts and be aware of your surroundings. You never know when being vigilant just might save you or your property.