(By Daisy Luther) Imagine this conversation with a stranger in line at the grocery store.
- Stranger: Your daughter is so cute!
- You: Thank you, her name is Jane. She’s 3 years old.
- Stranger to Jane: Hi, Jane! Do you have any brothers and sisters?
- You: She sure does. We’re on our way to John Smith Private Elementary School next to pick them up.
- Stranger: Oh, my niece goes to John Smith. But it’s such a long drive for her parents, in the middle of that industrial area. They’re over in the Springside neighborhood.
- You: We live closer – we’re just in Autumnside. Well, nice talking to you! I have to run.
You go out to your car and unlock it with your key that has your bright blue health club membership card on the keychain. As you’re loading the groceries in, the stranger has purchased the individual item and walked past your vehicle, waving at Jane who is still sitting in the cart.
On the back of the car window is your stick figure family of a mom, 3 kids, and a cat. One stick figure child is on ice skates and the other has a soccer ball. You also have a sticker on your car for, let’s say, Beto O’Rourke or Kamala Harris.
What did they learn about you?
This seems like an innocuous encounter and it might be. But what if it wasn’t? What if the stranger was a criminal looking for his or her next victim?
- Your child’s name
- Where your older children go to school
- What activities your children attend
- What neighborhood you live in and whatever that implies about your socioeconomic status
- That you’re a single mom
- Where you go to the gym
- You probably don’t have a gun based on your political ideology
This is a dangerous amount of information and makes it pretty easy to find you again.
If there are only one skating rink and one soccer field in your area, it wouldn’t be hard to manipulate another “accidental” meeting. You’ll be at the school during drop-off and pick-up. You’ll probably go to the gym while the older children are at school and put Jane in childcare. It’s just a matter of watching the entrance for a few days to figure out your pattern. Jane, at 3, may feel like the stranger is safe since Mommy had a pleasant conversation with him or her. If the stranger “accidentally” runs into you in the neighborhood, there’s likely not to be a man in the house coming home any time soon and you won’t be armed.
They can also glean a pretty decent idea of your economic status based on the car you drive and the neighborhood where you live.
The interaction might not take place at the grocery store, of course. It could be at the playground, at school in the pick-up line, or at the coffee shop. The threat could be a man or a woman. It could be another parent. It could be someone who seems just like you or who seems vulnerable themselves. Any place you chat with strangers is a place someone could be looking at you as a potential target.
And actually, it doesn’t even have to be a stranger. Someone you see on a regular basis will automatically make you feel less guarded. But just because they’re familiar doesn’t mean they need to know too much about you.
Why would this stranger be stalking you?
It could be because of you – maybe you’re his or her “type. “It could be because he or she is involved in child pornography and you have three children. Maybe the stranger is a pedophile and you have three potential targets. Maybe the stranger is looking for a good house for the next home invasion robbery.
Maybe it’s perfectly innocent.
Whatever the reason, between a quick conversation in line at the grocery store, the stuff plastered all over your car, and what’s on your car keys, you have given a potential predator far too much information and you never thought twice about it.
Here’s how the conversation could have gone instead.
How could that interaction have gone in a way that didn’t give out information that makes you an easy target? You don’t have to be rude to avoid giving out too much intel on yourself.
- Stranger: Your daughter is so cute.
- You: Thank you.
- Stranger: Is this your only child?
- You: Nope. (polite smile) What about you? Do you have children?
- Stranger: No, just a niece.
- You: I bet you’re a fantastic uncle/aunt. Have a good day. Nice talking to you!
You leave the encounter and you have had a courteous conversation without giving out any personal information in the exchange above.
The stranger makes his or her purchase and follows you to the car. You have no bumper stickers on your SUV that show the members of your household, your political beliefs, or where your children are honor students.
Congratulations. You just made it far more difficult to find you and your children.
Why do we give out so much personal information?
This was a topic that was brought up both in the women’s violence avoidance and de-escalation course I just took with Dr. Tammy McCracken of Kore Self Defense in Ashburn, Virginia and the urban survival course that I took with Selco and Toby.
We, as a group, are not good protectors of our personal information.
I’m not talking about your credit card number or your social security number. I’m talking about the things that make you easy to locate for anyone who wants to find you. I’m talking about the things that make it easy to strike up a “common ground” conversation, like the activities your child is involved in or your political beliefs or even your favorite sports team.
Many of us are open books, and that isn’t a very safe way to live, especially when you get into the mindset of a predator.
The non-verbal cues are the clothes we wear (Molon Labe t-shirt, anyone?), the car we drive (bumper stickers, how expensive it is), and the information right at our front door (maybe it’s a sign issuing a warm welcome to the home of John and Jane Doe, along with Jack & Susie and the little dog, Spot.) Is your house “protected by Glock home security?” Great – now everyone knows there are guns and ammo, and that they’d better take you completely by surprise, maybe while you’re home alone in the shower.
There’s no reason in the world to provide all of this information to complete strangers yet people do it all the time.
Isn’t all this a little bit paranoid?
People often say that that you’re being paranoid to worry about all these things. I say you’re being smart. Every bit of information you give to strangers can be used to find or manipulate you, your spouse, and your children.
Remember how Jeffrey Epstein’s recruiters found girls who could be easily manipulated? They looked for the loners and the disenfranchised. Then once they pinpointed a girl that looked vulnerable, it was simple to get the information that would tell you she’d be impressed by a donation to an AIDs awareness charity.
If you’re a single mom like me, it pays to be aware that sometimes men will make an effort to insinuate themselves into your life but not because you are the target – your kids are. In some cases, pedophiles or child pornographers will sweep you off your feet to get to your children. This doesn’t mean that you can never date, but for goodness sakes, don’t put photographs of your children on your dating profile or your Facebook account. The internet is like a shopping mall for pedos with kids displayed everywhere.
There are many different ways that predators choose their victims, but one thing is true: they look for easy targets. They look for the ones who won’t see them coming, the ones who are kind helpers, and the ones who give out too much information. If you’re a closed book as far as information is concerned, you might be too much trouble to choose as a potential victim because they can’t get enough details to attack you without risk.
How do you know if you’re giving out too much information?
Toby Cowern, Selco’s co-instructor, is a former member of British military intelligence. He told us to play a game as we were traveling home. He wanted us to find out how much information we could easily get from our fellow travelers while not disclosing anything of importance about ourselves.
He told us to ask questions that got important answers. He advised us to be observant. How much information do people just leave out there in the open on luggage tags and boarding passes? How easy is it to pretend you’re taking a selfie while grabbing a quick photo of that exposed luggage tag with a person’s name and street address?
Take it a step further than flying. Watch the person in front of you in line at the store. Strike up a friendly conversation. See what they’re buying. Observe the car the other shopper is getting into,
Did they have children’s things like juice boxes or sugary cereals? Was their cart full of organic foods or was it all generic brands? What did you learn in conversation? Were they wearing a lanyard from their workplace? What do their clothing and car tell you about them?
Learning how to get information from other people can help you learn how to protect your own information. I’m not suggesting you be creepy or threatening, but you’ll be surprised just how easy it is to get another person to open up. Especially if you’re a woman talking to another woman, you can get past her guard in a matter of seconds by finding something “in common” whether it’s true or not.
It’s pretty scary to watch how fast you can discover where somebody lives (generally, not specifically) and works, whether she’s married or not and if she has children.
And scarier still, can someone else harvest information about you this easily?
Do you give out too much information?
Did you see yourself or someone you know in the scenarios I described above? If so, this is something of which you should be aware. I tend to be very cautious and I’ve taught my daughters to do it too. A lot of people give out too much information because they’re afraid of being rude. But you can shut down lines of inquiry pretty easily with a vague answer, a smile, and a question in return.
How can you make yourself a bit more “gray?” Do you need to “cleanse” your car, your wardrobe, and your keychain of revealing information? Do you need to become a bit more cautious when talking to strangers? Do you need to work with your children or teens on how much information they’re giving out?
Don’t be afraid to live your life, but be aware of all the things people can learn about you that might make you vulnerable. You can be friendly and courteous while still keeping yourself safe.
Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, gun-toting blogger who writes about current events, preparedness, frugality, voluntaryism, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, The Organic Prepper. She is widely republished across alternative media and she curates all the most important news links on her aggregate site, PreppersDailyNews.com. Daisy is the best-selling author of 4 books and runs a small digital publishing company. She lives in the mountains of Virginia with her family. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.