Everyone has thought about what it must be like to pick up a “tail.” From spy movies to the stuff of nightmares, the thought that someone might be following you, stalking you, is a sharp and primal fear.
While it makes for fun and frightening tales, being followed is no joke: Studies show that 75% of women are trailed in their lifetimes.
In a WROL or survival scenario, these odds will greatly increase for you and your family because unprepared people will be extremely desperate for food and supplies, and when they see you out and about looking hale and hearty, they might want to find out where the goodies are kept.
This is a terrifying and dangerous experience to have any time, but it is possible to learn how to detect, deter, counter and if necessary confront a follower.
In this article we’ll give you some time-tested techniques and tips to use if you are being followed. Keeping these in mind could be very important in both everyday life and in a disaster scenario. when forcing a bad guy to give up the chase may mean avoiding a potentially deadly fight.
Table of Contents
Who Follows, and Why?
Unless you have been living a dangerous and glamorous double life as a spy, international agent of intrigue or high-powered and equally highly visible person of wealth, power and means (a VIP) you most likely won’t pick up a tail who is a spy, assassin or some other professional who is acutely good at making marks disappear.
Furthermore, even if you had, you most likely would not detect such a pursuer even if you were looking for them!
No, you are far more likely to be followed by someone you already know, at least tangentially. This might be someone from a former relationship, a rival who is a dangerous loose cannon, an emotionally disturbed person you unintentionally snubbed in passing, or even, sadly a family member with a grudge.
The other typical stalker is a criminal who is following you to ascertain whether or not you are someone worth shaking down for profit or just for mayhem.
It might be a surveillance tail to see what kind of car you drive, where you live (and how nice a neighborhood) or something else. They might just be waiting for you to blunder into the waiting trap set by their associates or looking for just the right place to jump you.
Just because someone is following you does not mean there is nothing you can do to deter them, but do keep in mind you also cannot just fly off the handle and beat the brakes off someone, or shank them, or pepper spray them or shoot them. How’s that, you ask? Well consider this, Mr. Bourne: what would that do if the person following you was a private eye or a bonafide cop? How do you think that would work out for you?
Oh, none of those guys have any reason to follow you, you say. Sure they don’t. Except if they do, so ask yourself if there is any plausible reason why they might be? Even if you are bland as plain white rice and an upstanding citizen, is it possible it is just a simple case of mistaken identity?
The point of all this is to say: keep your cool, keep your head, and use your wits. Dealing with these situations is not the job for a berserker.
How Can Be Sure I Am Being Followed?
It is cliché as anything, but the number one thing you can do that will alert you to the presence of a tail is pay attention. Hey, wake up! I said pay attention! I mean be present, be looking and seeing, not just looking
Unless you are dealing with pros who are equally skilled at remaining undetected, if you pay attention to who is around you, who you have noticed before and the general rhythm, of a place you’ll always be able to notice something amiss.
Your pursuer may follow you on foot, in a motor vehicle, on a bicycle or even board public transportation with you depending on how you are travelling
If you notice the same face or the same person looking at you more than once at different places, you might have a tail. Same goes for vehicles. Pay attention to makes, models and colors. Quirks like a busted or burned out headlight are easily noticeable and dead giveaways.
No matter what, never, ever, never go against your gut! Your instinct and intuition is actually a highly refined form of sensory apparatus. Humans were not always top of the food chain, you know, and we have inherited and carried forth the vestigial instinct of danger that fires when a predator is closing in. Use it! Listen to it!
Once you are reasonably sure that there is indeed a pursuer or pursuers back there you should take some action to verify it before you decide to employ countermeasures.
What you’ll do and what options you have varies depending on your method of travel and the environment around you. Similar methods can be employed if you are in a vehicle or walking, but some techniques work best with one or the other.
If on Foot
Alter your speed and heading. Walk faster. Walk slower. Halt. Pay attention to and look for your tail. They will most likely do the same in order to keep you in sight and keep their distance.
Another thing you might try is a radical departure from your path; jog across the street and go back the way you came, duck into a nearby building and hustle off. If you see someone rushing to do the same thing, you’ll know they are following you for sure.
Another, bolder technique you might try if you are confident is a brisk about-face to look your suspected shadow in the eye. Any furtive or startled movement likely means they are tense about what they are doing and your signal that you are on to them has them dead to rights.
You don’t need to mad dog them or anything, lest you provoke a response from someone as a sort of status challenge in case you are wrong, but look them dead in the eye, calmly. Do take care if they keep closing in!
If In a Vehicle You Control
Assuming you are driving the vehicle there are still things you can do to discern the presence of a tail. The simplest and oldest is to make drive a circle.
Not a roundabout, you lout! I mean make four left hand or four right hand turns in close succession or spread out over a short distance. Anyone who is still behind you after that is very obviously following you!
A variation on this technique is the off-and-on, employed when you are travelling on the highway or interstate. If you suspect a follower, pop off of an exit and then immediately get right back on.
What kind of normal, innocent driver would do the same maneuver? You got it: it’s about a million to one chance! If you see a car in your rearview follow you off the highway and follow you back on, you have a tail.
What If You Cannot Confirm the Tail?
There is always a chance you could be being followed by someone who has some skill at remaining undetected by their mark. This does not necessarily mean a proper pro; it could be a seasoned criminal who has done this plenty before! Scary thing to think about but it is true.
Experienced stalkers will use several accomplices to be the “close tail” and rotate through them periodically or at opportune times to ensure you have a much harder time picking up on the consistent presence of a vehicle or person. They might even use a net of tails on all sides of you, shadowing you from the sides and even in front, a technique that is much harder to detect when done well. If confronted with such cunning you might not know until it is too late.
Of course, you must also accept that there is a chance you are spooked, or paranoid. It happens. When in doubt, trust you gut and if you are able call help in the form of authorities or barring that someone you trust. Blundering into a trap or leading them to your home is the worst thing you could do. See the next section for steps to take when you need to deal with someone following you.
Essentials for Shaking Pursuers
Don’t become prey! The clever wolf herds its prey into a killing zone, so don’t get taken acting out of panic. No matter the situation, the following rules will help keep you safe and in control.
1. Never Lead a Pursuer to Your Home
Do not think that it does not matter because they already have your address, or that you’ll have a home-field advantage. Transition points are always dangerous, and things can get even worse if you have family, especially kids at home. Stay cool, stay collected and keep problem solving! Take care of this before you head to base!
2. Stay in as Crowded a Place
This is not a surefire technique for preventing an attack on you, but it speaks for itself: you are being followed for a reason. If someone wanted to smoke you or mug you in broad daylight with scores of witnesses around they may very well have done so already.
No, they likely are waiting for ideal terrain to attack or want to discover your home or routes you use. Whatever you do to spoof your shadows, avoid desolate, isolated and poorly lit places like alleys, back roads and vacant or barely occupied buildings.
3. At Night, Head Toward Well Lit Areas
A person has a variety of reasons to follow you at night and almost none of them are virtuous. Night stalkers could be anything from discreet fact-finding followers to frothing psychopaths.
The safest thing to do at night is head for light in an occupied public space. Stay within view of other people in the area and call the police. Never enter an alley, wooded or other isolated area.
If things become unsafe very quickly, yelling in a public place is even recommended. Your fellow citizens won’t stand by and let a crime occur in their neighborhood if they can team together quickly. Stay visible. Stay safe.
4. Don’t Get Cornered!
Getting run into a dead end on foot or webbed in by cars if in a vehicle will play right into your pursuers’ hands. This means you have little or no means by which to escape and precious little room to dodge or maneuver. Always be thinking three steps ahead and plan for exits that keep you mobile, flexible and in public.
5. Stay in Condition Orange
If you are being followed, there is a high probability that violence is close at hand. You must mentally and physically prepare for an attack. You may yet avoid it, but you have to be ready to fight like the devil himself if you cannot.
Keep these fundamentals in place as you read through the next section, as this is the part where you’ll learn to ditch or confound your nemesis.
6. Never Panic
Keep calm. Rushing to get away from the stalker can see you blunder into their plans In the worst-case scenario, you may get in a car crash while attempting to suddenly flee from someone tailing you.
Remember, a person discreetly following you is biding their time or possibly after information such as where you live or whom you meet with. Stay patient, stay calm, observe them and look for an escape strategy or call the police. Don’t let fear control your actions.
Confrontation and Fight
It goes without saying you should do everything possible to lose or deter your shadow, but if you cannot and are unable to summon help from police or authorities then it is better to try and deal with the issue abroad instead of leading them to your home, unless the terrain and circumstances at your home would confer overwhelming advantage, like, say, a rifle armed member of the family waiting to cover you.
If the time comes to confront your adversary, stand your ground, look them in the eye and call them out. Tell them to stop following you in no uncertain terms. You must be ready for a fight at this point, but if you are lucky and they were counting on you to be a scared little rabbit they might depart.
If not, no matter if they are a criminal predator, a person with a vendetta or a howl-at-the-moon crazy violence will be forthcoming. Only attempt to confront if you are confident of your abilities, training, and equipment and have no other choice.
Hopefully it does not come to that. In the following sections you’ll learn how to leave these creepers in the dust scratching their heads.
Options for Dealing with Being Followed
Losing a tail might be easier than you think if you lull them in to a false sense of security and then surprise them. Taking a hard corner to cut their visual on you before hitting the gas or running for it and then making another sharp turn or dipping into a building, parking garage, etc. and hiding works well. If your timing and terrain was judged well, it will look to your hapless stalker like you vanished into thin air.
If they manage to keep eyes on you, repeat the procedure, as this will force them to either speed up and stay close or maneuver hard and raise their profile, neither of which they are likely to want.
A vehicular variation to this is gunning through a stale yellow light or a very fresh red light at an intersection in an area with plenty of traffic. This can get your follower stuck at an intersection or force them to make a risky maneuver to catch up.
Call in Police
No matter how you are travelling, if at all possible, even if you are just suspicious, call the cops! Let them deal with confronting whoever in hell has decided to tail you.
Chances are great your shadow will disappear at the first glimpse of lights or sound of sirens. If you cannot raise the cops, head to another first responder station like fire department or even a courthouse.
While it might be tempting to sort this out yourself, especially if you recognize the person following you, you’d be a fool to take an unnecessary risk that could alter your life permanently for the worse.
The Great Train/Bus/Uber Caper
One technique from TV Land that works splendidly is the old spy hunter technique of jumping onto a subway train, into a taxicab or onto a bus at the last possible second before it speeds off.
If you have built up even a modest bit of distance from your tail and time it right they will have no window of opportunity to board with you, or in the case of a taxi cab you can tell the driver to depart immediately.
Most stalkers pursuing you on foot through crowded areas and who do so at a distance will key on a specific trait of your appearance, or a set of traits to follow you. For instance, no hat, brown hair, blue and white shirt, jeans. By making use of a simple disguise to change these “tags” wholesale, you might be able to stroll right past your stalker with them nary the wiser.
A simple visual trick. Keep in mind that if you have exceptional physical characteristics like height or size, it is harder to pull this off than if you are soundly average in all regards.
Note that this countermeasure takes a bit of forethought or opportunity. If you have a way to break line of sight, work quickly. Take off and ditch your hat where it won’t be seen.
Remove sunglasses, scarves, etc. Take off a coat or jacket, especially if you have a strongly contrasting undergarment on. If you have greater time and opportunity or an “intermission” from your pursuer, change pants and shoes if you can. You can take this so far as to subtly alter the way you walk and carry yourself.
Picking up a tail and being forced to handle it yourself is not just the stuff of Hollywood movies, and is a frightening and dangerous prospect for the unprepared.
You do not need to play into your pursuers’ hands or mill around helplessly praying for rescue. Use your wits and the basics in this guide to ditch your pursuers and make a clean escape without risking life and limb.