Protecting Your Personal Security

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You can enhance your own personal security by doing a few things. They are simple, but not easy. The first is: PAY ATTENTION! That means knowing where you are. Who is around you. Listening to the sounds around you and not your MP3 player. People have actually been hit by trains (trains!) because they were so focused on their tunes blasting that they stepped right in front of an oncoming freight train. People step in front of cars and trucks for the same reason. Do you really think that your ear buds give you a force field of protection as well as your sound screen? They don’t.

If you simply must wear ear buds while driving, walking, bicycling, etc, then at least turn down the sound enough so you can hear the blare of emergency vehicles, horns of trucks, whistles of trains, barking of dogs, whatever is happening around you that you need to be aware of.

The same goes for cell phones. If you are paying close attention to your conversation, then you aren’t really paying attention to your surroundings. We like to think we can multitask but what really happens is we are switching our attention rapidly from one thing to the next. This can lead to indifferent performances on several areas instead of one job well done.

Pay attention when you walk through a parking lot or down the street. If you are leaving the mall late at night and you don’t want to walk through the dark parking lot with a few strangers hanging around, ask mall security for an escort. They do it all the time. Which thing concerns you more? Your perceived toughness (I don’t need an escort!) or not being mugged?

Pay attention when you exit a 10,000-person performance. Pay attention when you get in and out of your car. Pay attention when you unload groceries and other purchases from your car. Who is watching you?

If a situation doesn’t feel right or safe, maybe that is because it isn’t safe. We get bad vibes for a reason. Sometimes, sure, it may just be paranoia. Sometimes, it isn’t. An excellent book on this subject is Gavin DeBecker’s “The Gift of Fear”. The premise is that millions of years of evolution determined that people who noticed their surroundings were less likely to be eaten by tigers and more likely to reproduce. There are still plenty of tigers around, but now they are often two-legged.

Don’t Do Stupid Stuff

Yes, yes, yes, I know you should be able to get so drunk you are on the verge of blacking out and then stagger to the automatic teller, nude, at three AM to get cash for that skeevy all night diner and be perfectly safe at all times from predators. You know what? You are asking for it. Losing control of your body and senses invites someone else to control them for you. Is that sad? wrong? unfortunate? criminal? Sure. Get over it. This is what your mother meant when she said stop asking for trouble. Ask for trouble and the universe is quite capable of delivering it to you. Predators look for the weakest, most easily captured prey in the herd. This is true of two legged wolves just like it is true of four legged wolves. Predators don’t care about your political correctness. They look for easy victims. Don’t make it easy to be victimized.

Does this mean you shouldn’t have a good time? Well, let’s see. If you are only capable of having a good time if you are drunk or stoned, you have a problem. The more high you have to be to have a good time, the bigger the problem you have. If you are realio and trulio serious about a scary and difficult future, you need to address this issue right away. Addictions are not going to make your life easier.

Stupid stuff includes uncontrollable gambling too. If people named Guido are coming to break your legs because of the money you owe them, your personal security (and that of your household) will be adversely affected.

Driving recklessly? Not wearing a seatbelt? On the motorcycle without a helmet and leathers? Mountain climbing with no water or food, in shorts and a t-shirt? Climbing over the fence into the tiger’s cage at the zoo? Throwing a rock from the overpass into the traffic below? Think for thirty seconds about the consequences before you act! Don’t do stupid stuff.

Stop handing out personal information

So there you are, in the park, yapping away at top volume into your cellie about how you are going to be out of town for two weeks. Who is listening to you? Which bystander is going to follow you to your car, write down your license plate number, find out where you live and then rob your house while you are away? It sounds farfetched, but people do get robbed for this reason. Telling all about your upcoming vacation on-line? Who sees this information? Do you really know? You should always assume that everything you put onto the internet is public access. If you don’t want to read about your activities on the front page of the Washington Post, then you shouldn’t be putting it on-line. Do not assume privacy, ever.

This goes double for loudly revealing, to all and sundry, your address, your credit card and banking information, your SSN, anything you don’t want public. You even reveal information about yourself and your household via your trash. Did you buy a new 60inch flat screen TV? You don’t know who sees the now empty box waiting for trash pickup at the end of the driveway. If you don’t want other people to know what you bought, then flatten those shipping boxes and recycle them more discreetly.

Your trash is a goldmine of personal information for possible thieves and, worse, for identity theft. Putting paperwork into the recycling bin does not make it disappear in a secure manner. I have actually picked up people’s pay stubs in the street, complete with name, address, job data, and SSN. If you don’t want someone to see it, shred it. Use a crosscut shredder; strip shredded documents can be pieced back together. When the shredder bag fills up, compost the paper. No-one will ever be able to read your documents after that. Shred your documents yourself. The minion shredding your documents is perfectly capable of reading them as they go into the shredder. Think people don’t go through your trash looking for personal data? They do: both thieves and law enforcement agencies know that trash bins tell everything there is to know about their owners. So, thieves and lawmen both pull on their latex gloves and sort through trash to get the personal data they need on you.

Just like your trash, your online presence can tell plenty about your household and your lifestyle to anyone who comes along. As noted above, absolutely nothing you post on the internet is private. And, the internet remembers forever. Those fun drunken pictures you posted of you and the gang skinny dipping in the public fountain at 4 a.m.? Your future employers are quite likely to see those pictures as are your future in-laws. Never, ever assume anything you post on-line is private. If you are really serious about your privacy (and that of your children), then don’t use social media. I don’t have a Twitter account, a Facebook page, or any of the host of other sharing media whose names I don’t know. I don’t want to do this and so I don’t. This also frees up a lot of time for other, more productive activities.

Even something as simple as looking at a book on-line at Amazon or doing a search for how to sell a junk car will get you tracked. I recently had to sell a junker car and did some very basic online research. For weeks afterwards, I got targeted ads when I looked at Weather.com for selling junk cars. I didn’t post. I didn’t send emails. I just looked, and I got tracked. And yes, my DH does practice safe computing and cookie removal and don’t track me and all those other stay private whilst online things you can do. We still get tracked, traced, and recorded.

hk47You can safely assume that if you don’t know how an online site is making its money, it is making money by data mining you. Your buying habits reveal a lot: buy a mouse shaped laser pointer? You might have a cat. Buy EverClean kitty litter in bulk at Amazon? You definitely have a cat; probably more than one. Pregnancy test kits? Birthday party supplies? Books on blacksmithing? Hair dye by the case? Insulation by the pallet? That custom AK-47 with the Hello Kitty design? Complete collection of Ayn Rand? Every one of these individual searches says something about you. Taken in aggregate, they say a lot more. Do you want to say these things to total strangers who may not have your best interests at heart?

Shopping in the real world with cash doesn’t just save you money (studies and real life experience repeatedly show that you spend less when you have to part with real money as opposed to checks, debit cards, or credit cards); it is also harder for someone to find out what you bought. Your credit card receipts tell where you were, when you were there, and what you bought. Think about your life being on display every time you use your magic plastic card. Be careful and don’t let those receipts escape into someone elses pockets. Paying cash means never having to get caught by hackers like all those Target customers did last Christmas.

You may want to seriously consider having two separate credit cards, say a Visa and a MasterCard; a Discover and an American Express. Use one exclusively in the real world and use the other one exclusively in the virtual world. If suspicious charges show up ($8,000 in airline tickets to Jakarta!), it might be easier to figure out how the card got compromised. Remember that when your credit card marches off with the waiter in the restaurant, you don’t really know who else sees it. If nothing else, this can make it a bit harder for someone to know everything about you. They will only see half of your life.

Don’t forget that your phone calls, particularly cell phones get tracked too. The NSA could be listening to you right now. Or reading this post right now. I, you we, have no way of knowing one way or the other.

Get In Shape

I don’t mean that you need to be able to run a marathon. But you should be in good enough shape to walk briskly for a mile or two. As your fitness improves, you may, eventually, be able to jog that mile or two. Your physical condition serves multiple purposes. When you are in the office on the 42nd floor and the fire alarms go off, the elevators will stop working. Can you run down 42 flights of stairs? In the dark? If that is going to be a problem, it is time to start walking.

Being in better shape will let you evacuate a building more easily and quickly, you will be able to help other people get out, you can stay out of the way of rescue personnel, and you won’t be the unfortunate soul who has to be carried down 42 flights of stairs by firemen who could be putting out the fire. While you are having a heart attack from the stress and extreme exercise.

I also don’t mean that you need to get training in mixed martial arts. This is a good way to get in better condition, you will meet all kinds of people, improve your confidence, learn a new fun skill. All great stuff. But the best fight is the one you avoid by paying attention to your surroundings and not getting into trouble in the first place. Use your Nike-fu and run away rather than trying to take on that mugger. If you see the riot coming, walk (or run!) the other way. You don’t HAVE to participate in the bar fight. In fact, you should be looking for and using the exits.

If you saw the movie “Zombieland,” then you know the first rule of zombie defense is “cardiovascular fitness”. You don’t have to be able to run a five minute mile. You just need to be faster than the other guy.

Once you start your fitness program, keep at it. Better fitness leads to better overall health. Your security can only be improved by being able to walk farther, with less pain and stress. When you can walk a mile, then start walking two miles. Get stronger, faster, tougher. Being physically fit helps mental toughness; you may be less inclined to panic if you know your body won’t fail you.

Be Prepared

If you work in an office and wear impractical footwear, then keep a pair of sneakers and socks in your drawer. Before you run down those 42 staircases, change out of those high heels. Keep a jacket, a bottle of water, and some granola bars in the same drawer along with some cash. If you have to get out in a hurry, you now have some weather protection, water, food, and money. Keep this stuff in a small tote bag and grab it, along with your purse or wallet, when you run out the door.

Whenever you set foot outside of your house, consider where you are going and who will be there. Do other members of your household know where you will be and the approximate time of return? Do you know where they are? Are there alternate routes in case of accident? Do you need gas for your car? Is the weather going to be bad? If you are going to be gone for hours, do you have water and snackies for you and the kids? Winter coats? Sun hats? Something that will make the wait because of that ten car pile-up on the interstate a little more bearable.

Wherever you are, pay attention to the exits, the fire alarms, the emergency stairwells. If you are on a plane, actually listen to the safety briefing and look for where the exits are. If you are on a boat, pay attention to the life boat drills (if they have them). If they don’t have life boat drills, as on a ferry, then at least know where the life boats and life preservers are. If you can’t find them, ask a crew member. They will be glad to help. Better prepared passengers make their lives easier. Certainly the first time you go into a new building, check out the exits from the facility. Every public building is required to have fire escape maps on the walls. Take a look at it so you know how to get out if you have to.

Do your children know where the exits are in their school? On their own, without a teacher? Kindergarteners may not be able to do this, but by the time your kids are in middle school, they should be able to read the “you are here” map and find a way out. We live in a small town, and although my kids ride the bus in the mornings, they are perfectly capable of walking home in the afternoon. If they miss the bus, they can still get home.

KNOW WHERE YOU ARE! Every time you go someplace, as the driver, a passenger, a bicyclist, or a pedestrian, read the street signs. Know what street you are on, what direction you are headed, what your destination is. Travel different routes whenever you go anywhere rather than always going the same old way. Build up a big mental map of your area, both walking and driving. You don’t know when you will have to avoid a fire scene and a bigger, more complete mental map will make it less stressful if you have to change your routine. In addition, knowing where you are means that you can tell 911 that the chemical truck overturned in front of you just past mile marker 125 on US30 West near the Salunga exit. If you don’t know where you are, you get to say duh, duh, duh, while Rescue personnel waste precious time trying to locate your signal from cell phone tower triangulation. Make it easier for them and you won’t have to wait as long.

bellcurve personal securityIf all of this strikes you as basic common sense, you are right! And yet, basic commonsense is pretty rare. Why is this? Well, mathematically speaking, half the population is below the median for intelligence. The bulk of the population is clustered around the median and the numbers become less and less as you head towards imbecile and genius status. I would say that more than half the population is below the median for commonsense except that is mathematically impossible.

So what is the problem? All of these suggestions require that you pay attention. It is hard to pay attention all the time. The solution is to set good habits, such as always locking your doors or never letting your car gas tank go below one half, that keep you safer while you are paying attention to the harder things. Being mindful of your surroundings takes effort and who has the mental capacity to spare? It only takes a second to have an accident that will disable you. Be more mindful. Pay more attention. Be safer.

Next Week: The Nightmare World of Debt Collection