Being followed. I guess we should start by noting there are 3 areas worth exploring here, being followed while on-foot and moving, while in-car and moving, and being under surveillance while static. (I doubt many of us are worthy of ongoing covert surveillance so maybe I’ll leave that one to the PIs out there) We’ll Take note that I’m just a regular civilian with common-sense (which I like to think I’m blessed to have a fair amount of), not a highly-trained surveillance-operative. Maybe that’ll help you relate better to my particular experiences. I try and address safety concerns from my personal first-hand experience and perspective.
First, we should establish who (of the 5ws) would or might be following you as a private (generally) law-abiding citizen. Creditors/money-lenders/financial institutions, ex-girlfriends/wives wanting to catch you in some act, lawyers who may be planning case against you for false accusations or for employers/ex-employers, jealous spouses, someone with a grudge wanting to implicate you in something, envious family members….most often someone in our sphere of current/past interaction and very unlikely to be the FBI/CIA, government agencies, or hit-men. We’re usually not that important or glamorous, and hiring a private-investigator or surveillance team costs money that most lower-to-middle-class families or individuals simply cannot afford…at least not daily or weekly. As well, I’m not going to delve into male-on-female infatuation stalking as that entails an entirely different personal profile and safety-defenses. (these have powerful elements of emotional, personal, psychological natures)
For me over the years it has been ex-wife’s boyfriends/lovers, police (when younger for questionable activity or traffic infractions), a few road-raging drivers who feel I or the car I’m riding in has wronged him/her in some way or committed a traffic transgression, personal enemies. To think back, I’ve probably been tailed more than I should have due to poor lifestyle and friend choices earlier in life.
How to know for sure you’re being followed? With some of the above, it’s relatively easy. You spot them or their vehicle, maybe known close-affiliates. (friends/co-workers/family) Or you know you’ve committed a driving transgression or perceived one to somebody else minutes earlier. Other times it’s not quite so easy. Multiple consecutive turns can certainly help reveal. The 1st follow is normal, generally. A 2nd could be coincidence or similar route. A 3rd should definitely pique your curiosity and get your spidey-sense tingling, and a 4th should leave no doubt…has been my experience. Often either reveal intent or blow cover and nullify the pursuit. Sometimes they may be on to you and fall back in traffic, or pull over and wait a short time while watching where you go, or take a parallel street if they know the area. But if you’ve gathered some intel (which we’ll address a little later on), you should be able to pick back up on them when they re-integrate the pursuit.
So what can we do. Well, first of all, don’t panic, “being followed” always has such stigmas, like that your life is in-danger or someone wants to kill you. Most times and for most average people, nothing could be further from the truth. There’s a specific reason you’re being followed and a reason the pursuant doesn’t want to be found out. So breathe (and continue to regulate your breathing), you’ll need calm to make some quick-thinking decisions while on-the-fly and if you’re panicked or deeply anxious or stressed, that’ll be more difficult to do.
Then make mental or physical note or hypothesis of the other 4ws & the how as well: why would the above be physically following you and what would they have to gain by it (information-gathering/intimidation/pattern-learning/living details/known affiliates), how (foot/vehicle/static surveillance/3rd-party questioning of acquaintances), when (times/days/conditions that may be consistent), where (is it the same ballpark locations? at the same places or general vicinity?)
Whether on-foot or in-car, call someone while being followed and let your pursuer know you’re calling while looking in the rear-view or making eye-contact if the pursuit doesn’t abate. Make sure to tell someone trusted to make note or file-away for future reference after the fact as well. Most pursuers don’t want 3rd-parties involved, don’t like being discovered, and aren’t fond of paranoid, nervous targets that can expose them or get them in trouble with law-enforcement or violence. There are times where simply acknowledging them and their presence may be a good tact but note that the information-gathering stops here, different methods of following you will be implemented, and at times hostility at being found-out could be the result. If yours is one of those times (and you’ll likely know by the context and type of follower it is) do it subtly…eye-contact or acknowledging greeting or genuine smile…don’t make a spectacle of it and keep it low-key. If feeling greatly threatened, make sure to open a police-report or call law-enforcement. Even if they won’t do a damn thing about it, it’s on-file and documented, should personal-defense or counter-violence means become necessary. It sets a precedent for future potential legal issues that may arise.
*As an asterisk to this, sometimes it’s prudent to not give away that you’re aware of their presence, if you’re information-gathering, for instance. Trying to learn more about your tail and their motives. If that’s the case, no peripheral head-turning while looking in mirrors, use your eyes alone. Sunglasses can aid here in preventing them from seeing pupil movement toward the rear-view mirror or in their direction if on-foot. 180-degree scans of the area while picking up whatever information you can as they pass into your moving vision. Try, while remaining attentive to traffic/driving and if pursued by car, to get the license plate number, make, model, color, and any identifying marks (bumper stickers/dents/unique features/paint scratches/rearview mirror hangings. Here in Costa Rica, as we’ve stated in a previous article, you can do a vehicle check online to find out owner, registration number, corporation names affiliated, and if you connect that name to social media and other online avenues, as we’ve shown, you can sometimes find out a ton of valuable information about your pursuer.
If on-foot, make note of as many identifying features as you’re able to catch; these days you can even subtly take a picture of someone else, often without them knowing (feigning looking at or typing on your cell, reversing camera-direction on your camera-phone, or if low-threat outright taking a photo or video as they’re in-range to put them on-the-spot. Finding a security-camera to have them walk in-front of shortly after you can be another bit of evidence should any legal issues or proof be needed. Have a decoy that’s with you break-rank and circle around to take video is another.
Different elements that you pass can help gain info without revealing you’re on to your follower. Utilizing reflections in store-mirrors/stands/window-glass. If outside, silhouettes or shadows after turning corners to expose their identity or catch them in the act. Positioning yourself so the sun is in their face to gain momentary knowledge or escape. You can utilize poles, display stands, aisles, building-angles, corners, barriers, other people, and apertures where he/she can’t see you but you can see them for concealment or to gain advantage of view/vantage points/escape routes. Utilize crowded areas by ducking/lowering body/using serpentine routes instead of straight line and diving into stores along the path to utilize the above-mentioned strategies.
What about by car? You can lose them in traffic naturally if ingested, utilize sudden lane-changes or abrupt turn-offs from alternate lanes if they’re trapped in the other lane from you on 4-lane thoroughfares. I’d recommend ‘not’ getting out of your car at any point to engage or confront. Road-ragers, jilted ex-lovers, PIs, strangers with potential unseen weapons, even police will all have different, yet usually equally-negative reactions to this. Threat, defense, anger, aggression.
Change your routes daily, even slightly. Even if you narrow it to 2-3 different routes you’re comfortable with and alter the times you depart or arrive at daily destinations, even by minutes. As a foreigner who stands out here, I often take backroads on daily routes (also to avoid the horrible traffic here), change portions of my routes when a longer drive is in-order (as well as for a solution to boredom), and use route-apps to give me the best-possible route automatically (which fluctuates from day-to-day) when heading into ingested traffic-areas. WhatsApp is a great app to utilize for upcoming traffic-blockages, roadblocks, police-checks, fastest routes, high-volume traffic areas (car). It does use GPS but with the demographic that’s usually following everyday citizens, I doubt they’re concerned with tracking you via GPS and one can always turn off GPS in your car if you lose pursuer if it’s a concern….or turn it off to prevent tracking in the first place. And, yes, the technology is available to almost anyone to track phone numbers via GPS, as this article explains and I’ve tried first-hand: https://www.trapcall.com/blog/track-phone-number/
If the pursuit is aggressive or threatening, you can drive to/in front-of a police-station or call 911 while on-the-move as a deterrent or for assistance…but DO NOT lead them home or to meet the wife and kids for lunch. This last one applies to being on-foot as well. I cannot stress this enough and I made that mistake once when young. Nothing happened but it set an anchor for a lifetime even without the consequences.
As a rather common-sense element upon the realization you may be being monitored, cease posting your whereabouts on social media and turn off all apps that do so automatically (geotagging on Facebook & Instagram, for instance) I can’t stress this enough. I don’t use it at all. Ever. I don’t need to advertise when I’m not home and my house is unattended, don’t need to alert strangers on Facebook to my whereabouts, or tell the world what I’m doing and with whom.