My phone rang.
It was a call from my wife. When I answered, she said, “I’m at Home Depot and I’m being followed.”
“How do you know?” I asked.
She proceeded to tell me she’d gone to five different aisles, and each time, the same man would appear soon after. What’s more, the man didn’t appear to be shopping — he didn’t even have a shopping cart. After hearing this, it was obvious to me she was being followed, because my wife had done exactly what I’d taught her to do to determine if someone was watching her.
The fancy spy name for what she did is called running a surveillance detection route (SDR). In the spy world, if you’re going to meet an asset, you don’t just hop into a car and drive straight to the meeting location. If you’re being followed, you’ll lead an adversary to the meeting and the asset will be exposed.
Instead, you run an SDR. You might go to the gym or get gas or go shopping before you go to the important meeting. At each location, pay very close attention to see if you recognize any of the same people or cars from a previous location. If you see the same person at the gym, at the gas station and then at the shopping mall, that’s more than a coincidence. You’re being followed.
There’s a saying in the intelligence world, “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.”
If you did spot the same person at multiple places in a row, you would abort your meeting and arrange it for another time. In the high-stakes world of espionage, you might run a three-hour SDR to a meeting location and a five-hour SDR home — because you certainly don’t want anyone to follow you to where you sleep at night.
Now, my wife isn’t a spy, and she didn’t have to run a fancy SDR that day in Home Depot. She simply went to multiple aisles that were far apart. She went to the gardening section and then all the way across the store to lumber, stopping at other sections in between. The chances of the same person going to the same aisles in the same order as my wife are obviously very slim. So it didn’t take her a lot of work or time to realize the guy was following her.
Once she knew he was following her, she made eye contact, which let him know that she saw him and had picked up on what he was doing. This is a very important thing to do. If you’re ever being followed, you don’t want to appear shy or put your head down and look away from the person. Criminals look for easy prey, and if you look afraid, they’ll take that as an indication to continue pursuing you. Instead, be confident and make eye contact. Make them realize you know what’s going on, and they’ll figure out they should go somewhere else.
After my wife made eye contact with the guy, she went to customer service and asked someone to escort her to her car, which they did. As she walked through the parking lot, she scanned for the man but didn’t see him. She got in her car and drove home, but she continued to pay attention to her surroundings to ensure the guy wasn’t following her. Luckily, she never saw him again.
I realize this might seem like a lot of effort. But it’s worth it, especially since it concerns your safety. Another woman I know once thought she was being followed in Macy’s. She went to several different departments, and the same man followed her to every one of them. In minutes, she was able to determine the man was indeed watching her, and she located a security guard to help her out.
Please don’t ever take your safety for granted. Run a simple SDR if you ever think you’re being followed. This technique will quickly help you determine if you are so you can get help.