Trust your gut: What to do if you're being followed

Trust your gut: What to do if you're being followed

Plenty of people have felt that tingle of fear and suspicion when something seems out of place. It might be from a car slowing down beside you while you're walking on the sidewalk or from looking in your rear view mirror while driving and noticing the same car has been behind you for a few miles. Or, you might be out jogging or walking and get the sinking feeling that someone is following you a little too closely. Here's how to stay safe when you're out and about.

1. Stay alert

If you think someone is following you, the first thing to do is to stay alert. Knowing how to stay safe means knowing what's going on around you. If you are walking and wearing earbuds, take them out so you can hear any unusual sounds. It's also a good idea to keep your eyes up, rather than looking down at the ground.

"Looking up doesn't only let you see what's around you," says Brittany W. with Ackerman. "It also makes you look more confident and less scared, which can make you less of a target for a thief who might be following you."

2. Make a pit stop

If someone is following you, it's imperative to stay in a populated area, preferably one with lots of stores or with plenty of people milling about. It's also a good idea to make lots of stops, or one prolonged stop and to see what your follower does when you duck into a store or restaurant. Head to a local cafe for a snack or visit a local drugstore or bookstore and browse around, keeping an eye out for your follower. If the person does follow you into the cafe or store, get a close look so that you can describe his or her appearance to the police if needed.

3. Have your phone handy

Keep your phone close by (and fully charged) at all times, so you can quickly dial 911 if needed. If you are reasonably sure that a person is trailing you and feel your safety is at risk, call the police. If you've gone inside a shopping center or a mall, you can also find a security guard and describe what's going on.

4. Make a detour

Sometimes, someone who seems to be following you is just an average person headed in the same direction. If you have a sinking feeling that you're being followed, try taking a detour. Stay in a well lit, populated area, but go just a little out of your way.

"One option is to turn right, then turn right at the next intersection, then turn right again two more times, so that you are walking or driving in a square," says Sara Thomas from Ackerman Security. "If your follower makes the same pattern, you can feel pretty certain that it's no coincidence."

Another option is to pretend you forgot something and spin around on your heel so that you start walking the opposite direction. In a car, you can make a legal U-turn. Again, it's unlikely the person behind you will do the same unless they're following you.

5. Let someone know where you are at all times

These days, there are plenty of smartphone apps that use GPS to track your location and can let a relative or friend know if you don't report in or come home by a particular time. Even if you don't use an app, it's a good idea to let other people know where you're headed and what to do if you don't get back when you planned.

Being followed can be a frightening experience. But no matter what the situation is or its potential outcome, it's important to keep calm. Staying calm and collected will let you take the steps needed to keep yourself safe.