Though it happens constantly in action movies and dystopian novels, most average citizens will live their entire lives without ever having to evade a car that’s tailing them. But for those unexpected encounters with jealous partners, private investigators or people with bad intentions, it’s important to know how to identify and shake a shadow.
Before you think about getting rid of a tail you’ll need to verify that one exists in the first place.
The best way to identify an unwanted follower is to make illogical directional moves. If you’re in a vehicle, make four left or right turns in a row. Unless someone is following you, they won’t have any reason to travel around the block with you, only to end up back where you both started. On foot, doubling back to the location you just came from will have the same effect.
If you’re on a freeway you won’t be able to simply drive around the block, but you will be able to identify a tail via your driving speed. Gradually slow down until you’re traveling at the slowest speed you can safely drive given the flow of traffic. If the suspect vehicle also slows down and stays behind you, you’ve probably encountered a tail. If your shadow speeds past you, you either weren’t being followed after all, or you’ve broken the tail. You can also exit the freeway and get right back on. If you’re being tailed, it should be obvious.
Now that you’ve identified the tail, the next step is to not only register it, but also to evade it. If you’re being tailed by a potentially dangerous person or a stranger with unknown intentions, take as many notes about the vehicle as you can: the make, model, license plate number, color, any damage to the car, what the driver looks like, if there is anyone else in the car, and anything else that stands out.
Once you’ve collected all of this information, call the police and explain your situation. They will most likely dispatch a patrol car to pinch the tail, or they will give you directions leading to a police station. (If you’re being tailed by law enforcement, it really doesn’t pay to try and evade them. Just go about your business and follow all traffic laws.)
Speaking of traffic laws — and we can’t endorse or encourage this — if you really feel like you’re in a life-or-death situation, think of speed limits and traffic lights as optional. This avoidance tactic is only appropriate for skilled drivers and should be undertaken as safely as possible. Obviously, you shouldn’t run red lights if it means crashing into crossing traffic. But if you’ve definitively identified a tail, forcing the vehicle to break traffic laws could also mean breaking its pursuit.
On foot, you may not have the time to call police and inform them that somebody is following you. The best thing to do in a case like this is to go somewhere public and contact police. If you’re surrounded by people, odds of a violent confrontation drastically decrease.
When driving or walking, staying in highly populated areas will always work to your advantage. If there is a lot of pedestrian or vehicle traffic, it will be harder for the tail to keep his eyes on you. It also helps if there are a lot of traffic lights. If you’re in a vehicle, slow down when approaching a soon-to-be-changing stoplight, and cut through right as it’s turning red. If you’re lucky, the tailing vehicle will get caught at the light, allowing you to get away.
If you’re being followed, where you go is essential, notes Al Brunetti, a private security consultant and director of New York-based Systems Logistics, Inc.
“As a victim, it’s important to keep in mind that you don’t want to expose other associates to the predator,” says Brunetti. “If it’s a business situation, you don’t want to expose other colleagues; if it’s personal, the last place you want to go is your child’s school.”
Brunetti adds that “more sophisticated tailing jobs will involve multiple cars, or even a GPS tracking device placed inside the vehicle.” He strongly encourages that one should “ditch the car and take a cab or public transportation. Park the car in a garage, and take a cab if you are worried you are being tailed.”
It’s important to note that evading a tail can be a dangerous undertaking and the actions discussed above should only be used in extreme circumstances. In most cases, simply informing police will be enough to bust whomever is following you.
Bottom line: You’ll likely never be faced with a situation where being followed makes you fear for yourself or your family’s personal safety. But stuff happens. If you suspect that someone is on your tail, try to stay calm and notify authorities as soon as possible. Follow the tips above and you can buy some precious time until help arrives.