It probably will never happen to you. You probably never will be kidnapped or car-jacked. You probably never will be targeted by a home invader or a mugger or caught in the middle of an “active-shooter” situation. But no doubt the people who find themselves in these terrible situations did not expect that these things would happen to them either. Sometimes the worst does happen. When it does, it’s the people who are prepared with the right tools and techniques who have the best chance of surviving. Here’s what an experienced spy says you should know and do now

How to Spot Danger

If you pay attention to your surroundings, you often can spot would-be muggers, rapists, terrorists and other dangerous people before they strike. Their faces and body language might betray out-of-place emotions—perhaps they look tense in a location where ­everyone else is calm and happy. Their movements might be unusual, too—if you are walking slowly and window-shopping, why hasn’t this person passed you?

If you do spot a potential threat, these strategies can help you assess and deter the danger…

• Pick a pointless path. If you think someone might be following you, travel along a route that does not make much sense. Walk or drive through point C on your way from A to B. If this person takes the same route, the odds are high that you’re being followed. In spycraft, this is called a “surveillance-detection route.” Example: A woman shopping in a department store thought a man might be watching her. She walked from the shoe department across the store to the housewares department—where she spent a few minutes—and then back across the store to women’s apparel. She saw the man lurking at each stop, so she pointed him out to a security guard. The man immediately ran away, and the guard walked the woman to her car.

Warning: A good surveillance-­detection route does not take you through anywhere secluded, particularly if you are on foot. If someone does mean you harm, seclusion could give him/her an opportunity to strike.

• Make extended eye contact…followed by verbal contact. Your instinct when you feel the eyes of a predator upon you might be to avoid eye contact or scurry away. But that would only reinforce this predator’s conclusion that you are a perfect passive victim—someone who won’t fight back if attacked.

Instead, if you think a stranger is watching you, watch him back. Turn to face him and make strong, extended eye contact. This sends the message, I know you’re there, and I’m not intimidated. That’s enough to convince most bad guys that you’re not a suitable target after all. If this person does not quickly break eye contact, make verbal contact as well. If you are confident that this person is up to no good, you could speak aggressively. If you are less certain, you could just speak in an ordinary fashion because that may be enough to fluster a predator who had expected to be in total control of the situation.

Example: A man followed a married couple down a quiet street, switching sides of the road to get behind them. The husband turned, made steady eye contact and asked this potential mugger if he knew what time it was. The man appeared flustered, told him the time and then turned and walked the other way.

If someone whom you suspect has targeted you reverses his direction after you make eye contact and/or verbal contact, it is likely that he did have bad ­intentions.

• Ask a lie-detector question. Scenario: The man at your door offers a potentially legitimate reason for being there. Maybe he’s selling vacuums, or he needs your signature for a delivery. Should you remove the door’s security chain and open it? First, ask a question that should be easy for this person to answer, such as, “So, how many vacuums have you sold today?” or “Where did you park your delivery van? I don’t see it.” If this is a real salesman or delivery person, your question will sound like relatively normal conversation and he should answer without missing a beat. If this person is a criminal, there likely will be a pause as he tries to think up a plausible lie…and you might see a look of confusion or anxiety on his face.

Best Self-Defense Tools

Guns are effective self-defense tools only if you know how to use them safely and it’s legal to carry them where you live. Fixed-blade knives can be effective as well, but these, too, can attract odd looks. Two weapons—and one additional self-defense item—that you can bring almost everywhere without causing raised eyebrows…

• Folding knife. Knives can serve as weapons if you are attacked…or as cutting or prying tools if you become trapped. Folding knives can fit in a pocket or purse, but unfortunately, most of them are not made well enough to be reliable self-defense tools. Companies that make high-quality folding knives that won’t let you down in an emergency include Spyderco (, folding knife prices start at around $60 for a 5.8-inch knife with a 2.25-inch blade) and Benchmade ­(, folding knife prices start at around $110 for a 6.8-inch knife with a 2.9-inch blade).

• Tactical pen. A tactical pen is an actual working pen, an item so harmless in appearance that you even can carry it onto an airplane. But it has a pointed end and is made of a strong material, typically steel, titanium or aircraft-grade aluminum. In an emergency, you can use it as a weapon—hold the pen in your fist and jab with it as you would an ice pick. Example: A Florida woman used her tactical pen to fight off two men who apparently meant to abduct her.

Type “tactical pen” into to find numerous well-reviewed examples for less than $25.

Helpful: If you are grabbed by someone larger or stronger than you and you have no weapon or martial arts training, the easiest and most effective self-­defense strategy is to gouge the ­attacker’s eyes with your thumbs.

• Bulletproof panel. This is a lightweight sheet of Kevlar that slips into a laptop bag, briefcase or even a three-ring binder. In an active-shooter situation, hold the bag, briefcase or binder containing the panel in front of your chest to significantly reduce the odds that you will be hit by a fatal bullet. Example: BulletBlocker ( offers a range of Kevlar panels, most for $100 to $220. They typically weigh 10 to 20 ounces.

How to Ward Off Danger

Home invaders and burglars generally do not target houses randomly—they case neighborhoods and select properties that seem particularly vulnerable. You probably can guess what would make your home seem unappealing to bad guys—security cameras and an alarm system, a dog and exterior motion-detector lights. What surprises many home owners is how easy and inexpensive it is to take advantage of these deterrents…

• If you don’t want the dog, get dog toys. Spread a few brightly colored dog toys around your yard, and put a dog bowl on your porch. Pick toys and a bowl meant for big dogs. That should be enough to convince someone ­casing the neighborhood that there’s a big dog waiting inside. Crooks avoid messing with big dogs even more than they avoid home-security systems—dogs don’t take 10 minutes to respond to break-ins.

• If you don’t want the security system, get fake security cameras. Type “fake cameras” into, and you’ll find convincing examples that cost less than $10 apiece. Mount one on every side of your home. Criminals know that getting captured on video greatly increases their chances of getting captured in real life.

• If you don’t want to pay an electrician to wire motion-activated exterior lights, install solar-powered motion-activated lights. Solar lights typically do not require any external electrical connections. They actually are a more reliable deterrent than wired lights, too, because they won’t stop working during widespread power failures, a common time for break-ins. They are available for around $40 apiece in home stores and online.