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9 Tricks to Outsmart Criminals You Should Memorize Now

Authorities do a lot to prevent crime, but are you doing your part, too? Be one step ahead of the bad guys with these smart theft-prevention strategies.

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Crime stoppers

Police employ plenty of high-tech methods to predict and prevent crime, but you need to do your part, too. That’s especially important now that the FBI has released data showing an almost 4 percent increase in violent crime—murder, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery—between 2014 and 2015. The good news is that violent crime in 2015 was 0.7 percent less than in 2011 and 16.5 percent lower than in 2006. Still, such statistics are little consolation if you are a crime victim. Try these easy theft-prevention strategies to ensure you stay safe and secure whether you’re in your hometown or visiting another city. You should also learn the things that make you an easy target for thieves.

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Heed to stranger danger

Wariness around strangers isn’t just for kids. Take the tips provided by the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) and modify them for your own use. As you may recall, kids confronted by strangers are told to think, “No, Go, Yell, Tell.” That stands for “say no,” “run away,” “yell as loud as possible,” and “tell a trusted adult.” When you are approached by a stranger, perhaps asking for cash, the best way to handle it is to figuratively say “no” by walking away, said Evelyn Hannon, editor of the travel site “The moment you reach for your wallet, you are giving a potential thief a clue about where you keep your cash. I always pretend I don’t understand and I walk on,” she said. “Save your charity for when you are at home and can understand better whether the ‘asker’ is dangerous or not.” These are 21 secrets burglars won’t tell you.

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Keep your cool

If a fellow shopper, airline passenger, or even pedestrian makes a rude comment, remain courteous, said travel expert Stefanie Michaels, also known as Adventure Girl. “A simple thank you and apology works wonders and goes a long way with passengers [and others],” said Michaels. “The old adage ‘courtesy is contagious’ is more powerful than ever, with cramped airline seats, oversold flights, and cranky passengers.”

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Dress to blend in

Try to remain as inconspicuous as possible whenever you’re in public. “Depending on the circumstance, I always tell women, (especially) when traveling alone, to remove all jewelry and leave it at home,” said Michaels. “No bright-colored outfits that make you stand out in a crowd, and no wording on T-shirts. The more you stand out, the higher chance you can be targeted as a victim.” Back at home, look out for these 13 signs a criminal is watching your house.

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iStock /sanjeri

Don’t overshare

It’s fine to chat with fellow shoppers, passengers, and others, but Hannon advises it’s best to “remain a mystery.” In casual conversation, never divulge to strangers where you are staying and why you are traveling. When other travelers ask you what you do for a living and you’re not sure if they can be trusted, tell them you’re a policewoman on holiday. I do it all the time just to be on the safe side.”

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iStock /jacoblund

Leave a trail

Everyone likes to meet new friends for casual conversations. Whether you’re at home or out of town, it’s smart to meet in a public place. When you’re at home, tell family and friends where you’re going. But what if you’re traveling solo on vacation or at a business meeting? In those cases, Hannon recommended you leave a note in your hotel room saying what time you leave, where you’re going, and anything you can add about whom you’re meeting. “Like Hansel and Gretel, always leave a trail in case you run into trouble,” said Hannon. When you’re away, you should also use these tricks for fooling burglars by making it look like you’re home.

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Avoid looking touristy

When you see people carrying backpacks and studying maps, you almost certainly think they’re tourists. And, of course, tourists are generally easy marks for some con men and criminals. For theft prevention, try to blend in a bit. Leave your backpack in your hotel room and carry your maps and camera in a shopping bag from a local store, said Hannon. Thieves are more likely to grab a backpack or purse than a shopping bag, she added.

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Rely on more than just GPS

Whether you’re going to an unfamiliar area in your own town or a foreign country, plan your travel in advance. Just knowing the general direction of your destination–north, south, east, or west–can keep you from becoming hopelessly lost if your electronic map fails. And carry a paper map as a back up. But as we’ve told you before, don’t stand on a busy street corner looking at the map and glancing nervously alone. Go to a restaurant, café, or other less obvious spot and regroup. Learn other tips that’ll help you stay safe while traveling alone.

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Be picky about ATMs

Of course, you shouldn’t use an ATM in a deserted area or if suspicious people are nearby. But take an extra step, and make sure the ATM you use has a security camera pointing at it. “Smart criminals prefer spots that are not recording all the time,” said Hannon. And, of course, don’t flash big bills or wads of cash, said Michaels.

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Don’t be too attached to your belongings

Ever see the news photos showing people lugging carry-ons with them when they evacuate a plane (or any area!) due to a safety incident? “Absolutely ridiculous, because not only does it cause a safety issue for the person with the luggage, but it also puts other passengers at risk,” said Michaels. Leave your possessions, and protect human life. Before leaving for vacation or just a trip around the block, fix these 35 things that make your house a target for burglars.

Nancy Dunham
Nancy Dunham is an award-winning Washington, D.C.-based journalist who specializes in writing about personal finance, automobiles, insurance, and lifestyle topics. Her work appears in People magazine, Automotive News, MoneyTalks News, Fortune, US News & World Report and Mental Floss. She also has written for corporate clients including Nationwide Insurance, Hartford Insurance, Johns Hopkins University, and the National Automobile Dealers Associaton.

Dunham also writes feature stories on musicians, television, pets and travel. That work has appeared in USA Today, Gannett, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone and many other publications.

Before moving to full-time freelance work in 2008, Dunham was a managing editor of several business-to-business and healthcare publications. She was also a daily newspaper report for Gannett Newspapers.