Criminals operate at different degrees of investment, risk, and violence. While some meticulously craft an intricate roadmap of their plans, others simply prey on those most unsuspecting, unprepared and vulnerable, looking for indicators in potential victims that would make them suitable targets of crimes of opportunity.
While there’s no way to read minds or predict the future, a little preparedness goes a long way in preventing yourself from becoming one of these victims of crime. Criminal opportunists often look for the path of least resistance in selecting their targets. NRA's Refuse To Be A Victim® Program outlines 10 things criminals look for in “easy targets.”
Criminals are more likely to victimize individuals who appear meek or not confident, as they expect these persons to put up less of a fight or struggle in defending themselves and their property. To avoid being marked as meager, portray confidence by walking tall, and make eye contact with those around you. Be alert, and practice good situational awareness wherever you go.
An individual alone, particularly in less-trafficked areas, is a prime target for wrongdoers. If you are leaving a building by yourself, especially after hours or during dark hours, consider asking a security guard or co-worker to escort you to your car. Park as close as possible to the entrance of a building in well-lit areas. Be wary of persons who seem abnormally interested in or observant of you as you prepare to leave a building.
Criminals are more likely to strike if they know you’re carrying valuables or money, and using public ATMs is a major indicator that you’re carrying cash. Always be aware of what’s happening around you when using an ATM. Never use an ATM where people are loitering. Be sure to secure your money and ATM or debit card before leaving the ATM. Avoid ATM’s with one way in or out, or those that are located in dimly lit or obscured spaces, as these are ripe environments for criminals to perpetrate a crime with fewer chances of being seen and stopped.
Opportunistic criminals look for victims who appear lost, disoriented or unsure where they are. When traveling to a new area, plot out your path using a maps or navigation app, GPS or even with a traditional paper map BEFORE you go. Out on the road, criminals interpret sidelined vehicles with drivers poring over maps as a sign of vulnerability. Similarly, a person constantly staring into their phone at maps and directions while walking indicates that they may not know their surroundings, and thusly, won’t know where to go for help.
If you’re not paying attention to what’s going on around you, experienced and observant criminals will notice and take advantage. Texting or talking on your phone is a clear indicator to a criminal that you’re distracted, or at least less likely to notice a looming threat. Should you need to answer an urgent string of text messages or engage in a long conversation, consider finding a populated area, like a café or store, before making the call. If it can wait, so should you, until you’re at your destination. If you’re listening to music through headphones, consider uncovering one ear or keeping the volume down so that you can still hear ambient noise around you.
Darkness provides cover and concealment, two critical elements criminals need to help them commit their acts unnoticed. Keep your home and surrounding property well-lit, and use motion-detecting lights, as these react to movement and can instantly reveal someone lurking in the shadows. When in public, choose parking spots nearest street and parking lot lights, and park as close to your destination as you can. If you need to travel into a high-crime area, do so during the day if possible, or consider alternatives.
Criminals look for victims that may be less prepared to defend themselves if accosted, so don’t burden yourself with too many things to carry if you can help it. Avoid carrying too many packages, pieces of equipment, or personal belongings when you walk to and from your vehicle. Keep one arm and hand free whenever possible to be able to fend off a potential criminal, and consider keeping a key or other edged object in hand to give you a defensive advantage.
Patient criminals look for patterns in behavior, such as a potential victim that takes the same walking route home after work at night, or routinely drives through a bad part of town with frequent traffic lights. If a criminal can predict your next move, they can be a step ahead of you, waiting to strike. Try mixing up your routines occasionally. Consider taking multiple routes to and from your job or school, and avoid parking in the same spot each day if you can. If you feel you’re being followed, seek help immediately.
While criminals are unscrupulous by nature, some are worse than others, preying on good Samaritans answering the calls of those in need. Men are often victimized after pulling over to help women who appear to have suffered vehicle trouble on the roadway. These false victims often have hidden partners in crime, waiting to attack the responding helper and steal their effects, up to and including their vehicle. While helping those in trouble is noble, always have a plan in the event you suddenly become the victim while trying to assist others.
When scoping out potential victims and opportunities, criminals are more likely to strike homes they believe to be unoccupied or occupied solely by children or elderly persons. Considering using programmable timers to illuminate your home, giving the impression that the house is occupied. You can even use multiple timers to create the illusion of normal nightly activity if you’ll be away from home on vacation or for extended periods of time. If your child is home alone and hears a knock on the door, teach them to tell the person, through the door if possible, that you are home, but are unable to come to the door. As always, make sure to teach your children to dial 911 if they believe someone is trying to break in to the home.