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December 8, 2005 11:11 AM   Subscribe

Not even kidding: What are some good ways to avoid being tailed after a downtown meeting with people I don't want to follow me home and find out where I live? Anyone know of good tips for shaking pursuers, either from the movies or real life?
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (43 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

People don't like letting people know that they're stalkers either, so
1. Let them leave first.
2. Tell them you're going to go "over to a friend's place" to meet someone else.
3. Go shopping afterwards.
4. Take the subway/train. Get on the train to the opposite direction. Train cars are small so you can pretty much scan who's on them. Get off in 5 stops or so at a not-so-popular stop, and go the other way. Chances are they're either not following you, or they'd get off WITH you.

Those are what I'd do, but you might want to read this as well:
About.com's - what to do when you think you're being followed.
posted by Sallysings at 11:20 AM on December 8, 2005

I'm assuming your life is not in danger, you just don't want Blind Date From Hell stalking you.

If you're driving, the Eddie Murphy trick from Beverly Hills Cop can work. When the light is green, don't go. Ignore the beeps from behind you. When it turns yellow, creep out. Just as it's turning red, go.
posted by bondcliff at 11:21 AM on December 8, 2005 [2 favorites]

Don't go home. Get on Subway cars and walk out the other side (if that's possible).
posted by drezdn at 11:22 AM on December 8, 2005

Take a couple different subways, busses or cabs. Take a cab to a place where you have a car service waiting for you called in via cellphone. Take a car, subway or bus to an intercity train station and wander around for a while then leave via a different exit. It's really hard to follow people who don't want to be followed unless you are a pro. However if they are feds or fed level organized they can put the whole foot team with radios, one in front, two in back thing down on you, which is harder to shake... In that case go to a police station or do some real fancy evasion and running and costume changes, but they will still probably get you if they really want to.
posted by Divine_Wino at 11:26 AM on December 8, 2005

When all else fails, find a cop or go to the police station. Explain to them that you think you're being followed. Share a few donuts and have a cup of coffee. If the cops are nice, they'll give you a ride somewhere and can also help you shake the pursuer if he/she is not scared off by the close proximity of the police.
posted by camworld at 11:26 AM on December 8, 2005

A very interesting question. I wouldn't get in a car and start driving (if that is part of the getting home process) until I was absolutely sure I'd lost them on foot. I wouldn't want them to ever see my car, even if the license plates was obscured or fake.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 11:28 AM on December 8, 2005

Man, who the heck are you hanging out with?

But seriously folks. Good advice above - either leave before they do - like they are in the club and you are hightailing it out of there or leave after they do - like you and the bartender and the bouncer are the only folks left.

Separate yourself from the pack.
posted by willmize at 11:34 AM on December 8, 2005

Sallysings' #5 is right on. From downtown SF, I once took the N Judah towards Caltrain, got off and waited for the train going back the other way, making sure no one else did the same. If someone had, I would have gotten off at the last moment and taken Caltrain or a cab (plentiful at the station) instead. Be sure that the person doesn't get back on as you go through downtown again.

It's much harder to do if you want not to be observed throwing the tail. One useful tool is to set up a spotter. Position a friend outside of the meeting place who can watch the person you're meeting and signal you if the coast is clear or not. Obviously, make sure that person is unknown to the person you're meeting.
posted by precipice at 11:35 AM on December 8, 2005

Wear inconspicuous clothing, like a black jacket or coat. If you're a woman, don't do anything distinctive with your hair (long, straight). Make it difficult to pick you out in a crowd from behind, and easy to confuse you with someone else.

Go into a hotel, a mall or a movie theater (preferably crowded with people dressed just like you), and leave by a side exit.

Thomas Crown's trick: change your appearance in mid pursuit. Pull down your ponytail, take off a hat or a wig, trash the jacket, reveal a previously concealed shirt of a different color. Change out of or into high heels to alter your height and your walk.

Crowds are your friend. You should be able to navigate them quickly but without being so pushy as to call attention to yourself. Avoiding pursuit on empty streets late at night will be much more difficult, so leave your location while there are still people out and about.
posted by junkbox at 11:38 AM on December 8, 2005

Oh, also, smokebombs and plenty of 'em.
posted by Divine_Wino at 11:41 AM on December 8, 2005

The subway thing would work.

Also, drive down some local streets with no cars on them. If anyone's behind you stop, put on your hazards and wait for them to pass.
posted by xammerboy at 11:42 AM on December 8, 2005

Best way to clean your tail - go in circles. If you keep seeing the same person behind you, go to a police station.
posted by weirdoactor at 11:43 AM on December 8, 2005

Ride a bicycle to the meeting, and leave it a couple of blocks away. Afterwards, walk back to it, then ride against traffic for a few blocks, turning at least once. If they don't have a helicopter in the air, you're clean.
posted by nicwolff at 11:48 AM on December 8, 2005

Oddly enough I actually have some experience with this.

If you are driving your own car to and from this meeting then your strategy depends on whether or not you want them to know that you know that they are trying to follow you, if you don't want them to know what you know then :

1. enter and exit one or more large underground parking garages like under a mall, it's very easy to lose someone in there and to see who is following

2. Drive to the wrong suburb, continue to drive until you know you have lost them then head home, they will then think that they at least confirmed the general area that you live in.

If you don't care if they know that you know:

1. Basically all the tricks from above, espeically timing traffic lights to lose them, you can practice this and actually get pretty good at it.

2. U-turns are your friend

If you are commuting on foot or public transit then it's pretty easy and again depends on what you do or do not want them to know:

1. Change trains and busses, you will nearly always lose someone easily this way.

Just always remember to go anywhere but home until you are CERTAIN they are gone.
posted by Cosine at 11:49 AM on December 8, 2005

Agreed on the police/police station, esp. if you're a woman.

For me ... I never take the same path, and I know my city so well (and I drive fast enough) that it's difficult to follow me. I was playing a game of Assassin, and I lasted for ten days before I finally got "shot" at home because I kept losing my assassin in traffic, and I rarely went straight home after work. He was *really* dedicated, or he never would've waited the five hours underneath my neighbor's storage unit in the pouring rain that he had to wait to actually get me...
posted by SpecialK at 11:54 AM on December 8, 2005

If they are following behind you, let them see you talking on a cell phone and looking worried. They will probably assume you are talking to the police and will hopefully leave.
posted by lohmannn at 12:09 PM on December 8, 2005

I like the bicycle trick.

From the movies: Get an accomplice dressed to look like you. Go into a building and have the accomplice leave the building. You can leave later with changed appearance. It works in the movies, but who knows in real life. If you know who is following you an elevator in a building with multiple exits, preferably on multiple floors might work. As long as the tail fails to enter the elevator, then you are probably lost to them.
posted by caddis at 12:25 PM on December 8, 2005

Go into a nearby building (many floors), take the elevator to a bunch of different floors (of course without the assumed follower in the same elevator that you're in). (Go up to 20, up to 25, down to 3, then take the emergency stairs down to the floor.) That should help a little bit.
posted by itchie at 12:50 PM on December 8, 2005

Don't go in your car, it's easy enough for someone to chase a plate down. If possible, rent (or have friends rent) a car or three (how serious is the problem?), take public transportation, have someone drop you off then someone else pick you up, go someplace nearby and walk the remainder, etc. Looping a large route is handy if you keep an eye open for sticky cars, esp. in a light traffic area. Scout your routes ahead of time. Swap cars with friends a time or ten on the way home, out of view. If you're parking cars for your escape, don't ever park them in such a way that requires backing out.

Modify your general appearance dramatically before the event. Depending on how serious a problem this is, temporarily change your hair color, eye makeup style, etc. beforehand, then revert immediately afterwards. Don't just change your clothes, dress differently at the event than you ever would otherwise and don't reuse the look.

Walk slightly differently. If you normally have a brisk walk, shuffle a bit at the event, then return to normal afterwards. Put something uncomfortable in a shoe to force a limp on yourself and help you remember which foot is gimpy. If you normally smile a lot, don't.


If you're a woman or otherwise likely to be seen as an easy mark, don't go alone. If it's serious and you can competently (and legally of course) carry, do so. If not, take mace or pepper spray and/or a knife, just in case.

Know where the police or fire stations are along your route(s). Use them if things go bad. Take a cell phone and call 911 if you have to. If you expect trouble, have friends awaiting your call, or use 2-way radios.

If you can't tell anyone else the situation immediately, describe your intentions in writing or in a message somewhere in case you get yourself vanished. If you're followed and can get the plate number, write it down and/or call your friends or your answering machine and repeat the plate number and car description, along with other relevant information.

All that said...

If someone serious (a professional) wants to follow you, you won't know and you almost certainly can't stop them.
posted by mumeishi at 12:51 PM on December 8, 2005

Take a cab from the venue - if possible, take it to a public transportation station, or the cops (if it's more than just your garden variety, "you are weird and clingy and I don't want you knowing where I live" thing).

I would also second altering your appearance. Wear something distinctive to a meeting, like a hat that hides your normal hairstyle or something, then take it off in the cab on the subway/bus. If you're a woman, wearing a cute hat that etiquette won't demand that you absolutely remove indoors might help here.

This is where the "bad date friend call" can have a double purpose. Have a friend call you at a prearranged time and indicate an emergency (on a bad date, this is where you could escape gracefully) that would necessitate them picking you up or meeting you somewhere public (hospital, library, police station) and then leave immediately to meet them there.

If you have to walk any distance, alter your walk if you can - I know that I walk much faster than most people on a sidewalk, and it makes it easier to pick me out of a crowd.
posted by Cyrie at 1:08 PM on December 8, 2005

Advice from a friend of mine re being tailed at night. Are you male? Are there brothels/massage parlours in the area? Go up, hang out, if necessary pay a few bucks to do nothing. Get changed into different clothes before you leave. They will have security and more than one exit.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:25 PM on December 8, 2005

The best way to smoke out a tail is to window shop. Pic a side fo the street where the windows will provide reflection on what's going on around you. Pause frequently to watch who's behind and note people who you see on both sides of the street or multiple times. If windows don't provide you good viewing, go into a store with a good view of the street and browse.

As mentioned earlier, crowds are your friend. Walk backwards and to the side slowly in a crowd. If someone is following you they will end up in front of you and you will have effectivly vanished.

If you are planning on changing clothes, make sure you change your shoes. They are often overlooked and people who know what they are doing when following know to look for them.

The most important thing to have on your side is time. Set up the meeting at a time that gives you a *lot* of free time afterwards. You do not want to be rushed anywhere if you are trying to lose someone.
posted by DragonBoy at 1:28 PM on December 8, 2005

Letting the stalker leave first isn't usually a good idea, because s/he'll just go outside and futz with a celphone or cigarettes until you come out, and then tail you from there. Better to exit early and unexpectedly and leave them in the dust.

If you're female and these stalkers are annoying men who are interested in you, I am familiar with that scenario. I often have people meet me after obligations and then we go for a drink/dinner/coffee/movie, so maybe try to arrange that for the next meeting? Having someone meet up with you in the evening can send a message that implies, "I'm not single, so try someone else." If you're going to do this, try to arrange for the person who meets you to seem like a likely candidate to be your lover in terms of age and attractiveness and greeting style.
posted by xo at 1:30 PM on December 8, 2005

Head for a subway station, get on the first train heading in the wrong direction. Get off a few stops down the line, walk along the platform and get back on the same train a few carriages down just before the doors close. Switch trains a few stops later.
posted by dazed_one at 2:06 PM on December 8, 2005

This is an amazing thread. I predict it will be featured on the MeFi sidebar.

If you know anything about the meeting place, does it have multiple exits? Is there a way you can pretend to go to the bathroom but actually leave? I've slipped out that way before. In the winter, it takes some arranging -- you have to make sure your coat, etc. is easily accessible to the exit you plan to use. You can usually shuttle it there earlier in the evening. Then you loudly -- but not too obviously -- announce that you're going to pee. And, surprisingly, you never return.

You can only get away with that once, and people will question you about it the next day, but it may help -- especially if used in conjunction with some of the other tips in this thread.
posted by grumblebee at 2:39 PM on December 8, 2005

Whatever your escape method, I would strongly suggest you walk and do not run. Running will call attention to yourself, but a normal, confident walk - especially if you blend into your environment - is rather difficult to spot.

And yeah, amazing thread. Go safely, anonymous!
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:57 PM on December 8, 2005

I also like the bike idea.

Also, walk or drive around the same block (or a larger looping path) a few times. No-one walks around the same block a few times, thus anyone else doing it is following you.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:09 PM on December 8, 2005

Go see a film. Half an hour into it, walk out of the alternate exit, appear at some weird doorway in a carpark (that's where they exit in my experience) dressed differently, and make your way home.
posted by tomble at 4:24 PM on December 8, 2005

Oh, on an even more extreme level, duck into a storm water drain (carry a torch, don't do it if it's raining), reappear through a street level grate some distance away.

I have actually done this - but it's important to know where the grate comes up, you don't want to appear in front of a truck.
posted by tomble at 4:25 PM on December 8, 2005

There are three scenarios -

1) You'll be fine as long as they don't physically follow you and you don't give them any easy to trace data.


2) The people will have a large motivation and resource pool for tracking you down (drug dealers, FBI).


3) They don't care if you see them and will stay within feet of you.

For #1, rent a car and then use any of the tricks above to lose them. Parking garages with exits on different streets work great.

For #2 use buses. Make sure the bus you use to get to the meeting place doesn't stop near your home. Wear gloves, don't leave behind anything you've touched without the gloves on.

After the meeting take a bus to a mall or other building where there are multiple exits and crowds. Have several of these lined up. Practice before hand and move very quickly. Spend some practice time pretending someone is following you and work out ways to ditch them. Practice, improvise and refine. Assume they'll try to be watching all exits, so find places where you'll be able to get out before they can cover the exits. Use cabs, buses, pedicabs, anything. Tailing a determined person on a bike is very hard. Consider buying some bikes with cash and having them stashed here and there.

Then take several buses home and spend some time walking between each bus change. Even if you assume they'll have several rotating tails you should be able to spot them.

Rinse and repeat until you feel safe.

3) This is extreme and you are most certainly in over your head. You have done something really dumb. Assuming you can't go to the police, you need to fight them, or have a friend fight them.
posted by y6y6y6 at 4:45 PM on December 8, 2005

If they don't have a helicopter in the air, you're clean.

And if they do have a helicopter, drive to the airport. They won't be able to follow you because of the restricted area. (At least, according to Heat and Speed.)
posted by kirkaracha at 4:46 PM on December 8, 2005

Oh, on an even more extreme level, duck into a storm water drain (carry a torch, don't do it if it's raining), reappear through a street level grate some distance away.

This is possibly awful advice. If you're being followed never go into a secluded area of any kind.

After reading through the thread I'd reconsider going to the meeting if the type of people you're meeting with are likely to follow you home.
posted by 6550 at 4:59 PM on December 8, 2005

Anonymous needs to post a followup when s/he survives.

Not too much information, in case his pursuers are MeFites. You shady bastards.
posted by symphonik at 5:23 PM on December 8, 2005

Crazy Ivans worked in Red October.
posted by Oddly at 7:06 PM on December 8, 2005

Meet them somewhere large and busy, with multiple exits, if possible.
Make a show of calling a taxi from company XYZ to pick you up at the main entrance. You mustn't actually call the taxi, just pretend you have. Perhaps it would be funny for you to call audioblogger so you could listen to it afterwards. It is not important, this is just a charade. Don't say the time, but throw in lots of yesses and nos. If your liason objects to you not having told the taxi when to come, explain it off through the yesses and nos.
Have them leave first (give an excuse for a reason to remain back for a minute or two: the washroom will do), and when they're out of sight, quickly take your discreet coat which your liason never saw from your big bag and put it on. Put on a big hat and sunglasses from the aforesaid bag. Promptly make off through a side exit (service, loading or receiving exits are ideal), where the taxi with tinted windows from company ABC you summoned well in advance is waiting for you. It is very important that you move quickly when they leave, for they will certainly be waiting outside, but they'll expect you to be a few minutes. If you wait a minute or two, they will be 100% alert for your impending exit. If you wait longer than that, they'll become suspicious and might, heaven forbid, start to suspect you left through your back exit.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 7:23 PM on December 8, 2005

I'd just nip into a café, and then go out via the back exit that's usually somewhere near the bathroom, slip down a back alley and reappear on a different street. Putting up a hood or slipping a scarf over your head is a good impromptu way of looking less like yourself.
posted by zadcat at 8:34 PM on December 8, 2005

There are a few other "traffic" tricks you could use. Pull up to a light in the regular lanes, next to the left turn lane, but proceed to make a left turn (presumably safely). Or in a regular intersection pull out as if you intend to make a left, but switch to go forward instead.

I would also rent, or borrow, a car that has neutral colors -- black, silver -- and undistinctive styling. Leave the Aztek at home. You could have a confederate leave you a car somewhere, and switch to it halfway through.

You could also enhance your follower-detection ability with stick-on rear-view mirrors you can get at Autozone or wherever.

Also, if you can drive away after dark (easier this time of year!), practice driving without your lights on. You'll be really hard to see without taillights. You'll have to be extremely careful where you try this, though.

You could get one of those prop-up mannequins that commuters use to get in the high-occupancy lanes, and switch between having it up and down at various times.

Back in the building, there are a few things you can try. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Learn the layout of the building in advance -- maybe you can start in one stairwell and cut across a floor to another. The building might have a stairwell that opens directly outside, but not in front -- use that. If it's important enough, you could consider using a fire exit, which will inconvenience people in the building, but which probably won't be caught doing.

If this isn't a life-or-death matter, though, I'd KISS -- keep it simple, stupid. Go shopping. Meet a friend at the mall. Go home with the friend, get your car later.
posted by dhartung at 8:43 PM on December 8, 2005

Rehersal and Planning are key.
Do dry runs so that you feel comfortable (your heart does not race, hands do not shake etc.)
First get a map and plan 2 possible strategies. Reherse and be prepared to do either.
Keep it simple. Bags and disguises are good in movies, but not so practical in practice. If you want to go that route, best just to have items that you can discard (different color shirt underneath etc) than a bag with a change of clothes. Unless you have a cover story for the bag, this is not smart.
Anything that you bring with you to help in the deception must have a cover story (reason for having it) rehersed.
reherse, everything. If you are comfortable and relaxed, your chance of success is much higher.
dhartung's advice of KISS is also good.
Best of luck.
posted by TheFeatheredMullet at 9:19 PM on December 8, 2005

A good tail will employ a group of cars/people following you, cycling the "lead" agent so you you only see any given agent a fraction of the time. The point here is that you shouldn't be comfortable if you haven't noticed any consistent person/car behind you.

I think getting alone in a subway car is the only way to be absolutley sure you're clean.

If the elements trailing you really have resources, get a frequency counter to ensure you aren't being tracked via some sort of transponder. Don't carry a cell-phone.
posted by phrontist at 10:20 PM on December 8, 2005

The point here is that you shouldn't be comfortable if you haven't noticed any consistent person/car behind you.

That should read:

The point here is that you shouldn't be comfortable just because you haven't noticed any consistent person/car behind you.
posted by phrontist at 10:21 PM on December 8, 2005

some good advice if you're writing a thriller, anonymous.. if you're not writing a thriller then don't use the more bollocksy pieces of advice ; )

common sense, mace, mobfon, ..that covers everything (except subterranean mutant mob assassins)
posted by suni at 3:35 AM on December 9, 2005

There isn’t really enough information in the question, which implies more than one pursuer, but if they could all be addressed at once (or most could be, with the remainder in earshot), I would walk right up to them and tell them I am aware they are attempting to follow me; that I have significant and effective countermeasures; and the police find me extremely credible. Then take their pictures right then and there with your digicam and leave on the spot.
posted by joeclark at 4:34 PM on December 9, 2005

Thanks for all the good suggestions. I'm a journalist who may be meeting with some very questionable characters. If I ever stop posting lame Ask MeFi responses, you'll know something has happened!
posted by johngoren at 4:58 PM on December 9, 2005

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