Why am I being followed?
December 9, 2016 7:41 AM   Subscribe

There's a mysterious man in a suit and a high-end car that's following me. I didn't think anything of it until my neighbors called to say they were concerned. I went to the police and they told me to take a picture of the license plate and come back to the station as soon as it happened. What the heck?

I was pulling out of my driveway and there was a car parked partially blocking the driveway. I did "shrug, go away" motion, didn't think of it. It was a high end luxury car and a guy in a suit, so I assumed he was picking up a neighbor up at the airport. He proceeded to follow me very closely for about a mile, and I thought he was angry at my gesture (I did not flip him off or anything just shrugged).

The following day, same guy, same car, sitting in the same spot looking at me. I almost went to knock on his window to see if he was lost or was looking for a certain address. Again, did not think anything of it, and told myself I was being paranoid.

My ex-cop neighbor called me and asked if I was okay, told me to to immediately go to the police station and that he saw the entire thing. If he hadn't said this I would have chalked it up to an over active imagination. I went to the police station and was surprised they took my report and told them to call me immediately if it happened again. As far I can tell he did nothing illegal except tailgate, and act kind of creepy. They told me not to approach the car, and come straight to the station or call 911 next time it happened. Asked if I had any known enemies, etc. I don't, I'm a simple Internet nerd. I'm not political or anything else, sometimes I play video games.

He tailed my car VERY closely, then would veer away after about a mile. Is this a PI? Someone investigating me? They are not being very coy about it, and it feels like intimidation. I feel as if this might be a case of mistaken intimidation. As far as I know there's no reason for someone to be tailing me, or tailing me and being so obvious.

I don't feel physically in danger, I'm a male and I'm rather fit. Is this a thing? This feels like it is out of a bad Lifetime movie or television show. I plan on taking the police's advice, but feel as if I should take extra precautions. I'm actually more worried they are worried, if that makes any sense. To the point where I might stay with friends for a bit. Am I overreacting? Has anyone had this happen to them before?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
You are not overreacting. This is a super weird thing. Follow your gut. Go stay with friends for a bit and ask neighbors to keep an eye on your place. Stay safe!
posted by Bella Donna at 7:46 AM on December 9, 2016 [15 favorites]

You're not overreacting at all - definitely rely on your ex-cop neighbor to keep an eye on your place and follow your instincts. If that means staying with some friends, do so.

You may want to set up a low-budget security system or camera to try and capture a license plate or suspicious behavior as well.

Focus on staying calm and be grateful you have a good neighbor and local police force assisting here.
posted by glaucon at 7:49 AM on December 9, 2016 [11 favorites]

There are a lot of reasons why this might be happening, so I wouldn't worry yourself too much with the "why's."

AFAICT, you've done everything right so far. In addition to following the police's advice, I'd maybe play around with switching up your routine a bit: Maybe got to work an hour early/stay late? Maybe take another route home?

I'd also make a habit of letting people know where you are. Since your neighbor is an ex-cop AND thought this was important enough to bring up, it seems like you could maybe ask him to be your "tracker" in a sense? When you leave work, text him with an ETA, and if you don't text him that you're home safe within, say, 30 mins of the ETA they call the cops? (might be better to give him a key to your place so he can 1.) check if you're there, and 2.) call the cops if you aren't)

This sucks. I hope you just won the publisher's clearinghouse sweepstakes or something.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:50 AM on December 9, 2016 [28 favorites]

I'd call the cops next time you saw him. As in, see car, do not leave the house, call then. Tell dispatch "someone with a history of following me is blocking my driveway for the Nth day." They should roll on that very quickly. Expectation would be that the cops would arrive and question the subject - you come out to the scene (end of driveway) and talk to one of the cops for your side of the story; mention your friend and invite them to talk to him for corroboration.

If this is happening when you're needing to go somewhere, such as work, I'd call ahead and tell them you might be late. I'd nail this down and not wait for another installment of these shenanigans on the road.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:03 AM on December 9, 2016 [45 favorites]

Your ex-cop neighbor and the local police are totally right! It doesn't matter one tiny bit why this dude is doing it, it's enough that he is doing it. (Any chance your neighbor will also try for a license-plate photo?)

It was a high end luxury car and a guy in a suit

So what?!? High end luxury cars can be stolen, and anybody can wear a suit.

I don't feel physically in danger, I'm a male and I'm rather fit.

That's all well and good, but what if he rams you when he's tailgating? Or simply pulls a gun on you: physically fit or not, getting shot is Never A Good Thing. Or maybe he's planning to rob you blind as soon as he has your schedule down pat, or else he's stalking you to lead him to someone else, or or or....
posted by easily confused at 8:14 AM on December 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

> I hope you just won the publisher's clearinghouse sweepstakes or something.

Heh. I actually did some work with them as a vendor, and learned a little about their "Prize Patrol" process. In any case, this isn't them, because they wouldn't spend money on a stakeout like this; their production is expensive enough as it is.

> I don't feel physically in danger, I'm a male and I'm rather fit.

This is the sort of thing that is usually overcome with preparation on his part, including but not limited to weaponry. Play it safe and avoid opportunities for him to get the drop on you. Consider parking a block away and going out the back door if you can. Your feelings of risk do not necessarily have any correlation to actual risk, and you have no way of knowing the actual risk here until it's mostly too late to avoid it.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:21 AM on December 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

Can you set up a security camera that has good image quality? In my neighborhood the police have now started actively going door to door after something happens in the street to ask for homeowner and business video. There have been two warrants put out based on videos this year alone, and many more screen grabs have been shared publicly.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:24 AM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

World's Worst Private investigator?
posted by Draccy at 8:27 AM on December 9, 2016 [9 favorites]

If you have an old laptop or tablet sitting around, there are cheap or free apps you can install to essentially make it a surveillance camera. Can you do that and set it in a window that looks out to your driveway? Or, if money isn't an issue, go to best buy or target and get a nest cam.
posted by k8t at 8:45 AM on December 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

It sounds like attempted intimidation to me, but obviously it's not very effective if you don't know the who and why. So maybe its attempted intimidation with a case of mistaken identity. Unless you actually are diddling someone else's wife, or owe money to a loan shark, bookie or drug dealer...

In your place I would try to get a picture of the back of the car w/license plate without having to go out there with camera or cell phone. This could mean either getting someone else in the neighborhood to do it, or use of technology. It might be worthwhile to experiment taking pictures of just anyone's car to see how close you have to get to take a picture with legible numbers.
posted by SemiSalt at 8:48 AM on December 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I can only think of few, implausible things. Firstly, as mentioned, a terrible PI. I find it hard to believe one could be that bad, but my instincts say most of them are not very good, so...

Secondly, some kind of official investigation. I'm getting this vibe from the car and the clothing, and kindof the MO. The obviousness could even be an intentional ploy to pressure you into reacting (like trying to dispose of evidence). Of course, it doesn't work because you aren't aware of whatever it is they think you did, and you're just baffled instead. I actually find this one pretty highly unlikely, at least rationally, but my gut/intuition really wanted me to mention it (and over time, I have learned to trust my gut). Also, if you *are* doing something even mildly illegal, the probability changes to pretty high. My gut also wanted me to point out that it could be your work investigating you for some reason, which is a supposition I cannot really back up at all.

Finally, it's someone studying your routine, so that they can do some crime against you. It would probably be just rob your house, but could really be run you off the road and kill you. This definitely strikes me as the most probable. But my gut says this one isn't it.

If he followed you all the way to your work, or until it became clear you weren't going to work, it could be the goal is to find out where you work. I can actually think of a lot of reasons a person might do this; they all make that person look dumb, but a totally common and believable kind of dumb.

Now, personally, I would not change my routine, because by this point I would want to do everything possible to find out who this guy is and what he's doing. So I would do everything I could to make sure we had a third encounter, at which time I could get his plate / call the cops. If I never saw him again after the first two times, it would bother me for a long time. I am certain that this is not the right thing to do, jsyk, and carries a real risk of dying.

One actual suggestion I have for you is, when you do manage to get the cops on-scene to confront him (which should definitely be your goal), I would walk outside and go over to them so that I could hear the conversation they have with the guy. It's still a safety risk, and the cops may not even let you, but otherwise there is the risk that he's a "good" guy doing a "legitimate" thing, and the cops keep his secret rather than telling you what he was actually doing.

I'm with you on one aspect... the incidents you described, as described here, would not make me very concerned. It'd be pretty damn weird... I probably would have knocked on the window, 'cause I am dumb like that... but I'd dismiss it pretty quickly as just a very strange coincidence.

But then, when you describe your cop-neighbor's action, and the local cops' reaction, it makes me feel like they are picking up on something you aren't, or aren't realizing is even significant enough to have mentioned here. So once I'd seen/heard that stuff from them, then I would be very serious about the whole thing.
posted by teatime at 8:54 AM on December 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

If it is intimidation of some kind, it's possible that they've accidentally been intimidating the wrong target by accident. That would explain why you don't know why they're doing it. Stay safe.
posted by permiechickie at 9:05 AM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I should have said: Whatever the root causes, I think this almost certainly comes down to one of 1) mistaken identity, or 2) a completely insane person. And both of those situations are basically unlimited-danger; the level of danger they present has nothing to do with you, so you really cannot predict it at all.
posted by teatime at 9:08 AM on December 9, 2016 [7 favorites]

The most likely thing I can come up with is that he's some kind of (literally or figuratively) coked up business-chode all het up that you would DARE make him move his expensive car. I'm not really sure what a "go away shrug" is, but it doesn't necessarily take much for unstable/entitled/ego-fragile people to latch onto a perceived slight. So, knowing where you live, he decides to "teach you a lesson" or whatever before he himself had to get off to work.

This doesn't change the advice already given, however.

If at all possible please get a mod to update us later, both so we know you're okay and because we're damn curious.
posted by cmoj at 9:50 AM on December 9, 2016 [20 favorites]

trying to think of other options - it seems almost theatrical, which is why it feels more like intimidation than surveillance. but perhaps the audience for the theatre is someone else? if so, and they only followed you a short distance, that would suggest the audience is near where you live.

but in practice, what does that mean? all i can think of is that a neighbour is paranoid and asked this person to "protect" them, and this is them acting out that protection (so that they can see it). which doesn't seem very convincing.

anyway, please ask mods to post an update when you have more info!
posted by andrewcooke at 9:53 AM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

ManyThing is an app with good picture quality you can put on a phone, tablet, or laptop to get awesome surveillance. It's CHEAP!

It may not be legal to film out your window, but wouldn't you like to know how often your "friend" is hanging around?
posted by jbenben at 10:04 AM on December 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

My ex worked as a process server, and I have a good friend who is a private investigator. Neither of them would do these things.

If you were being served -- sued for something, whether it's a debt, divorce, whatever -- the server would knock on the door and ask for you by name. They would also know where you worked and go there to serve you. (My ex did this many times.) Then they thrust the paperwork at you and leave.

Private eyes don't hang out in visible ways like this guy is doing, and they certainly don't tail you or menace you. That would negate the point of being a PRIVATE investigator. My pal has a nondescript car and he doesn't stake out people's homes. He is working all the human connections he can find, online and face-to-face; he leaves the surveillance to the cops.

I don't think you're overreacting, and I hope there's a safe resolution to this problem.
posted by vickyverky at 10:14 AM on December 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Being male and fit does not make you any safer than an out-of-shape woman would be in this kind of situation. Don't put any faith in that.

I'm not sure what's going on here, but it absolutely does sound like deliberate intimidation.
posted by waffleriot at 11:50 AM on December 9, 2016 [9 favorites]

Get your ex-cop neighbor to tail your tail. He can probably run the tag for you too.

This guy being so obvious is just weird. Have you had any one night stands lately? What do you do for work?
posted by Mr. Yuck at 11:57 AM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

When he is out there parked, with other humans in the area (to be possible witnesses), walk up to his car and ask him why he has been following you.
posted by nogero at 1:32 PM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

When he is out there parked, with other humans in the area (to be possible witnesses), walk up to his car and ask him why he has been following you.

I don't think this is a good idea at all. You have no idea what he might do. Just photo the plate (and maybe the guy) and send it to the cops.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:52 PM on December 9, 2016 [11 favorites]

I'm apt to believe it is some asshole who felt slighted by your original gesture when he was blocking your drive.
posted by teamnap at 2:41 PM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

We can't say why you're being followed, only this man knows why he's doing this. It could be any number of reasons and none of them seem good. People don't generally surveil someone for positive reasons. Since neither you nor we can know why he's there, it's best to act as if it's a potentially dangerous situation and take all possible precautions to protect yourself.

Never assume that just because you're a man and in good shape that you can't be overpowered, attacked or even killed. Especially if you don't have some kind of training in how to react in emergency or combat situations. It may be nothing but it's better to behave otherwise until you know that for sure. Don't approach this person, let the cops ask him why he's there if he shows up again.
posted by i feel possessed at 6:32 PM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

It might be that the police reacted that way because this person has been doing the same thing to other people, who've reported it. It may have gone farther in those cases. Or in some other way this guy may be known to them.
Which would explain why they took it seriously, and emphasized you should also, while trying not to spook you.

Once this strange seeming guy with a dog walked into my yard and sat down on my porch and just sat there. I called 911, and within five minutes four police cars swooped in from all directions, and they arrested the guy and hauled him away in the blink of an eye. I never found out who he was, but obviously they knew from the description as soon as I called. This could be similar to that.

The close following sounds very threatening. Please be careful.
posted by Puddle Jumper at 7:46 PM on December 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Surround yourself with friends everywhere you go, and if you have to go alone share your route and ETA. Keep your cell on hand and fully charged.
posted by fritillary at 8:36 PM on December 9, 2016

Could this be a weird case of road rage? You may have inadvertently cut someone off at some point in the recent past and not even know you did. Maybe they followed you home and have some weird obsession now? People are weird. Be safe.
posted by Justin Case at 9:49 PM on December 9, 2016

Pursuing the theatrical angle... could someone be pranking you? Could someone be pranking your ex-cop friend and you're a pawn?

Maybe hire a PI yourself? or have a friend tail him to get a bit more info about him?
posted by at at 4:16 AM on December 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Could you have maybe pulled over unknowingly in front of HIS nearby house in the past, to stop and fiddle with your phone or mop up your spilled coffee or whatever, and he misinterpreted it and now wants to "teach you how it feels to be harrassed" or some such?
posted by bluesky78987 at 11:08 AM on December 10, 2016

Is there anyone new in your life? Could that person be the one being followed?
posted by eisforcool at 11:45 AM on December 10, 2016

Sex, love, drugs, land, property, money-- anything new in these areas of your life? New friends, new neighbors, new coworkers who might have problems in these areas? Did you ever witness a crime or testify in court? Sounds like no on all of these but those would be common reasons for intimidation or very poor spying.

Mistaken identity sounds really likely if you can't think of a reason for this.

PIs tend to want to blend in and process severs just want to identify you and hand you the papers.

I'm with other commenters who don't quite get what your initial gesture was, but I can see a ragey man overreacting. Is your road busy? Could someone who doesn't live there have a legit reason to park and wait?

Was this the same time of day?

Do you trust this ex-cop neighbor? Unfortunately I've had an experience where someone who appeared to be really helpful was the one causing the problem in the first place. Probably far-fetched in your case but I thought I'd mention it.
posted by kapers at 4:47 PM on December 10, 2016

Also, you say you're an internet/game nerd. Have you been involved in trolling or disputes online?
posted by kapers at 4:49 PM on December 10, 2016

I hope you're OK, and I hope you'll follow up.
posted by theora55 at 6:20 AM on December 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

My guess is that it's intimidation and that you "wronged" someone with a very frail ego that first day.

I had a similar thing happen while driving to work one morning. I'm sitting at a stop light behind a car, the light turns green, and they're just sitting there. I wait a few seconds, honk, and they still don't move. Now other cars start honking, I honk again, and they finally go through.

Then, a few blocks later, they stop at an intersection, and I assume they're turning left, but their turn signal's not on, it's clear to turn, and they're just sitting there. So I slowly squeeze by, between them and a parked car, and look over with a "WTF?" expression.

Apparently, that really pissed off the driver and passenger. Next thing I know, they do a U-turn, speed past the car behind me by crossing the double-yellow line, and start tailing me. They follow my every turn while giving me dirty looks and swearing at me, so I adjust my route and start driving to the police station.

They did this for two miles before pulling over to park in front of the police station got them off my tail.

Unfortunately, there are some crazy people out there. Stay safe.
posted by subliminable at 4:47 AM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

you say you're an internet/game nerd. Have you been involved in trolling or disputes online?

This was my first thought also. There have been MULTIPLE cases of people being stalked, threatened, SWATted, doxxed, assaulted, and otherwise harassed because something they said online about videogames made assholes angry. See also RE: Gamerg*te.

And whether it's about videogames or not, don't get bogged down wondering what you did to provoke being stalked. If you're dealing with someone who's a predator and/or mentally ill, their fixation on you as a target has no requirement to be rational.
posted by nicebookrack at 5:11 PM on December 13, 2016

would love a follow-up to this to find out what happened.
posted by andrewcooke at 2:38 AM on December 14, 2016 [20 favorites]

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