Robberies are one of those things that you often hear about on TV but believe, deep down, will never happen to you. However, a quick search on Google News yields thousands of results of people who have recently been robbed, often in broad daylight. Some of these stories include a young woman robbed at a yogurt shop, a man robbed outside a bar, a man robbed while getting into his car outside his home, and two women robbed on their way to church.
Robberies can happen anywhere at any time. Knowing what thieves look for when they choose their victims, and what you can do to make yourself less of a target, can help you avoid becoming a victim yourself.
Robbery by the Numbers
The Bureau of Justice defines robbery as “the completed or attempted theft, directly from a person, of property or cash by force or threat of force, with or without a weapon, and with or without injury.” It’s different from a home break-in, in which thieves enter your house and take your possessions, with or without a weapon, when you’re either home or away.
The financial loss from robbery can be very significant. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported in 2016 that the average robbery loss was $1,190. While there has been a slight uptick in robberies in recent years, overall, they’re on the decline. According to the 2017 National Crime Victims’ Rights Week Resource Guide, personal robbery has decreased by 67% since 1995.
So, nationwide, we’re at less risk for robbery then we were 20 years ago. However, where you live plays a significant role in your risk of being robbed. According to data compiled by Statista, California has the most reported robberies of any state, with over 56,000 in 2017 alone. Other states with high instances of robberies include:
- New York
While you’re at a greater risk in these states, and in any large city, robbery can happen anywhere, even in rural areas and small towns. Drug use plays a significant role in the prevalence of crime, particularly robberies, assaults, and home break-ins. According to a 2007 report by the U.S. Department of Justice, 26% of victims of violence reported that the offender was using drugs or alcohol. Additionally, 32% of state prisoners and 26% of federal prisoners reported that they had committed their current offense while under the influence of drugs. If drug use is high in your area, then you’re at an increased risk for robbery or assault.
How to Avoid Getting Robbed or Mugged
No one wants to be a victim. Here’s what can you do to deter a potential attacker.
1. Stay With the Crowd
Pickpockets and scam artists love selecting their victims out of a crowd; it makes it easy for them to swipe your valuables and then disappear into a sea of faces without anyone noticing. Robbers, on the other hand, don’t want witnesses, so they gravitate toward shadowy corners and unlit alleys.
Always walk with a group and stay in a crowded, well-lit area. Park your car under a street lamp and avoid dark streets and alleys.
2. Don’t Carry Valuables
Imagine you’re a thief casing out potential victims. Who would you rather rob: a woman dripping in diamonds and wearing a $2,000 Louis Vuitton purse or the nondescript man carrying a worn backpack?
Thieves will notice if you’re wearing expensive jewelry, sporting a luxury watch, or carrying a high-end purse or briefcase. Your clothing and car also say a lot about how much cash and valuables you might be carrying. Yes, it’s nice to have and use your expensive items, but do so knowing that they might make you a target.
3. Maintain Situational Awareness
Situational awareness means being aware of what’s going on around you and asking yourself if anything or anyone could be a threat to your health and safety.
Situational awareness is key in military and law enforcement because staying aware of your surroundings is essential for making sound decisions during life-threatening situations. In civilian life, however, most people don’t maintain any level of situational awareness. They’re listening to music or looking at their phones with no clue of what’s going on around them. We’ve all seen the YouTube videos of people falling down a sewer opening or tripping headfirst into wet concrete because they’re staring at their phones.
When you’re out and about, put away your phone and pay attention to what’s happening around you. Look at each and every person and determine if they’re a potential threat. Look at their faces, their body language, and their dress. Follow your gut. Paying attention to your surroundings can alert you to potential threats before a conflict occurs and give you a few precious seconds to respond or get away.
4. Don’t Let Strangers Approach You
In 2017, the Today Show interviewed David Solano, who is currently serving time for robbery and estimates he’s mugged more than 100 people. He said that when he was casing out a potential victim, he looked to see if they were wearing a watch, and if they were, he asked them for the time. Or, he’d stop someone and ask for directions. The moment they looked down at their watch or started to think about directions, Solano would grab their wrist and twist their arm behind their back. Once he was in control, he’d grab their purse or wallet.
Don’t allow yourself to become distracted by other people. If someone asks you for the time, ignore them or keep walking. Don’t break your stride. It might not be the most courteous thing to do, but it could help you avoid being robbed. If someone asks you for directions and you want to help, maintain your distance while speaking with them.
5. Don’t Look Like a Victim
Solano also admitted that he would target anyone who he felt was “weak,” which included elderly people. That’s why it’s so important to project an image of strength using your body language. To do this:
- Keep your head up, not bowed.
- Look people in the eyes.
- Stand up straight.
- Keep your shoulders back.
- Walk with purpose, even if you’re lost. Don’t take small steps as this will make you look timid.
- Always look like you know where you’re going. Never walk around with an open map.
- Keep your hands visible; don’t put them in your pockets.
- When you’re standing still, take up space. Keep your feet wide apart instead of close together.
These subtle gestures and movements tell a potential attacker that you’re strong and not afraid, and they’ll likely move on to someone who looks more like an easy target.
When possible, always wear clothing that will allow you freedom of movement if you need to run or kick. High heels, for example, can be a liability if you’re attacked.
6. Know Where to Walk
Stay vigilant when turning corners as these are danger zones, particularly at night. When you turn a corner, you’re entering the street blind, especially when you cut close to a building. Attackers often hide around corners to catch people off guard.
When walking, always maintain at least a five-foot distance between a corner or the edge of a car. Walk on the sidewalk staying closer to the street, putting some distance between yourself and dark alleys and doorways.
Last, always walk facing traffic. When you walk with traffic, someone can pull up behind you and jump out of the car to attack, and you’ll never see them coming. When you’re facing traffic, however, you can always see what’s ahead of you.
7. Take a Self-Defense Class
Sign up for a self-defense class to reduce your fear and increase your confidence. When you have the strength and knowledge to protect yourself and your family, you won’t have to worry as much about becoming a victim. Martial arts that work well for self-defense include:
- Brazilian jiu-jitsu
- Mixed martial arts
- Russian Sambo
- Krav Maga
The strength and confidence you gain from learning martial arts for self-defense can have a positive influence in other areas of your life too. You’ll have more energy to play with your kids, you’ll be more confident at work, and you might even be less afraid to pursue opportunities you wouldn’t have considered before.
8. Avoid ATMs
Thieves often hide near ATMs because they’re an easy and quick source of cash. They hold someone up at gunpoint, force them to withdraw large amounts of money, and disappear in a flash. It’s an easy holdup because people are often distracted at the ATMs, fumbling with their wallet or purse or looking for their debit card.
Avoid ATMs whenever possible, especially at night. Make an effort to get the cash you need during the day, ideally by going into the bank itself. Never use ATMs that are off the beaten path or when you have to go alone. If you use a drive-up ATM, pause before you pull up, look for any suspicious activity, and keep your doors locked.
9. Do Your Homework Before You Travel
It should come as no surprise that robbers, scam artists, and pickpockets like tourists. They’re usually easy to pick out in a crowd, they don’t know their way around, they don’t know how or where to contact police, and they typically don’t speak the native language.
If you’re planning an international trip, make sure you research the common types of theft abroad and look up the most common scams and thefts for the area you’re visiting. Also, keep your money safe when traveling by putting your wallet in your front pocket or wearing your purse around your torso, instead of hanging off your shoulder where it’s easier to grab.
What to Do if You’re Robbed
If the worst happens and you do end up a victim of a robbery, here’s what to do.
1. Escape the Situation & Call the Police
If you think someone is following you and your gut tells you something’s not right, cross the street as soon as you can. If the person crosses after you, call the police.
If you can’t cross the street, then kneel suddenly with your back to a wall and pretend to tie your shoe. If the person stops as well, call the police. You can also duck into an open business and call the police from inside.
2. Give Them What They Want
Typically, robbers only want your cash and valuables. If you’re robbed, keep your head down and just hand it over. Your life isn’t worth whatever’s in your wallet. Never escalate the situation with physical violence unless it’s absolutely necessary.
The only time violence is necessary is if your attacker is trying to force you to go somewhere else. In that case, fight back with everything you’ve got. Your chances of survival drop drastically if you go to a different location, since this usually means the robber has more sinister plans.
3. Pay Attention
While you’re being robbed, you’ll probably be terrified and pumped full of adrenaline. However, it’s important that you maintain your situational awareness and pay close attention to the thief. How tall are they? What are they wearing? Do they have any visible tattoos or scars? What color is their hair? Their eyes?
Police will ask for this information, and the more you can tell them, the greater the likelihood they have of catching the robber.
4. Carry Mace
Mace or pepper spray is a very effective deterrent against thieves, and you can pick up a canister for around $10 on Amazon. Most canisters have a range of 4 to 10 feet, and some even include a dye that, when sprayed on an attacker’s face, will make them instantly recognizable to police.
However, Mace won’t do you any good if it’s buried in your purse or the glove box of your car. Keep the canister in your hand every time you’re walking and be ready to use it at a moment’s notice.
5. Call Attention to Yourself
If you’re being robbed, you should scream, yell, or make as much noise as possible. Robbers don’t want witnesses, and this often makes them flee faster.
That said, it’s important to realize that people might not come to your aid if you yell for help. This is because of the bystander effect, which occurs when multiple people hear or witness an event but no one takes action because they assume someone else will do so. According to an article published in UK Berkley’s Greater Good Magazine, it’s the subtle details of an emergency that often inspire some people to take action and help while others merely stand by and watch. Social cues also play an enormous role in who takes action and who doesn’t.
A great example of this effect is a landmark 1968 study by researchers Bibb Latane and John Darley published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In this study, researchers put participants in a room and asked them to fill out questionnaires. Once the participants began, smoke filled the room. When the participants were alone, 75% of them left the room and reported the perceived emergency. However, when there were two other people in the room — who were researchers in on the experiment — who showed no concern for the incoming smoke, only 10% of participants left to report the emergency.
The implications here are profound. It’s human nature not to intervene if no one around us seems panicked. We’re social creatures and, by and large, we follow the pack. However, you can help others overcome this tendency by being specific. Don’t just yell, “Help!”; yell, “I’m being robbed! I need help!” Being specific helps bystanders overcome the assumption that, despite what they’re hearing, the emergency isn’t real.
If the people around you are simply watching the event take place, address them personally. Look someone in the eye, if you can, and yell, “You! Please help me!” This direct appeal can shake people out of the belief that they shouldn’t help or that it’s not their responsibility. The bystander effect influences all of us, and it might take effort on your part to get others to act.
No one wants to think about being robbed. However, using a few simple strategies and changing your habits can help you avoid becoming a victim.
Also, keep in mind that during special events (such as summer concerts) or specific times of the year (such as the winter holidays), criminal activity often increases because there are more targets to choose from. Be extra vigilant during these times, and always walk with at least one other person.
Do you have any other tips for reducing your risk of being robbed?