LifeHow to shake someone who's tailing you
You never know when you might be followed. This is how to lose that nefarious character that's hot on your heels.
We live in an age where it pays to be paranoid. Security cameras are unavoidable. The NSA is tracking your email. Hackers could steal your identity or expose your most intimate secrets. If that doesn’t make you anxious enough, well, the threat of domestic and international terrorism looms, a massive earthquake will probably devastate the entire Pacific Northwest, and sharks have been attacking swimmers all summer.
All these recent threats might make you forget one old-fashioned reason for being paranoid: another person following you. You may never be able to shake 21st century digital surveillance, but we can help if you ever find yourself being tailed by an actual human being. Here’s how you lose someone who's following you.
Behind the wheel
First, you need to determine whether you’re actually being followed or whether you’re just being paranoid. Do you have a reason for being investigated? People involved in litigation, marital or child custody disputes, insurance claims, high profile jobs, illegal jobs, or questionable business transactions are likely candidates to be followed, potentially by professionals. Even if you don’t have a reason for being tailed, there is always the possibility of being followed by a random creep, a driver with road rage, or a bored or prejudiced member of law enforcement.
If you’re in a car, keep an eye on the pursuer and make illogical directional moves. For example, make four left or right turns around a block. There would be no reason for any innocent car behind you to make the same moves. If you’re on the expressway, you could try slowing your speed to see if the car behind you does too, but a professional might pretend to go ahead, only to fall back and follow you again later. Try getting off the expressway and then get right back on. If the car behind you does the same, you’ve got unwanted company. Making these illogical directional moves also tells your tail that you’re onto them and may cause them to disengage.
If not, remain calm. You do not know their intentions, so don’t drive off onto a side street. Don’t give them a chance to confront you.
“Take it slow. This will allow you to see how aggressive the tail is. If they are sitting a few cars back, the tail is looking to document activity,” Rod Devine, a licensed private investigator and owner of Devine Intervention Detective Services, tells Hopes&Fears.
Do not go to any destination that would give your pursuer any information about you, such as your work, your home, or any loved ones’ residences. Keep driving in public and high traffic areas.
If they continue to pursue you, you shouldn’t try to start a car chase, but there are a few risky moves you can pull without having to be Steve McQueen.
On a highway, you can use large semi-trucks to your advantage. Wait for the right moment to weave in front of a truck without enough room for your tail to follow, nor see you. When you are out of their vision, you can quickly get off at the next exit before they have time to do the same.
You can also “shoot the gap.” To do this, you have to be the first car in line at an intersection where there’s no green arrow, preparing to take a left-hand turn. When the light turns green, you usually yield to the other cars before making your left hand turn. However, when the light turns green, shoot the gap by taking your left-hand turn before the other cars get moving. Your tail will not be suspecting this and most likely will not be able to follow you as they are trapped behind oncoming traffic.
How the CIA loses a tail
When it comes to the techniques involved in losing someone who is following you, one might think that the CIA would have all the answers. In fact, officially at least, they don’t.
The reason is the CIA doesn’t want its agents to attempt to lose someone who is following them. Former agent Lindsay Moran explains, "You really want to bore the people following you so that they don’t suspect you’re a spy.” Moran explains that the agency is far more focused on training to detect whether you’re being followed. If an agent determines they have a tail, they simply do whatever it takes to seem uninteresting and go about their business until they are left alone.
Moran says that the process of doing a surveillance detection route is pretty simple, "You do what are called 'cover stops'—if you drive twenty-five miles out to some rural area, you’d better have a reason. It should not be, say, a 7-Eleven, but it could be a tack store for equestrians or a bait and tackle shop for fisherman—someplace where there’s a legitimate reason that you would have driven that far."
On foot and public transport
If you’re on foot, you should also first identify whether you’re being followed. Try to keep an eye on your pursuer without looking back. You can use the reflective surfaces of store windows. Try to note any characteristics of your tail, particularly things they can’t change as easily as clothes, such as height and weight. Also pay attention to their shoes. While they are following you, it might be easy for them to quickly shed a coat or add a hat, but they are probably not going to have time to change their shoes.
Once you are certain you are being followed, you should also make steps to change your own appearance. “Keep moving and possibly ditch your jacket or put on a baseball cap - little things like this make a big difference. The person who is following you has built a mental image - any variation you can acquire to develop the ‘change’ is a throw off,” says Devine.
On foot, it’s even more important to stay in public and crowded areas since you don’t have the protection of your car. Don’t enter an alley or a minimally occupied building or any space that would allow your pursuer to be alone with you.
You can also use mass transit to your advantage. Devine advises getting lost in the crowd as part of a bus departure since the person following has to wait his or her turn to get off the bus. On crowded subways, you can also enter or exit the subway car at the last possible moment.
Tyler Maroney, a partner and private investigator at Quest Research and Investigations, told us, “Find a Starbucks or another retail business with an all-glass facade and two entrances. Grab a seat near the entrance facing out.” Camping in such a public location will give you a good view of all your surroundings and will not allow anyone to be near you for too long without arousing suspicion.
If you’re being followed in a busy city area, Maroney also advises using a spinning or revolving door in a commercial building. Pretend to enter the building by using the revolving doors, but actually circle all the way around and out again. The person following will get thrown off by this action and, therefore, stuck in the building. While your tail has to wait to go through the revolving doors again, you've gotten enough lead to walk outside and out of sight. This only works if you are being "rough shadowed," a private investigations industry term that means following someone at close range with the intent of being noticed.
Whether in a car or on foot, if you feel truly in danger, especially if the tail is aggressive and following too close, you can always go to the police (well, unless the person following you is the police). Drive to the nearest police station and park right by it. If you’re on foot and see a police officer, let them know what’s happening. While driving, you can also call 911. Tell them what’s going on and the license plate of the vehicle.
Some of these methods will work even if there are multiple people or cars following you. Rod Devine mentions a process called “piggybacking,” where two vehicles take turns being the lead car with the other falling back from time to time. However, whether it’s law enforcement or private investigators, multiple people following you means someone is committed to investing serious manpower and money into tailing you. It’s likely you’re in some kind of deep trouble and will have people keeping tabs on you in more ways than following you down the street.
Hopefully you will never need to use these methods, they’re here only if you need them. After all, looking over your shoulder or looking back is no way to live — metaphorically or literally.