8 Crucial Considerations For Getting a Taxi

http://openphoto.net/volumes/lukestodola/20050126/openphotonet_1_pict0020.jpgIt’s that time of year when the nights are getting longer and colder, the days are getting shorter and colder, and the weather is getting wetter and colder. Oh yes, and it’s getting colder!

One result of this is that at the end of the day (or night) a lot of us will be getting into a taxi for our journey home. Let’s face it, it’s either that, get home wet and/or freezing cold after an unpleasant walk, or wetter and colder after a worse wait at a bus stop. If your bus service is anything like mine, then it could be a very long wait followed by a disgruntled walk anyway!

This reminded me of the fact that I’ve been meaning to throw these ideas up for absolutely ages, ever since I saw a little flyer made by the union at Staffordshire University (www.staffsunion.com) on the subject of staying safe while getting a taxi. As a result, here are eight small but absolutely crucial personal security considerations when using taxis:

1) Always pre-order your taxi. If you can, try your very best to pre-book your taxi in advance with a company you know and trust. Preferably one you’ve used before. This way your lift is more easily verifiable (if you order an ‘A-Team’ taxi and you get a ‘B-People’ one at your doorstep peeping, you may have a perfectly justifiable reason to distrust the taxi and not go out for it.

2) Don’t get in unmarked cars. This should be an obvious one but it was on the flyer so I’ll say it here as well just in case it isn’t! Whatever you do, don’t get into an unmarked ‘taxi’. You have no idea who is driving or what they want. You can, however, be pretty sure it isn’t a taxi. You can also be definitely certain that it isn’t worth the risk to find out!http://openphoto.net/volumes/petanjek/20111111/openphotonet_P1090581a.JPG

3) Make sure the driver’s badge and license number are clearly visible. This is information that you can get while booking as well, which provides an easy way to verify that the car you’re getting into is indeed the car you ordered. Ask the company to text or just tell you the licence plate number of the car, and/or the driver’s number. That way you can check it’s your driver.

4) Sit in the back. This is advice I often see on things pertaining to taxi safety, and I’m in two minds about it. If you’re in the back you have advantages in a combative situation in that it’s more difficult for him to twist around to attack you and also more difficult for him to see what you’re doing behind him. However, if your driver is on a mad rampage wanting to send you both into a wall then you can more easily gain some control of the wheel or handbrake, or even (maybe) the pedals if you gain a lot of control over the situation combatively. Sounds ridiculous I know, but let’s not discount such an event as impossible. That would be an example of us leaving ourselves a severe weakness. We are very vulnerable in situations we previously discounted as impossible, so consider it seriously for a moment. Could you, for example, brake with an unconscious driver’s leg? How might you do that? How else might you try to stop the car and get out without death or serious injury? Aside from all that, sitting in the front means you can more easily see the dude’s (or dudette’s) hands. That’s something many people who’ve had the displeasure of being attacked with a knife (or indeed any other weapon) hadn’t previously thought of. Afterwards, most do.

5) Keep your mobile to hand. Common sense, but often not done. If it’s to hand, and unlocked, ready for you to dial emergency services at a moment’s notice, something serious could well be averted or made less serious. At the very least, it could mean that once whatever crime was in the driver’s mind has been committed, he may be more likely to be caught so he can’t do it again to someone else. In the best-case scenario, however, it may act as a deterrent because he may have noticed that you’re obviously ready and not an easy victim. Making yourself a ‘hard target’ is crucial to your personal security.

6) Avoid travelling alone. I’m sure I don’t need to explain this one! It’s pretty much instinctual. Do you feel more scared walking through the house in the dark alone or with a friend? That feeling is what I’m talking about. With others, you’re simply making yourself a harder target. It should be said though that you may want to be choosy with this, as there are those who are so deeply in a victim state that they can pull the people around them into danger (I’m sure most of us will know at least one or two people who might be considered ‘liabilities’ for whatever reason) and generally get people into trouble. From the perspective of your own personal security you want to avoid these people, and from the perspective of your social responsibility (don’t worry, I’m not about to get on my soap box) then you may want to consider educating them! That way they stop getting themselves into horrible situations and you get yourself a friend you can depend on when you’re out. Worth thinking about.http://openphoto.net/volumes/lukestodola/20050126/openphotonet_1_pict0019.jpg

7) Don’t throw your details around. When you’re booking your taxi, do so somewhere where it would be difficult for anyone to overhear your name, address or number. It may be possible to text these details instead of say them over the phone with some taxi companies, and thus avoid anyone overhearing if you can’t get away. When you’re waiting for your pre-booked taxi outside, if you’re asked by anyone claiming to be an unknown waiting taxi driver (or indeed anyone else) then don’t tell them. Instead, ask them for the name and destination of the fare they’re waiting for. If it’s your name and destination then that’s probably your driver! If not, it’s not so don’t go with them or tell them anything.

8) It’s your taxi – nobody else’s. Unless you know and trust them, don’t let anyone elbow their way into your taxi. You simply don’t know them or why they want to be in the taxi with you. If you want a good example of why you should think about this, go and watch Luc Besson’s ‘Taken‘ (2008) if you haven’t already.

Of course there’s many more considerations for when you’re getting taxis, but these are just a few thoughts prompted by a flyer. If you have any others you would recommend, then you’re more than welcome to furnish us all with your ideas in the comments below! If you have any questions then the same is true. Whatever you do, whether you’re getting a taxi or not then the kinds of thought processes that have led to these ideas are absolutely crucial for your general personal security. If the reasoning behind anything here doesn’t make sense, please make sure you get in touch and ask me what I’m thinking and why! If you disagree with me then that’s fine, but if you can’t even understand where the ideas are coming from then that’s an important issue that needs to be addressed! Either for you or for me.

Until next time,

Josh Nixon, ESP

Images courtesy of Luke Stodola and Jasenka Petanjek:
’Toronto’ found at http://openphoto.net/gallery/image.html?image_id=7176
’NYC Cab’ found at http://openphoto.net/gallery/image.html?image_id=24337
’Toronto’ (2) found at http://openphoto.net/gallery/image.html?image_id=7187
used with thanks.

Spelling It Out For Them: Personal security tips from a discarded letter

A few days ago I went to see The Bourne Legacy with my brother, which I enjoyed very much. On the bus coming back from the cinema I just happened to see a letter on the floor, and thus chanced upon a great opportunity to open discussion on the very real dangers of leaving documents that contain personal information around. Of course the best thing to do with this information is to destroy them if we don’t need it, however this person had either never been told this or had failed to uphold his vigilance this time. Luckily for him, it was me who picked it up instead of an identity defrauder! Originally I was going to merely take it and burn it to protect his identity, however I noticed just how much personal information was on there when I was about to, and so I took the opportunity to make this post. Of course, I have removed all of the information itself from these images to protect his identity and have destroyed the original document.

Letter Part 1 Letter Part 2

So let’s take a closer look. After all, you might think a simple letter (or printed email in this case, strictly speaking) probably wouldn’t have too much information on and so wouldn’t be overly important – what’s the worst that could happen, right? I’ve gone through and labelled the relevant sections A-S (including repetitions). Let’s have a quick run through and look at them. One aspect of the psychological side of self-protection which is extremely useful and powerful is to cultivate the ability, through research and the ensuing logical thought processes, to see things from a criminal perspective. The classic example is to look at a crowd and identify victims from various criminal perspectives. Here we will be using this technique to identify how these various pieces of information could potentially be seen from a criminal perspective.

imageA – Name and address: Here not only do we have his gender and full name, but his full address with a postcode below. This alone is not good to throw around. Simple as it is, you should remember that this simple information tells a criminal a lot about you. More than merely where you live, we need to see this in more depth. With this information, the criminal can find a spot to watch you from and easily build up a profile of your habits – the times you leave for work, the times you get back, the arrival and departure times for other regular activities (gym, regular social meetups, etc) and the routes you take whether driving or on foot. The postcode makes it quick and easy to search for your address, and even with the simple usage of Google Earth’s Street View they can see what your house looks like, identify weaknesses, hiding places, escape routes, etc from the comfort of their own homes. With this an attack or stalking can be planned with ease.

imageB – National Insurance number: The top one of the blurred pieces here is simply his National Insurance number. This of course is just another piece of information that a criminal could potentially use when building up their profile of personal details with which to make changes to your accounts or it could be a security question they could be asked when attempting to get into an account, or when requesting information, etc.

imageC – Date: This may seem unimportant, but often when making banking inquiries you are asked for details of the specific message/s that you have pertaining to whatever you’re discussing. One of these is often simply the date of the correspondence, which in this case is helpfully left here.

imageD – Name: The mention of such a repetition here may seem irrelevant, but it is not. In a physical hard copy of a document such as this, it is essential from a criminal’s point of view. If the document is damaged, even mildly, obscuring any information then having it repeated is essential to verify or fill in missing bits that could be smudged, burnt, partially shredded, torn or simply worn off. In either hard (physical) or soft (electronic) documents, repetition is also important as it serves as a quick and easy verification: if an unusual name is there, it may well have been mis-typed, particularly if it seems an unusual spelling of a common name. In this case, a repetition of the name can offer some verification as to whether it was a typo or just an unusual name. This is of course important as the criminal wants to minimise the risk of making any mistakes and thus minimise the risk of sounding the alarm and getting caught out.

imageE – List of the documents attached to the email: This in itself of course is not personal information, however it would help someone making enquiries using this person’s identity sound more believable, for example making an enquiry about losing their ‘Give Me Some Money Please Pack’ (fictional and not on the actual list). In addition, they can give further ideas of the document’s context and the nature of the situation in general.

imageF – Sender’s name and position: Again, while this isn’t personal information to the recipient of this message it is useful for a criminal. When making an enquiry, it sounds much more believable to be able to casually say ‘I’ve just got a question about something in an email I had from Mrs Whatsherface, your Customer Relations Manager’ as opposed to something less specific.

imageG – URL: If an email has been printed by hitting File –> Print from an Internet browser, by default it’ll have the URL of the file you’re printing in the footer. URLs can include a lot of personal information, which varies between different websites. One example is what I have noticed with my university’s in-browser email access system: the URL for my inbox has my full university email address in it, which is simply my university username followed by ‘@student.staffs.ac.uk’. This is assumedly true of all Microsoft Office Outlook Web Access setups by default, but regardless the important thing to remember here is that URLs can hold a lot of information. Even if it looks like a random bunch of letters and numbers to you, to someone who knows what they’re looking for there could be useful clues hidden away in there.

imageH – Date: Again, this is another repetition of information which can be useful for verification.

imageI – Name: You get the idea.

imageJ – National Insurance number: Once again, another repetition here of a key piece of information.

imageK – Date: Yet again, you get the idea by now.

imageL – Name: I know. I’ve mentioned this before.

image

M – Date of interview: This is crucial information. With this, a criminally-minded attacker could have known what his or her target would be doing on a particular day. A few ideas to take away from this: beforehand the recipient of this message is likely to be in a rush and they won’t be at home for a while on the day in question. Perfect. That’s bad enough, but let’s look further…

N – Time of interview: Now not only does the criminal have the date but the exact time that their target will be away from home, so they could use this as a time to attack them while they’re likely to be distracted and in a rush or they could simply take advantage of knowing that their house would be unoccupied at the time in question (or at least that this person specifically wouldn’t be at home – with their previous stalking opportunities they could have ascertained whether they live alone which adds other elements to this information’s usefulness). With the added knowledge of the duration of the interview, and that the target has to see someone else beforehand, they can work out a considerable window of opportunity.

O – Place of interview: This is even worse than the other information – now the criminal knows exactly where and when their target will be, so setting up any number of situations is rendered easy for them. What makes this worse, however, is the addition of the next piece of information:

image

P – Documents: Here the criminal reading this message finds out what his or her target will have on him when he attends the interview – more personal information. The claim form mentioned will undoubtedly have a wealth of personal information in it, and the other information will almost invariably include a form of photographic ID such as a driver’s licence or passport. Through mugging or subtler methods of theft, these documents could potentially be taken and copied. It may sound far-fetched, but it is far from impossible.

imageQ – Sender: Again, the name and position of the sender here. More verification.

imageR – URL: See above (G).

imageS – Date: Once more, just a repetition useful for verification. This is the date the document was printed of course, not necessarily the date it was sent or received.

Some Important Things to Remember:

Let’s keep this simple:

    • Documents contain information, and sometimes this can be useful to people who don’t hold your best interests at heart.
    • This information can be used to stalk you and build up a profile of your habits. This is useful for a criminal who wants to attack you, attack someone you live with, steal from/damage your property or use your identity for other reasons. That’s not an exhaustive list by any means – just a few ideas.

What we need to remember here is that simply put the information in these kinds of documents, or indeed potentially any other, can be used for criminal activities against you. I’m by no means an expert on this – I haven’t got a degree in criminology and I’ve had no experience of dealing with identity fraud – however I do know what to look for in terms of security holes and how criminals could exploit them.

The simple solution to this is to do everything you can to not leave any holes for them to exploit – this concept extends to all aspects of your life but let’s keep to the example of documents and information for now. When you don’t need these documents any more, burn or shred them. Better yet, shred and burn them! It’s not impossible for shredded paper to be put together by a committed individual, especially if you only shred one document at once. Shred documents along with random pages from an old magazine, or off-prints of unimportant things from when the printer last played up – anything to throw confusion into the heap. If you burn your sensitive information, make sure it’s fully burnt before you throw away the ashes! We’ve seen here from even a fairly cursory glance at the information in this letter how much can be gained from even an address.

The simple rule: if you wouldn’t shout it from your roof, tell it to a random person in the street or post it online publicly, then it’s sensitive information. Don’t leave it for the wrong people to find.

You can find more information on fraud and how to protect yourself and others against it at http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/CrimeJusticeAndTheLaw/Typesofcrime/DG_181626.

Stay safe!

Josh Nixon, ESP

Home Security: Easy and Cheap Upgrades

This is a good one.

As you may know, I’m a big fan of Lifehacker. I think their approach towards everything is brilliant and they’re often my go-to website if I’m not sure of anything technological (and often other stuff too). If you’re not keeping up to date with their posts, then you’re missing out and I heartily recommend you do something about it!

The other day, Melanie Pincola wrote this article on the site, which outlines some really effective strategies based on burglary statistics. Here is a brief summary of the main points.

Know Your Enemy! The Anatomy of a Burglary:

These statistics are from 2005 and are US-centric, but this graphic from the Washington Post still shows you some important and useful information to bear in mind when evaluating your home security measures:

image

Most Burglaries Occur Between 10:00 and 15:00. Whether this is true of the UK or not, it ultimately means very little. Beware the false sense of security that can arise from these kinds of statistics! While it is good to remember which peak times prevail in your local area for burglaries (get in touch with your local police force for information; they can steer you towards some up-to-date statistics), you should not feel that at other times there’s any cause for relaxation of your security measures! Thinking ‘Ahh, I’ll leave it – it’s after three…’ is not a good mindset! Just because most burglaries happen within certain times, it doesn’t mean the next one will!

Burglars look for homes that appear unoccupied, and residential homes, as you know, tend to be empty during those hours because people are at work. If you’re out of the house during those hours and are concerned about burglaries in your neighborhood, consider setting a random timer to turn the TV or radio on during those hours.

If you have a second car, keep it out in the driveway while you’re at work. Or, perhaps you can rent your driveway during the daytime (besides making your home less attractive to thieves, you can make a few extra bucks. Win!); previously mentioned Park Circa is one place you can find people looking for a parking spot in your neighborhood.

Do you use gardening services or other home maintenance services like window cleaning? Schedule those services (which don’t require you to be at home) during those prime theft hours.

Good advice here, well worth following. Just make sure that you can trust whoever you’re sending around to your empty house to do work though! How do you know they’re not an opportunistic thief, or recently become laden with debt and are desperate to pay it off? That’s it – you don’t!

The typical house burglar is a male teen in your neighborhood—not a professional thief and 60 seconds is the most burglars want to spend breaking into your home. This suggests you only need enough security to thwart the regular person. Simple things like the
"my scary dog can run faster than you" sign may be one of the most effective theft deterrents, other than—or in addition to—actually owning a scary dog. (Even a small dog prone to barking helps, though.) Regular "beware of dog" signs work too, especially if you add some additional supporting evidence of dog ownership, like leaving a dog bowl outside by your side door.

The Washington Post suggests deadbolt locks, bars on windows, and pins in sash windows may be effective theft deterrents. It goes without saying to make sure all the entry points are locked (but, still, 6% of burglaries happen that way).

Again, while this is excellent advice that we all should take into consideration, don’t think that older or younger, or female, local people can’t be burglars based on this! What we should take from this is that the more difficult we make our homes to break into, then the more warning we’ll get if someone’s breaking in, and the more time we’ll have for either the police to arrive after you call them or for you to escape, or whatever other plans you have in place.

In order of percent of burglaries, thieves come in through: the front door, first-floor windows, and back door primarily, followed by the garage, unlocked entrances, and the basement. Look at reinforcing all of these entry points, of course, but if you want to know where the best places are to put your security cameras, the front and back door and first floor windows are your best bets. (We’ve featured quite a few DIY ones using old webcams or your PC.) Fake security cameras placed at those points might also be effective.

With your outside lighting, make sure those points of entry are well lit (motion-detector lights are inexpensive and don’t use a lot of energy) and clear of thief-hiding shrubbery.

When placing lights and cameras, think about how much they can see – treat them as if you’re placing sentries, because essentially that’s what you’re doing! Corners are great, especially if they can oscillate and see all around from there. You can’t sneak past a camera through a wall! Make sure the ends of the camera’s oscillation ‘touch’ the walls though, or you’ve just made them a handy little invisibility path! If you’re placing dummy cameras, make sure they’re very visible and preferably have blinking LEDs on them (an easy thing to make if yours haven’t). Something that can be seen from the road is best, and from any other likely access points. Always think about where a thief can hide around your house, and what you can do about it. Try breaking into your house yourself (simulated of course, unless you really want to test out your windows’ anti-shatter strength!) to see where your security holes are.

An average of 8 to 12 minutes is all burglars spend in your home. If a thief does get into your house, you can prevent loss of your valuable objects by making them harder to find than within those 12 minutes. The dresser drawer, bedroom closet, and freezer are some of the first places thieves look, so forget about those hiding places. Instead, consider hiding things in plain sight.

Perhaps set up a red herring for possible thieves: Leave out an old laptop the thief can quickly grab and go. Even better: install Prey to track the stolen laptop.

Once again, I would take this information in, but I wouldn’t swear by it. The mindset of ‘He’s probably gone, it’s been 15 minutes, so we can come out from hiding now…’ isn’t what I would recommend! That’s only if you’re in though of course. Making things hard to find is a great third defence, after making the house look unappealing to burglars, then making it difficult for them to get in. The longer they’ve got to mess around, the more likely the police will arrive or they’ll give up, panic, and leave empty’-handed. The links are worth following in this quote. Prey is invaluable, and I may do an article on it myself. I have it installed on both of my computers and my phone.

We’ve previously noted several ways to protect your home while traveling, including using push lights in your windows and asking your neighbors for a vacation check. Lifehacker reader fiji.siv reminded us of a small detail like not having your garbage cans put out as a sign that you’re away; make sure any help you get from friends or neighbors include the little stuff like that (putting out garbage cans, getting the mail, maybe even cutting the grass).

Don’t forget the daily stuff like stopping newspaper and mail delivery, if you don’t have someone picking those up for you.

And, of course, the tried-and-true method of looking like you’re home: use a random timer on your indoor lights or TV.

This is all, once again, well worth paying attention to – basically just make it look like you’re in when you’re not! There are loads of ways you can do this, as the link in this quote shows you.

There’s a lot of other information in the comments on Lifehacker, so that’s also worth a look. What measures do you take? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, or if you’re especially awesome, join the discussion on the CSPS forum.

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