7 Essential Books for Beginners

Whether you’re just starting out learning about self-protection or you’re already a seasoned cognoscenti in the field, a little reading never goes amiss. Particularly if you’ve done a decent amount of training in a martial art – perhaps you’re a black belt looking for new avenues of knowledge to devour –  but you haven’t received any training specifically tailored towards self-protection, it is beneficial to read around the subject. If you’re an instructor or are considering going down that route, it’s essential.

For those of us without experience who are beginning their training, these books will give you a significant head-start. More than that, they will help you to not train in any “bad habits” or misconceptions that are so prevalent and easily taken on. They are all written by knowledgeable and well-respected authors in the field and while nobody’s words are above question (Never stop asking questions!), the advice in these pages is sound.

Here are 7 books that have been influential on my learning journey, taken from our recommended reading list which is full of excellent books. All the publishing info so you can find the right books is included at the bottom of the page.

7) Dead or Alive: The Choice is Yours

The perfect general starting point by Geoff Thompson

doa.PNG(I believe my copy is the 2010 edition, which I think had seen a few revisions). It is exactly what it says it is: a great resource for basic techniques that, really, everyone should know about. They’re all very simple and can be employed by people with minimal or even no training – the real effort is in drilling them intensely and realistically enough so that they can become instinctive and actually useful for you as an individual.

There are lots of photos and it’s all split up into logical chapters. No jargon and associated rubbish in this – it’s just simple and useful stuff that anyone can understand. Seasoned self-protectionists might find it a little too simple in places, but it’s a great resource regardless.

Chapter 21 is particularly valuable: it has a series of case studies from the research Geoff did, with transcripts of interviews with offenders, etc. It’s an awesome resource, and I recommend everyone have a good look through it. Accessible and easily digestible, it’s the perfect starting point.

6) Understanding Reasonable Force

Staying on the right side of the law by clearing up misconceptions by Mark Dawes

urf.PNGThis is a truly fantastic book, and I highly recommend it for anyone in the UK, whether trained and interested or not. Not just a statement of what the law is, it’s a great guide for people unsure of how to interpret the ambiguous terms ‘reasonable force’, ‘necessary’, etc that crop up in discussions of this nature.

Without an understanding of the law, there’s a real danger that we could train in such a way that we’re going to get ourselves into serious trouble.

Simply put, if your training doesn’t include any understanding of the force continuum, reasonable force, etc then it just isn’t self-protection.

It’s written in such a way that people without law degrees can understand it fine, and isn’t dry and boring while still being packed with useful information. There are plentiful case studies and real examples, with references for you to do your own research. It clears up a lot of issues and leaves you equipped to clear up any remaining ones for yourself.

5) Empower Your Kids to be Safe … For Life

How to safeguard children and teach them to protect themselves by Phil Thompson

eyktbsfl.PNGAnother often-neglected side of self-protection is how to protect others and how to teach them to protect themselves.

When it comes to children, it can be a difficult subject to broach. Safeguarding children, however, is perhaps the most critical element of self-protection in today’s world. The aware children of today will become the aware parents of tomorrow, so if we’re ever going to make a difference in the world and make it a safer and more pleasant place to live, it’s through children that we’ll accomplish that.

This well-thought-out, well-written book is invaluable for anyone responsible for children. Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, a carer an uncle, instructor or older sibling, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

With more people thinking along the lines presented in this book when it comes to children, the world will be a safer and happier place. There are fantastic ideas in this that I definitely recommend everyone take a look at.

4) Let Every Breath…

How to achieve true control of your breath and your body by Vladimir Vasiliev and Scott Meredith

leb.PNGAs well as accumulating knowledge about crime and its prevention, it’s important that we don’t begin to neglect the physical side of things. Physical fitness and conditioning is a hugely important part of an all-round approach to self-protection as without it our physical skills will be ineffective and our ability to escape from bad situations will be similarly compromised.

Aside from this, however, many fall into the trap of not paying much attention to what’s going on in their body when they’re exercising and, crucially, when dealing with fear. The most beneficial practices I’ve found for both enhancing our training and for dealing with fear are outlined in this little book. The relationship between breathing and other physical and psychological processes is fascinating. Read it with an open mind, try what it says, and you’ll be surprised how much of a truly profound impact it can have.

If you want to achieve mediocrity, you can safely ignore this information. If you want to achieve mastery then you need this understanding. Effective breathwork is especially helpful when you start working on the material in our next book on the list…

3) Convict Conditioning

Gaining mastery over your own body and building extreme strength with progressive calisthenics by Paul Wade

cc.PNGToo often, calisthenics are done mindlessly just as a warm-up. Many often perform them with poor form and too quickly, relying on momentum and elastic recoil to fling themselves into the next rep. Those who can perform, say, a pushup well will often fall into the trap of staying with that movement long after it stopped challenging them and thus do not incorporate logical progression into their training. As a result, they plateau and stop making progress. Others focus on pushing or pulling increasingly heavy weights with unnatural movement patterns, ruining their joints in the process.

This is hands-down the best exercise approach I have ever encountered. At the time of writing this review, I have been following the six paths of exercise progression for a year and I have been noticeably and demonstrably stronger week on week, month on month, throughout. The progression of increasingly challenging movements in the six different exercises is not only enjoyable and motivating, but ensures that you build real, functional strength with natural and healthy movement patterns. This means your joints are looked after as well as your muscles. It’s accessible to people of all levels of fitness as the first steps in each exercise path are incredibly easy. You don’t have to be able to do a single pushup or leg raise to start this, but you’ll end up working towards feats of strength far beyond these standard movements. I cannot recommend this approach highly enough: it is now the cornerstone of all my strength training. It’s all I need.

2) A Woman’s Toolkit for Recovery from Violence and Trauma

How to cope with the aftermath of traumatic events by Anna Valdiserri

awtfrfvat.PNGIt’s easy to focus so much on preparation, prevention and protection that we forget to deal with the remaining facet of violence: what comes after.

This book is comprehensive without being overly wordy or weighed down with excessive jargon and case study after case study as many such things are. It’s a step-by-step, well-considered look at how to deal with the aftermath of a violent encounter. While its intended audience is women, there’s nothing that isolates men from benefiting from its guidance. It’s a very useful resource for men and women alike to understand the often complex psychological, emotional and social processes that go on after violence occurs. I would recommend this not only as a valuable exercise in understanding your own recovery but as guidance in helping others through the same. True justice is often not done to this aspect of violence by self-protection instructors, or may even be completely omitted from their training and study, and this book can assist very effectively with that shortcoming.

1) Meditations on Violence

The game-changer by Rory Miller

mov.PNGThis has stood the test of time and is on the shelf of every well-read instructor I know. It stands out as the authoritative text on the matter, and is perfect both for beginners and for those with some training under their belt who want to ensure they’re on the right track.

It is a truly invaluable insight into the difference between martial arts training and real violence, from an author who is talking from experience, not theories. It’s a rare thing to find an author on this topic who simultaneously knows what he is writing about and can write about it well, but Sgt. Rory Miller certainly can. It’s full of detailed information on the physical and psychological sides of violence, and is expressed in such a way that it’s easily understood.

If you’re not entirely sure your training is up to the demands of real violence, give this a read. If you are entirely sure your training is up to the demands of real violence, give this a read anyway. I can’t recommend it enough.


As you can see from our recommended reading list, there are a great number of excellent books to choose from on any of these subjects. These seven were chosen because they will give you a broad and often in-depth understanding of many of the most important aspects of self-protection study. By following their advice, you’ll build an understanding of:

  • General self-protection concepts:
    • Threat awareness
    • Threat evaluation
    • Threat avoidance
    • Communicative strategies
    • Force deployment
  • UK law, “reasonable force” and the Force Continuum
  • Safeguarding children (and others who you’re responsible for)
  • Breathwork for increased effectiveness in exercise, increased effectiveness of force deployment and for mastering fear to avoid panic
  • Efficient and effective strength and conditioning that looks after your overall health as well as the strength of your muscles
  • How to cope with the aftermath of traumatic events and how to help others who have gone through them
  • How to ensure that your training serves you well, is relevant and is efficient.

Happy reading!

– Josh Nixon


Book List:

Thompson, Geoff. Dead or Alive: The Choice Is Yours: The Definitive Self-Protection Handbook. Summersdale. 2004. ISBN 978-1-84024-279-9.

Dawes, Mark. Understanding Reasonable Force. NFPS. 2006. ISBN 1-84667-012-8.

Thompson, Phil. Empower Your Kids to be Safe … For Life: Vital information every parent must know to keep their kids safe from child predators and violence. BookPal. 2009. ISBN 978-1-921578-31-1.

Vasiliev, Vladimir and Meredith, Scott. Let Every Breath…: Secrets of the Russian Breath Masters. V. Vasiliev.2006. ISBN 978-0-9781049-0-0.

Wade, Paul. Convict Conditioning: How to Bust Free of All Weakness – Using the Lost Secrets of Supreme Survival Strength. Dragon Door Publications. 2009. ISBN 978-0-938045-76-2.

Valdiserri, Anna. A Woman’s Toolkit for Recovery from Violence and Trauma. A. Valdiserri. 2015. ASIN B00WQ376TW.

Miller, Rory. Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence. YMAA. 2008. ISBN 1-59439-118-1.

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Training notes – 10.04.2015

Elbow Strike Neon - LogoAfter the usual loosening off and joint rotation, we got to a gentle start this week with a focus on ground mobility. We looked at getting to the ground quickly and safely in the form of forward and backward fall absorption (falling without getting hurt on a hard surface), then looked at extending that skill into rolling forwards and backwards. This is a useful thing to do not only for the obvious benefit of dealing with falling over and minimising injury, but as a great core exercise and to encourage general mobility and relaxed movement. When falling, we’re also dealing with a very primal fear and so there is a psychological element to ground mobility work that shouldn’t be ignored.

We then stepped it up a notch by performing the aforementioned fall absorption when a partner disrupted our posture to take us down to the floor.

Loosened off and relaxed, it was time to warm up with a little padwork. The focus of this session that carried through everything we did was on maintaining situational awareness while performing a task. Though you didn’t know it – I hadn’t given any instructions about that specifically – you were all doing this very well in the next drill. I noticed lots of people looking around at the people most likely to attack them next, and shifting their positions to suit. Excellent work.

Padwork:

Everyone split up into pairs. One person held the focus mitts while the other smashed them with hammer fists. Whether singly and individually focussed or as a blitz of chaotic strikes, it was up to you. Each pair moved around the space freely and lots of good, stable posture was observed which facilitated relaxed and efficient striking.

At random intervals, I would shout ‘Change!’ and the padholders would run to the nearest padless person and attack them with the focus mitts. Employing a high guard, those people protected themselves by driving into the attacker and managing the distance effectively; proactively dealing with the threat instead of passively accepting the flurry of strikes. The pads were then presented for more striking, and this was repeated.

By having the padholders assume a predatory role in selecting their victims freely, the dynamic of the drill demanded a proactive response from the participants which provided some very rewarding training.

From there, we stayed in our pairs and focussed on a simple skill: striking a pad, then with aggressive movement into the attacker, gaining control of them and having that control tested by the attacker simply struggling as hard as they could to free themselves. We discussed appropriate footwork, posture and control methods including using the forearm against the neck when the attacker tried to move into us.

Partner Work – Skills Focus:

Again, we took some more time to focus on some skills we started to look at last week involving grabs, biomechanical manipulation and how to deal with the threat of what could come as a result of the grabs we’re encountering. This week we worked on using that grab as an opportunity, either for effective striking or biomechanically affecting their posture and joints using the arm they’re presenting. We found the following:

  • If they’re grabbing you with a hand, they don’t have much defence on that side of their head with which to stop you hitting them!
  • Never forget: if they’re in a position to hit you, you’re usually in a position where you can hit them too!
  • Coming on the outside of the arm is useful because you can hyperextend the elbow and you’re on the (relatively) ‘safe’ side.
    • You might be at the right position in the moment to get that armbar. You might not. If you’re not, just shove him away and run off! Remember we’re not interested in sticking around and doing anything flashy. If it’s there (and you need to), then use it. If not, do something else!
  • Coming on the inside of the arm can also be useful as collapsing it brings their head towards you. For striking this can be very useful but for control perhaps even more so. Gaining a good clinched position can be an effective way to gain the advantage you need to do what you need to do and leave.
    • Being on the inside of the arm near their centre line allows for lots of striking options, particularly at range 2 with your elbows (which is very easily done from a high guard). Elbow striking really lends itself to these close-up situations.

Focus Section: Violence Dynamics:

This section brought together all of the skills we’d been working on and put them into a useful context worth studying: the ‘Pincer Movement’. Here’s a quotation from an article that is actually chapter 2 of Geoff Thompson’s excellent book ‘Dead or Alive’:

If more than one assailant is involved it is usual for one of the attackers to deploy the victim with distracting dialogue, whilst the other(s) move to your offside. Whilst the victim is distracted by the questioner, his accomplice(s) attack.

This was one of the most common attacks in the nightclub when I worked as a doorman and is a common, though, unbelievably, innate, ploy of gang robbery or rapes: the pincer movement. That is why so many people seem to get glassed or stabbed in the side of the face or neck because they are not attacked by the person in front that they are arguing with. They are attacked by the guy at the side that they do not see because of their adrenal induced tunnel vision (no one seems to teach these people to do this; they just do it instinctively).

There is a wealth of information in that chapter and I heavily recommend that you have a read. Better yet, buy the book. It’s packed with useful information and case studies. I’ve included it (and all its details so you can find it easily) on our Recommended Reading page. There’s more information I found in chapter 16 which was reproduced on that website on the appropriate response to multiple attackers and in chapter 2 (linked above) there’s a lot more information on violence dynamics, the criminal interview, etc than we could cover in this session.

To understand the dynamic of the pincer movement, we performed a simple acclimatisation drill to start: in groups of 3, we had two people continuously walk towards their ‘victim’, with one always trying to come around to their ‘blind side’ and get around them to a position from which they could attack. In this stage, we simply used our footwork to maintain a position from which we could see both partners clearly, and attempted to get them close together so that only one was in a position from which they could attack us at any one time.

Afterwards, we had one partner engage the ‘victim’ with conversation while the other initiated an attack. Dealing with an attack (from both partners), and running away, the ‘victim’ then had to justify their actions to the group as we did on Red Nose Day. Some points to remember:

  • Don’t stick around and fight if you can run. While in initial training the consequence might just be getting ragged around a bit and slapped or taken down by your conscientious partners, in an assault that could be one of them holding you on the floor while the other stamps on your head until you stop breathing. If you can run away, run away!
  • Don’t let them get too close! If you feel threatened and you can run, just run. If you can’t, but shoving the guy out of the way can give you that escape, then do it. Run away.
  • Don’t hesitate either. If you know you can’t run and you have to deploy force in order to change the situation so you can escape, don’t wait around before you do. Once you’ve decided on your action (and the need for it) then do it with conviction and without hesitation. This article quotes the words of Miyamoto Musashi (an expert Japanese swordsman and rōnin – author of The Book of Five Rings) on the matter: ‘When facing multiple opponents, you must attack first and keep attacking until the danger subsides.’

In the drills we did today, I saw people managing the distance between themselves and others effectively. I saw people demonstrating excellent relaxed striking (hitting extremely hard too). I saw people putting the skills we’ve been developing into practice in a very difficult situation. Most importantly, I saw them doing so efficiently and then justifying it afterwards.

Incredible effort, lots of sweat and even a little blood: excellent training with excellent people.

Well done, all of you. The ability and dedication in the room was truly humbling.

A pleasure and a privilege as always. See you next time!

-Josh

All the details of this class are on the Public Classes page up at the top. Your first session is FREE and all are welcome to come along and take part. Every session is beginner-friendly. If anyone has any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

10 Questions with Andy Holmes (Kombat Cave UK)

image

1) Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do at the Kombat Cave – what’s the Cave all about and how did it come to be?

I have been training for 12 years and started my interest in martial arts in the 80s at the age of 13, with Judo, then Wado Ryu and Shotokan.
Then discovered cars and girls and had a 20 year lay off!
When I started again at the ripe old age of 35 it was in Chinese Kickboxing. During my time training I was attacked at work with an axe and started to realise the shortfall of sport based arts on the street.
I started attending Krav Maga seminars in Leeds whenever I could and also started attending seminars with the best reality based instructors in the UK.
After obtaining my first Dan in kickboxing I decided I wanted my training to go down the reality route, but could not find any clubs locally, so decided to open my own.
A chance meeting on Facebook and a phone chat with Simon Morrell lead me to make the three and a half hour drive to north Wales on a regular basis to become an Instructor under Fight Fortress worldwide and the BCA.
The Cave was finally born in April 2012.

2) How does self-protection fit into what you do?

Self Protection is the basis of everything we do, we teach people to defend themselves in the real world.
We cover everything from awareness and the law to adrenaline and aftermath, and students have to demonstrate knowledge and ability through physical and written gradings.

3) What motivates you in your training? How do you get yourself going when you’re not in the mood or you have other things to do?

I want to be better than my students so need to put in extensive personal training.
I’m also not getting any younger so want to achieve a lot more in the arts before the bath chair beckons!

4) What would you say is your greatest skill or attribute as a teacher?

Honesty with my students, if I don’t know the answer I will say so, we will then work the solution.
I’d like to think I am also good at communicating with students and always striving to evolve my syllabus based on their needs.

5) What would you say is the most important aspect of your training, skill you develop or attribute you cultivate at the Kombat Cave?

People are able to develop skills that are natural to them and are more likely to be delivered under pressure, I don’t believe in changing their skills but building on what they already have.
The CSD (Cave Street Defence) syllabus is built around making defences that deal with attacks and we offer various solutions, it’s up to the student which strategy works best for them.

6) What is your favourite exercise, training method or drill?

I love Pyramid drills and pad work, punching and kicking drills using the length of the Dojo and increasing/decreasing in intensity.
We start each session with Kombat Fitness designed to improve the skills/endurance used in training and defence situations as well as overall strength and fitness.

7) What do you like to do aside from training and teaching? What interests you?

I read a lot (martial arts books I’m afraid), watching movies and I like to go to the theatre with my long suffering Wingman (the misses who is the brains of the club).

8) What advice do you have for the students out there reading this?

Make sure you are training in the right art for you, work out what you want to achieve and ensure your art will deliver, if not, find one that does.

9) What advice do you have for the instructors out there reading this?

Teach what you are happy teaching and be adaptable as the arts are changing.
Many people no longer want to spend years studying one art, I believe with the quick fix mentality of today we must evolve to meet the student’s needs.
Don’t get drawn into the world of the keyboard warrior and be honest about your ability, leave the ego at the door and don’t get involved in martial politics.

10) What is your ultimate goal with the Kombat Cave? Where do you want it to lead?

Ultimately I would love a dedicated Centre and teach on a full time basis.
I want the Cave to be a recognised reality based club that teaches people from all walks of life the essential physical and mental attributes to protect themselves and families.
As well as a fun and friendly place to train.

Simon Morrell and Andy Holmes Simon Morrell and Andy Holmes

You can get in touch with the Kombat Cave on Facebook or on Twitter (@KombatcaveUK), see them on YouTube or visit their website at http://www.kombatcaveuk.com/.

10 Questions with Douglas Graham (50/50 Fitness)

doug 50 50 logo1) Tell us a bit about yourself and 50/50 Fitness – what’s 50/50 Fitness all about and how did it come to be?

50/50 came with my evolution in teaching. It’s the old saying that ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’. I can help you but you need to meet me half way. Otherwise you will always falter in your journey. Without that mentality, it is tough to commit to the way. With that said, I like to think I can show anybody that the mentality is there at their core. People are just bogged down by, or hide behind, the modern way of life.

2) How does self-protection fit into what you do?

I mentioned the way in my last answer. People can call me cryptic or old fashioned if they like but the fact is that everyone is searching for it. Self-protection, Self-defence, martial arts – call it what you like – it fits perfectly into what I do as the art of learning these disciplines can and should be a journey of self-discovery. Much as health & fitness has become in the modern age. Indeed, I found my way to being a Personal Trainer through my study and teaching of Martial Art. And lets be clear, there is only Martial Art for me when it comes to Self-Protection. This led to a love for understanding body mechanics. Naturally this led to a deeper study of the human body and ways to improve performance. Initially in certain areas and movements, but that gave way to a deeper understanding and approach as time marched.

3) What motivates you in your training? How do you get yourself going when you’re not in the mood or you have other things to do?

First off. I am rarely in this magical mood I hear of that people seem to be in. I motivate myself every time. It’s about balance. It’s not about going to the gym/dojo/hall and ‘smashing it’. Not for the average person. Too much emphasis is placed on the kick-ass mentality or the killer workout. Its tough for people to continually motivate themselves for something they just don’t want to do. My self-defence class is not one that seeks out new folks to train; I have never really been that way inclined unless it could do with another body or two to help with training. But if somebody seeks out the class, well then you pretty much have that 50 I am looking for. Motivation is often relative to the task at hand and comes in different forms. Do you motivate yourself to go to a job you hate every day? You may have more than you already know ;-)

4) What would you say is your greatest skill or attribute as a teacher?

Probably best to ask someone that trains with me to be honest. I am sure it varies from person to person.

5) What would you say is the most important aspect of your training, skill you develop or attribute you cultivate in 50/50 Fitness?

Tough question for me. I have a very blurred line between these two. People define it but I still can’t, not really. In general though, I stick my hand up for attributes. Because I don’t specifically define, I won’t say more than this.

6) What is your favourite exercise, training method or drill?

In exercise HIT style workouts have been without doubt my favourite for years now. It’s a style that can fit you at any level or age. The name ‘High Intensity Training’ tends to scare many. That is unless you brand it ;-) Interval Training is an umbrella term but fits fine for me in this case. For my SD training it is also without doubt, free-form multiple attacker drills in full gear. They can be very serious and testing like nothing else. Also very fun and amusing. You very quickly learn where you make potentially fatal errors. It shows up differences between say, perceived speed and real speed, power, accuracy etc, etc.

7) What do you like to do aside from 50/50 Fitness? What interests you?

Outside of MA and Fitness I enjoy growing herbs and spices. I like reading although in the past couple of years I have read only research. It’s something I need to address and enjoy reading for reading again.

8) What advice do you have for the students out there reading this?

Be wary of YouTube. Seek out good teachers, they can be anywhere.

9) What advice do you have for the instructors out there reading this?

Be wary of YouTube. But in a different way. Be thankful for good students, they are your greatest teachers.

10) What is your ultimate goal with 50/50 Fitness? Where do you want it to lead?

Corny as it sounds, wherever it takes me. My goal is to help people improve themselves and understand that ‘perfect’ is a saying, not a finish line. In my eyes there are not many out there on a big scale that are truly achieving this. If I can reach that type of scale, with my approach, it will be an accomplishment indeed. But even on the small scale I am happy if I can pass on knowledge to a few, that will pass through the individual and on to another few. Money is a burden we all share. I like to bear it as simply as possible. The goals and philosophy of 50/50 are an embodiment of myself and the legacy I leave for my children. If it reaches only them, I die a very happy man.

You can get in touch with Douglas Graham about 50/50 Fitness on his Facebook page here or you can email him at fiftyfiftyfitness@hotmail.co.uk by clicking here.

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

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