Urban legends — stories told around the office cooler, or at your child’s soccer game, or among friends after work — aren’t always harmless tales designed to provide a few scares or laughs the pass the time. Sometimes, urban legends that prove untrue can have individuals worried about scams or crimes that actually don’t exist, which makes it that much harder to believe in the occasionally sensational methods used by criminals that only sound like a tall tale.
Consider a recent report from the Today show about ‘sliders.’ This unlikely term has been applied to thieves who target women pumping gas into their cars. With the purse on the front seat, and their attention diverted to the act of fueling up, these women are victimized by individuals who emerge from a nearby parked car, stay low to the ground, and snatch the purse through either an open window or an unlocked door. Although it sounds incredible, police are warning women not to leave their purses unattended at gas stations unless all of their doors are locked and their windows are sealed.
A few other unlikely stories about personal safety circulating around the Internet — usually in the form of email forwards — can sometimes be based on the truth, even if they aren’t completely factual. For example, a popular email message claims that thieves use registration information from automobiles left in long-term parking lots at airports to target homes that are empty while their owners are away. Although some robberies have been associated with thieves who first take a car’s portable GPS unit out while it is parked (to get the home address of the presumably absent owner), urban legend debunking site Snopes.com points out that a burglar has no way to know if the entire family went away on a trip or if only one member left the car in the lot. Either way, an addition of a home security system will help prevent home break-ins of any kind.
Similar scare tactics include thieves who steal purses and then make fake phone calls claiming to be from mall security so that owners leave their houses to come pick up the recovered property (leaving their homes empty and unprotected). Again, this is a little too convenient of an assumption on the part of burglars, but it does serve as a warning to individuals not to leave a purse or wallet unattended in a shopping cart or on the counter at a supermarket where it could be easily snagged while you’re distracted.
Using common sense is a great way to discern between what’s real and what’s false when processing these well-meaning, but often misleading online personal safety warnings. If a story seems too sensational to have actually occurred, chances are your first impression is the right one. Personal safety and security often boils down to paying attention to the environment around you and making sure that you don’t put yourself in a position to be victimized by opportunistic criminals. Unfortunately, there are so many ‘easy targets’ out there that thieves rarely need to resort to exotic means to break into a home, scam your identity, or make off with your cash and credit cards. Stay alert, and stay safe.
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