How to Tell When You’re Being Followed (and Get Away Safely) (2022)

There's little more frightening than the sneaking suspicion that someone may be following you, whether it's on foot or in a car. Here's how you can tell whether that person behind you is watching you as much as you're watching them.

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Why Would Someone Follow Me? I'm Nobody!

It's not just spies that get tailed. Law enforcement doesn't usually waste time and resources following random people, but they're not the only ones interested in the lives of others. Private detectives, angry exes, friends or family of exes, or even that guy you accidentally cut off changing lanes a few miles back may have been following you this whole time, seething and ready to give you a piece of their mind (or possibly their fists.)

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Don't underestimate how even small things can set dangerous people off. These are the easiest people to identify and avoid. We're not saying live your life paranoid, and if you can't think of a reason someone would follow you, odds are you're not being followed, but we are saying that a little knowledge and awareness of your surroundings at all times goes a very long way.

How to Tell If Someone's Following You

Let's be clear: if the professionals are following you, you probably won't know it. Real spies use a host of tricks to make sure you'll never know you're being followed. Multiple operatives observe you, and switch off at predetermined points while a control operative, in contact with everyone in the field, manages their movements. That means the guy that followed you for the past two blocks will pull off at the next exit or pop into the Starbucks you passed for a coffee, and someone else will take over while you wonder where he went. There are some ways to tell is an amateur, random person, or a PI is following you though:

  • Stay aware of your surroundings. It's common sense, but you'd be surprised how many people walk around every day staring at their phones or looking at the sidewalk in front of them, paying no attention to the world around them. Keep your head up, and make note of the people you see and the cars you pass. If you're not aware of your surroundings, the rest of these tips won't help you.
  • Don't start looking over your shoulder. Remember, normal people are the ones who do inconspicuous things. Spies and PIs know better than to draw attention to themselves. As soon as you start glancing over your shoulder every three steps, they'll know you're suspicious. They'll likely drop farther back or disengage entirely and pick up later.

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How to Tell When You’re Being Followed (and Get Away Safely) (3)

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  • Start with appearances. Look for a car you've never seen before in your neighborhood or along your commute, or make note of a vehicle that seems to be taking all the same turns that you're taking. The same applies for people. Here's the catch though: if a road-rager is following you, they'll just close, which is easy to spot. If someone is actually trying to follow you, they'll probably drive past you occasionally, then change lanes and fall back. On foot, they'll walk next to you, or even pass you and take a side street that eventually ends up going the same direction that you're going. Look out for vehicles that make all the same turns that you do. More Intelligent Life suggests you keep an eye on a person's shoes. Coats and hats change easily, but shoes? Not so much when you don't want to lose someone. Photo by Robert Red.
  • Slow down. Slow people and vehicles are hard to tail, and risk the exposure of the operative, because they now have to stay near the target. Pull into the right lane and drive the speed limit. See what happens. If you're on foot, slow down or stand to the side and fiddle with your phone a bit (while keeping an eye on what's going on around you, of course) and see who slows down with you, or who walks past and then suddenly reappears later. Some people will tell you the opposite: that you should speed up and see if they do too. An amateur would speed up too, but a professional would only speed up if they think you might turn or take an exit, or if you'll leave their line of sight.

The video above, part of a training series by SAFE International, has some more suggestions to help you figure out whether you're being followed, and what you should do if you confirm that someone is trailing you.

What You Should Do If You Think You're Being Followed

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If you've tried the above and think someone's on your tail, you have some options. We discussed what you should do if you think a car is following you, but much of it applies to people on foot as well.

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  • Call the police. Do this first. If you think you're in any kind of real danger, this is the best, first, and probably only course of action you should follow. Additionally, as we mentioned, if it's local authorities, they'll disengage. If it's another law enforcement agency, they may get pulled over themselves. If it's a PI or a road-rager or any other civilian after you, the police are the best people to handle the situation. If you're on a highway, stay on it. If you do get off a main road, drive to the nearest police station.
  • Go somewhere public. Public, and with tons of people. Find a crowded restaurant and grab a seat. Order a coffee and read something on your phone. Head into the nearest shopping mall or large, crowded store. This gives you two benefits: first, you have the cover of a lot of people (stick close to the crowds.) Second, you can observe your observer, get their description, and hand it over to the police.
  • Don't panic. Don't start speeding, or try to make quick turns or duck into alleys. Ducking into the subway before the doors close looks great in the movies, but the smart people already have someone on the train or platform waiting for you. Start speeding, and you'll just drive into the next tail car's territory faster. When professionals follow someone, they don't need to know where you are at all times, they just want to "house" you, or observe your behavior and patterns. If you're worried it's an angry ex or someone you cut off, stay on main roads, and if you have to stop, leave plenty of space between you and the car in front of you, just in case you need room to maneuver or drive around it if someone approaches your car.

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  • Change your behavior to confuse your follower. If you're in a car, take the next exit, then get back on the main road. This isn't something most people would normally do, and if someone follows you off the road and then back onto the highway, you know something's up. Better yet, they should know you're on to them, and disengage. Make four right (or left) turns. Few people need to drive or walk in a circle. Image by Oleksiy Mark.
  • Change your patterns regularly. Don't go straight home, especially if you're worried the person following you intends to harm you. Take a different route home from work than you did yesterday. Go to a restaurant you've never been to. If you think someone's been following you, they're probably already aware of your patterns, so suddenly taking the freeway home when you normally take side streets may throw them off. Riding the subway uptown when you live downtown will do the same thing. If you think the person wants to harm you follow these tips on avoiding an attack, some of which echo points we've made here (staying in public, calling the police, etc.)

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Professionals, like PIs, usually won't interact with you—they just want to know where you'll be and when so they can plan for later. They're the people you can throw off with changes to your habits and driving tricks. People who want to hurt you are another matter. Your safety is paramount.

Some people will suggest you follow the follower, but we can't recommend it. If the person following you means you harm, that's a very dangerous game you're playing. You should be focused on getting to a safe place, keeping your head and wits about you. With luck, you'll never need to worry that someone is following you, but it's important to be able to tell if someone is, why they're following you, and how to avoid, deter, or lose them.

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Title image made using iconspro.

This post is part of Spy Week, a series at Lifehacker where we look at ways to improvise solutions to every day problems Bond-style. Want more? Check out our spy week tag page.

FAQs

How do you tell when you're being followed? ›

Multiple sightings of the same person or vehicle over the course of a day. Travelers who get on and off public transportation with you. Diners in restaurants who get up and leave after you without eating their food. People sitting in a restaurant who aren't eating at all.

How do you react when someone follows you? ›

Call the police immediately.

If you don't have a cell phone, walk into an establishment, tell them you're being followed, and ask if you can use their phone to call the police. If they won't let you use the phone, ask them to call for you. Tell the police someone is following you and you are scared for your life.

What to do if you think you've been followed home? ›

Go and report your suspicions to a police officer, give them the physical description of the person, and if need be, have the officer come outside with you to see if the person is still around, or take you home.

How do you lose someone who is following you? ›

Here's how to lose him for good.
  1. Remain Calm and Assess. It's not about how fast your car is or even about your driving skills. ...
  2. Let Him Know You Know. ...
  3. Don't Go It Alone. ...
  4. Get Out of Sight. ...
  5. Shoot the Gap. ...
  6. Call In the Fuzz.
15 Jul 2021

Why do I feel like someone is following me? ›

Paranoia is the feeling that you're being threatened in some way, such as people watching you or acting against you, even though there's no proof that it's true. It happens to a lot of people at some point. Even when you know that your concerns aren't based in reality, they can be troubling if they happen too often.

What do you do when someone follows you on Reddit? ›

TL;DR - DO NOT GO HOME IF YOU ARE BEING FOLLOWED - even if you think you are. Instead, continue driving and call the police immediately. Try to gather as much description as possible and do not attempt to confront the other person.

How do you know if someone is following you on Instagram? ›

From their profile, tap on the “Following” option found at the top of the screen. Here, you'll see a list of every user they are following. Tap the Search bar and then type in your own name or Instagram handle. If your name comes up, it means they're following you.

How do I know if someone is following me on Facebook? ›

How to see who is following you on Facebook
  1. Go to your friends tab and select the "More" section. Click the "More" tab. ...
  2. Click "Following." Select "Following." ...
  3. Scroll through the list of who's following you. Scroll through to see who follows your profile. ...
  4. Facebook users can choose to "follow" a page without liking it.
3 Apr 2019

What to do if you're being followed by a man? ›

Call the police to report the person and vehicle as soon as you can. Dial the number for your local police department and let them know who and where you are. Let them know that you're being followed, and do your best to describe the vehicle and the other person.

What do you call someone who follows? ›

Frequently Asked Questions About follower

Some common synonyms of follower are adherent, disciple, and partisan. While all these words mean "one who gives full loyalty and support to another," follower may apply to people who attach themselves either to the person or beliefs of another.

What to do when being followed on foot? ›

Here's what you need to do if you're being followed in your car:
  1. #1 - Verify that you're being followed. ...
  2. #2 - Don't panic. ...
  3. #3 - Call 911. ...
  4. #4 - Drive to a public place, such as the police station. ...
  5. #5 - Switch up your routine. ...
  6. Something Else to Keep in Mind.
18 Jan 2021

What is the fear of someone following you? ›

Scopophobia is also commonly associated with schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders. Often, scopophobia will result in symptoms common with other anxiety disorders. Scopophobia is considered both a social phobia and a specific phobia.

What does it mean when people are following you? ›

Definition: In social media, a follow represents a user who chooses to see all of another user's posts in their content feed.

Why do I always feel like Im being watched? ›

Social anxiety can make individuals prone to constantly worrying about being watched — but typically only when they're in public. However, for those, like me, who feel watched even when they're alone, the perpetual fear might be a result of formative childhood experiences.

How do I stop following Reddit? ›

Select Settings and tap on your username under Account Settings. Under Blocking and Permissions, toggle off Allow people to follow you.

What to do if someone is following you NYC? ›

Call the police.

If you feel threatened, call the police to let them know what's going on. Or simply drive to your local police precinct, and tell them you believe you're being followed. Give an officer the information on the car that's following you and let them take it from there.

How do you see who's following you on Reddit? ›

When you visit your profile, you'll see a link to your follower list. From the follower list, you can see a list of everyone who's following you, with the most recent follows appearing first. You can follow someone back from your list or visit their profile to take other actions such as blocking or messaging them.

Do people know when you look at their Instagram? ›

Can you see who views your Instagram profile? Instagram doesn't allow users to see who views their profile. So if you look through someone's profile and don't like or comment on a post, there's no way for them to know who sees the pictures.

Can u see if someone screenshots your Instagram? ›

Instagram doesn't notify people if you take a screenshot of a photo or video that they have shared from their gallery or camera roll. Further, screenshots of other non-disappearing content, in DMs (like posts from feeds, text messages) will also not be notified to the user.

How do I know whos not following me back on Instagram? ›

By checking your Followers list:
  1. Open Instagram and go to your Profile, located at the bottom-most right.
  2. Tap on your Followers list at the top.
  3. Using the search bar, type in the name of the account who you think might've unfollowed you. ...
  4. If they appear, it means they're following you.
24 Aug 2022

Can someone tell if I look at their Facebook page a lot? ›

No, Facebook doesn't tell people that you've seen their profile. Third-party apps also can't provide this functionality.

How do I see who is following me on Facebook 2022? ›

In Facebook's top-left corner, click your profile icon followed by your profile name. On the profile page, in the tab list beneath your name, click “Friends.” In the “Friends” section, click the “Followers” tab. You'll now see the list of people who follow you on Facebook.

How do you see whos secretly following you on Facebook? ›

You can view a complete list of users that follow you by clicking into your “Friends” list under the cover photo of your Facebook profile page, then looking to the right of the screen. If you don't have a visible tab that says “Followers,” this means you do not have any (non-friend) followers on Facebook.

What is a person who follows you around? ›

You can also use the word follower to talk about someone who literally follows another person. When you play tag and the person who's "it" runs behind you as you dodge around trees, that person is a follower. The Old English root is folgere, "servant or disciple," from folgian, "follow, accompany, or pursue."

Why do people follow you? ›

They are expressing their joy, their desires, their values, and they are making choices based on their dreams. They don't always do things that "make sense", they do things for love. They are following a guidance inside them; their heartfelt intuition.

What do you do if you are being followed on your foot? ›

On Foot. Call the police. If you believe you're being followed on foot by someone with ill intentions, call the police and give them a description of your pursuant. Keep the police on the phone for as long as possible.

Is following like friending on Facebook? ›

You automatically follow people who you're friends with. You can also follow Pages (example: businesses, organizations, brands) and people who aren't your friend on Facebook but allow everybody to follow them. When you follow someone or a Page, you may see updates from that person or Page in your News Feed.

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