Tips to protect yourself and family from crime and other dangers


By Paul Samkow

WASHINGTON, September 21, 2014 — Absolute safety is impossible, even today, when law and technology have acted in concert to create a sense of security while shielding us from some of the common dangers of the past.

If you want to avoid harm to your body, assure that your finances are safe, and protect your identity, you might want to turn your house into a fortress and lock yourself inside. But alas, you can be injured at home, and both your property and your identity can be stolen even if you never leave your bedroom.

The statistics are staggering and scary. Physical crimes are committed every day in neighborhoods considered “safe.”

Cyber crime is even more pervasive. Last August, Hold Security learned that a Russian gang stole 1.2 billion personal records, including user names and passwords, from 420,000 websites. In October, Vietnamese hackers stole 200 million personal records, including credit card files, social security numbers, and bank records from a data brokerage firm. Last December, Eastern European hackers stole 40 million credit card numbers and the personal information of 70 million customers from Target.

Your name, address, social security number, PIN, bank records and more could easily be among the hundreds of millions of personal records stolen in the last year.

What follows in today’s column are some simple, not-so-difficult measures you can employ to minimize the harm caused by both accidents and physical crime. Next week we will look at how you can protect your identity.

Personal Safety In Your Home

  • Falls are the number one cause of injury in the home. Fix loose carpeting, lay down slip pads, and keep loose items cleared from your floor. Install non-slip decals or a non-skid mat in your tub.
  • Repair or replace loose or frayed wires on all electrical devices.
  • Do not run cords under rugs or across doorways.
  • Baby-proof.
  • Check outlets and plugs; if they are warm, call an electrician.
  • Do not overload outlets.
  • Have flues and chimneys inspected and cleaned annually.
  • Inspect wood-burning stoves twice per month.
  • Install smoke-alarms and carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home.
  • Test these alarms every month and replace batteries in them every year.
  • Place a fire extinguisher on each floor of your home, especially in your kitchen and your laundry room.
  • Keep flammable liquids away from any flame source.
  • Keep flashlights in several locations in your home and check batteries regularly.
  • Create at least two escape routes from your home and establish a meeting place.
  • If you have small children, lock cabinets, install window guards and safety gates, lock away hazardous materials, put childproof caps on medicines and vitamins, keep sharp knives and scissors out of reach, lock away guns, and teach children when and how to dial 9-1-1.

Burglar-and Safety-Proofing Your Home

  • Install deadbolt locks on every outside door.
  • Install motion-detector floodlights in the backyard.
  • Keep the house looking occupied if away; ask a trusted neighbor to park their car in your driveway and to collect your mail, newspaper and other deliveries while you’re gone, or suspend mail delivery.
  • Purchase timers to turn on outside and inside lights automatically at various times throughout the day and night.
  • Trim shrubs and trees near windows to eliminate hiding places.
  • Mow your lawn before you leave and have it mowed periodically if you will be away at length. In winter, have sidewalks shoveled if you are away.
  • Buy a sturdy, heavy, home safe and lock all valuables in it.
  • Purchase a metal bar or wood dowel to insert in the tracking of sliding glass doors.
  • Put your street number, not your name, on your mailbox.
  • Give a spare key to a trusted neighbor or nearby friend — do not leave “hidden” keys outside.
  • Lock doors even when you are home.
  • Have locks installed on fuse boxes and external power sources.
  • Place home security stickers and signs so they can easily be seen.
  • Assure your house number is visible from the street at night. 

Personal Safety Away From Home

  • The number one problem traveling abroad is crime. ALWAYS be alert.
  • Robert L. Sicilliano, a safety expert, says “body language is 55 percent of communications. That is your walk, posture, facial expressions and eye contact.” Accordingly, the way you communicate physically and verbally, and non-verbally, can determine whether a predator deems you a good target.
  • Teach children and teens about 9-1-1 and local emergency numbers.
  • Teach teens about “blind-dates,” about meeting someone they do not know and about how to say “no.”
  • Teach teens about meeting people they connected with on computers.
  • Check the inside of elevators before entering. Wait for the next one if you are unsure about who is inside.
  • Always keep car doors locked while in your car.
  • Leave enough maneuvering space between vehicles to allow you to leave if needed.
  • If you are approached by someone suspicious while your car is stopped, drive away.
  • Drive to a police station if you are being followed or harassed by another driver; do not lead them to your home.
  • If another driver “bumps” you, go to a public place to exchange information.
  • Never pick up hitchhikers.
  • If you have car trouble on the road, put up your hood, call for assistance. Do not accept help from strangers.
  • If your car trouble is in a parking lot, call for assistance and move away from your car. Be particularly alert in underground parking areas.
  • Before returning to your car, be alert, particularly to vans parked nearby.
  • Always check your vehicle before entering; if you notice anything unusual, do not get in, call for help.
  • Park your car in a well-lit area. Have your keys out and in your hand as you approach your car.
  • Keep a vehicle emergency kit that has a flashlight, flares, and distress signs.
  • If you are attacked, whether you resist and how you resist depends on many factors. Think through what you will do in advance to avoid escalating the situation and risk serious injury.
  • Trust your instincts; do not be afraid to be impolite or to “make a scene” if you feel threatened. Try to remain calm and use your imagination and good judgment to give yourself time to think and escape.
  • Give up your purse if it is snatched; most injuries occur trying to resist.
  • Plan ahead if you will be drinking alcohol. When it is time to go home, make sure you are with someone you know.
  • Use common sense when walking alone, particularly at night. Walk in well-lit areas. Consider taking a cab.
  • Be aware of surroundings, particularly when you may be less alert, such as in times of stress or illness.
  • If you are in an isolated area such as when working or studying alone, lock doors and let someone know where you are.
  • Avoid taking shortcuts through isolated areas when walking alone.

Also, prevent the chance for obvious accidents while away from home:

  • Drive safely. Do not text while driving; texting is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated.
  • Exercise cautiously. Warm up first.
  • Do not open packages or boxes if you do not know where they are from.
  • Put the paper down when on the toilet seat.

Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980.  He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569). 


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