Small Safety Reminder Time

My friend told me a creepy story this weekend. A clean cut man with a clip board knocked on her door and asked her questions about one of her neighbors. He asked my friend if she knew the neighbor, and when my friend demurred because something about it felt off – “I just moved here, don’t know anyone that well” – he pulled out a picture of the neighbor from a manila envelope and was like “are you sure?” My friend held fast and eventually he went away.

She asked the neighbor (who she does know) about it later, and the guy is a stalker. Fun!

So, safety reminder time:

  • Just because someone knocks on your door it doesn’t mean you have to open it or engage with whoever it is. If you’re not expecting anyone, and they sort of catch you out as being home, “It isn’t a good time!” + ignore.
  • People who have some legitimate reason to be there will show you an ID, and (esp. for utility company) if you say “Mind if I verify that?” will be okay with you looking at their ID, writing down numbers, and hang out without protest while you call the company. Someone who gets squirrely about this is bad news.
  • Stalkers like to glean information anyway they can. Don’t give out information about your neighbors and/or coworkers to strangers. We are socialized to tell the truth and to be nice, and that’s hard training to overcome especially when someone catches you off guard, but “I don’t know” and “Why don’t you leave your information” are good stock phrases.
  • If you live in a multi-family housing situation, be a mensch about security. Lock doors and gates. Don’t randomly buzz people in. Walk downstairs and greet the pizza delivery person, don’t prop the gate or door open or let strangers into the building.
  • Creeps will often manufacture very good reasons they need to get into the building. “Your downstairs neighbor knows me, I’m early, can you let me in to wait for her?” or “I’m friends with your neighbor, and she said she was leaving a key out, but I can’t find it, and my cell phone battery is dead, can you help me find it” = NOPE. You don’t have to let anyone in. “Sorry dude, there’s a diner down the street where you can wait. What did you say your name was?


A woman who used to be plagued by a dude who would drive to her house in order to look into her windows and jack off (true story!)

301 thoughts on “Small Safety Reminder Time

  1. Thank you so much for this.

    I have also been stalked, and when I have asked me friends to not share info about me to people who say they know me, they’ve mostly been very surprised at that request.

    The good news is that it made me somewhat paranoid about Internet security, before the Internet got really popular. The habits I developed as a result have been really helpful in avoiding regular-life embarrassment and inconvenience.

    1. A girl in my building is being harassed every few weeks by a man who does things like buzz every single flat in the building, hoping someone will let him in the door. Occasionally he’s done this late at night (11pm, 3pm) with a few friends with him; terrifyingly angry. My flat phone has a camera so I can see even if I don’t pick up.

      Of course he doesn’t do this when someone has already propped the only other entrance, the fire door, open. Then he stands outside her front door screaming abuse. Yet still some folks in this building leave it open!

      (I don’t know my neighbour very well but last we spoke she was getting the police involved and moving because of this. I hope the man never finds her and she can live in peace / safety where ever she is going to after this.)

  2. I first realized measures like this were even an option years ago when someone was stabbed in a building a few doors down from mine – and the next week, a woman exiting the building as I arrived but hadn’t dug my keys out yet stopped me and asked “What apartment are you going to?” I answered her, and she nodded and was like, “Cool, I think we should all start checking on things like that, since, you know… stabbing.”

    I try to do this if I see someone I don’t recognize coming in, though I don’t always, and I haaaaaaate it when I find the door left propped open and will always remove the prop.

    1. I’ve started, instead of just going into buildings following the person with a key, explicitly asking “do you feel comfortable with this or want me to buzz my friend?” I would like to remind people that they are totally allowed to not just automatically let someone in.

      1. Oh! This is good – I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable following people in, but couldn’t find the words. Thank you for sharing! I shall be using it!

      2. I usually just hang back, like I’m expecting them to close the door on me. Then they can ignore me if they don’t feel comfortable holding the door for a stranger.

        1. I do this too, I grab the door after they let go so if they want to close it firmly behind them they have that option without having to confront me directly. I also don’t run for doors, I only grab the door if I just happen to be there at the right time.

      3. I tend to go with some version of “oh no, don’t hold it on my account – my friend is meeting me down here.” Basically, explicitly inviting the person to close the door on me. I think the idea of asking isn’t a bad one, but my experience is that “be polite” is so heavily drilled into most of us that many people would feel downright weird admitting that they weren’t comfortable letting you in, even if they’re not and even if you’ve basically given them permission to say so – by explicitly saying that I’m not coming in, I take the need for the other person to make the “safety vs. feeling-like-I’m-making-this-weird” calculation off the table.

      4. I don’t even ask to piggyback. I wait and let the door close behind them, and then I press my friend’s buzzer. In NYC, that’s how this works; cool people don’t piggyback; they buzz. (Bcs your friend will want some warning before you knock on their door, and bcs if your friend isn’t home, you don’t want to wander in the hallways anyway.) I say, “I’ll wait and buzz my friend.”

        And I say to other people, “Please buzz your friend; they can let you in,” and I pull the door shut in their faces.

    2. Yep. Unless I see someone unloading furniture from their car, obviously coming to our door, I unprop the back door to our apartment building every time. It’s so irritating.

    3. I used to manage an apartment building in Seattle and kept finding the doors propped open no matter how often I put up notes saying, “Please don’t do this — it’s a safety matter.”
      One Thanksgiving somebody knocked on my door. Turned out it was a really drunk guy who asked if I knew which apartment Jane Doe lived in. She was having a party, he said, and he wanted to attend.
      Seemed like he’d already BEEN to a party. Fortunately I was able to get him to leave the premises. And sure enough, the front door had been propped open again. I sent a note to each tenant explaining what had just happened and how this sort of thing was just not safe.
      The door-propping stopped…for a while. Sigh.
      My favorite anecdote involved a chicken walking into the building through the propped-open door. I happened to be heading to the lobby to check my mail, and I waved a rolled-up supermarket ad as I chased the bird back out the door, around the side of the building and two doors down to where I knew a resident was keeping chickens. No way was I cleaning up chicken poop from the hallway. It was bad enough to have to clean up after tenants.

  3. These are good tips! I once had someone from the municipality visit who wanted to check my apartment with regards to a dispute they had with my landlord (something about the size? IDK). I asked for his ID and when he handed it over (immediately and without complaint) he casually remarked that I was the first one in four months to ask for it. Blew my mind. Why would you admit someone into your home without checking his/her creds?

  4. I don’t think this was a stalking thing but it was WEIRD: two young women came to our door a couple of weeks ago and said they were Jehovah’s Witnesses and did I know anyone in the nearby houses who spoke Persian? Uhhhh… I actually think our neighbours might be Iranian, though I’ve no idea if they speak Farsi, so I was just like, um, no idea, sorry. It was such a random question though!

    1. I had a guy come to my door once, and when I answered it he said “You’re not Armenian!” in the most astonished tone. I am indeed, not Armenian. Then he asked if my neighbors were Armenian and was almost indignant that I didn’t know. It’s … never come up, sorry.

      There was an Armenian church down the end of the road but other than that it wasn’t a particularly dominant ethnicity for the neighborhood or anything.

    2. They were probably looking for someone, maybe your neighbors, who were trying to leave the church. You did the right thing!

  5. Whenever I go to visit my friends people will just buzz me into the building, even going so far as to hang around holding the door open for me if they see me approaching. I’m torn between feeling warm fuzzy feelings that everyone is so helpful and friendly and wanting to shake them and say “Do you even understand why doors have locks? This is for your protection!” I think my friends might be the only white people in the building, and I am also white, so it could be that we stand out more than the average passer-by and people remember me, but it still makes me nervous.

    1. One thing we can all do when that happens is to say “thanks, I am good, my friend doesn’t like it when people come up without buzzing” and not accept the held door.

      1. Whenever guests show up at my door without buzzing my response is some variant of “How the hell did you get here?” and annoyance that some neighbor is letting people in. Hrmf.

        I’m also the asshole who sees someone loitering by the door and lets it slam in their face, though. No key fob, no door, sorry.

        1. I always find it very worrying when the delivery guy shows up at our door. We’re on the fourth floor of what’s supposed to be a secured building – two side-doors and one main door, with only the managers having keys to the side-doors. The flaw in the security here is “people keep leaving the side-doors open” and there’s no security cameras or anything, so anyone can walk in without the managers having a single clue about it.

          Earlier this year, I had to tell a guy that I wouldn’t let him in. He kept trying to coax me into it – “I’m just going up to see my friend, they know I’m on my way, I’d call them myself but my phone’s in the middle of restarting itself” – and I just went “um, I don’t actually know you. Try the buzzer or call them on your phone once it’s done doing its thing.” And I guess that threw him enough that he went “yeah, okay” and I could get through the main door and close it on him.

  6. sort of related, i have had a spate of people approach me recently while i was alone, saying they were having an emergency and asking if they could use my phone. my first instincts are usually to ‘be helpful!’ but i’ve been getting better at saying NOPE and trying not feel bad about it. “NOPE, i am alone on the street at night. if you need to borrow a phone, walk to one of the many bars a block away and ask to borrow theirs.” don’t let people make you feel bad about not helping them if you need to stay safe!

    1. Yes to this, Jen! I live in an urban area and it is astounding the number of people that will approach me in a parking lot or inside a store “desperate” for my phone. When I point them toward the security officer patrolling the lot or to the customer service counter with a phone *right there* they get irritated and stomp off. Right there, if you’re truly in need of help, wouldn’t the store security guard or an employee whose job it is to assist customers be your first stop….as opposed to wandering the lot or store aisles aimlessly approaching people? That’s clue #1 that they’re up to something…

      1. I had the same thing happen to me in the lobby of a big office building. The kid who wanted my phone said something about needing to call his cousin to pick him up and I told him to ask the security guard (he claimed they wouldn’t let him use the phone). I felt terrible not helping but it would have really sucked to hand over my iphone and have him take off.

    2. I always say “sorry, my phone is out of charge” whether or not it is. I worry they’ll take my phone and then run off with it but am afraid if I just say “no” they’ll get mad…oddly nobody’s ever had a problem with “out of charge” maybe because it’s a common reality!

      1. I like this, but be careful with it. If you’re relatively alone, “out of battery” can mean “unable to get help” and “prime target for mugging”. A friend of mine had this happen to her. Now she’s always waiting for an important call instead.

      2. I literally had a situation happen to me like the phone commercial where the thief finds the victim’s phone lacking. Guy wanted to borrow my phone, I wasn’t thinking straight and started to hand it to him, and when he saw it was a flip dumbphone, suddenly he was like “Oh! I think that phone’s broken! I bet it doesn’t even have any charge!” It was really funny in retrospect.

        1. My students at school give me shit about having a shattered screen on my virtually new iPhone. I just tell them it’s a theft deterrent.

    3. Good decision! Asking for the time or to borrow someone’s phone is also a common thieving tactic, so NOPE is safest all around.

      1. I once had a Hare Krishna ask me the time so she could get me to slow down long enough to shove a book into my hand and then demand I pay her for it. After I declined she followed me around telling me about how she was a Hare Krishna and trying to get me to come to some free cafe they ran, which I’m sure was “free” the same way the book she “gave” me was “free”.

        1. We had a similar experience in downtown LA where a guy shoved his demo cd in my fiance’s hand and then asked him for $20. Fiance just handed it back to the guy.

          1. In the touristy parts of Paris you get dudes who ask you to hold out your hand so they can tie a “bracelet” on it and then demand five euro. (The bracelet is usually not more than a couple bits of coloured string.) My insistence on keeping my hands in my pockets and shouting “Non!” and “Vas-t’en!” barely even phased some of them.

          2. This happened to us in Vegas. We tried to hand the CD back, they wouldn’t take it, things got scary, my dad gave them a $10 bill and told them to shove off, they said it wasn’t enough and accused us of theft, a bunch of guys came out of nowhere and then they tried to start a fistfight with my dad and then-fiance! It was scary as hell and now I just keep my hands in my pockets.

            The best part though, was that after we successfully untangled ourselves and were getting away, they got mad and threw our money back at us. Except that they threw us $15! So my dad and now-husband joke that they made a little money from the situation.

    4. I never let people use my phone. Ever. I’ve gone so far as to say “it’s an iPod” if it feels hinky enough, but usually I just say “what’s the number and I will call for you” and surprisingly nobody ever actually wants that. Which sort of confirms my suspicions.

      1. I can think of only two situations (of several bordering on many over the years — I guess I look approachable!) where “I’ll make the call for you if you give me the number” was actually accepted, and both times they were stranded/crying kids who really did want their parents to come get them. Anyone who doesn’t want to make the call badly enough to let me dial instead of handing them my phone can find someone else to help them.

      2. Yeah, I was going to say, “I’d be glad to help you! Who should I call?” is probably your best option there. You get to offer help AND not get your phone stolen!

    5. I have actually been in the “emergency in a strange place with no phone” situation (not a huge emergency, I had just missed the last bus out of town and needed to call a cab), and it would NEVER have occurred to me to ask some random stranger to use their cell phone. Some things you just don’t do.

      1. Now that payphones have all but disappeared, if you don’t have a working cellphone I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask a stranger to use their phone when the local businesses are not open — but I like the suggestion of offering to dial. That way those of us who desperately need a phone call will still be grateful for the assistance, but you aren’t handing your phone to a stranger.

        1. One way to approach it is – “Hi, stranger, I know this is an imposition, but I’m having an emergency. Can you call someone for me?”

          Asking strangers to hand you an expensive thing that has all their personal stuff on it is what thieves do.

    6. Yeah, one time I was approached by a man saying, “Ma’am, I really need to use your phone!”

      It was Monday afternoon, not a holiday, I was in the DMV parking lot, and there were groups of people and open businesses all around. And he wanted to use the phone of a lone woman walking through the lot. I didn’t even look at the guy, and instead just kept walking.

      1. Yep. Ignoring them and keeping your eyes focused straight ahead as you walk past has the extra advantage of being apparently unsettling, to judge from the freaked-out whispers I’ve gotten in my wake when I use that tactic.

      2. Ugh, so this guy came up to my CAR while I was trying to get OUT and banged on the door, demanding to use my phone. I just pressed the door lock and shook my head. He started yelling at me that it was because he was black and I yelled back that if he needed help he could walk right into that store we were parked in front of and to NEVER EVER EVER (insert several curse words) APPROACH A YOUNG WOMAN ALONE. I think he was more scared of the shrieking woman locked in her car than I was of him.

        1. Women Loudly Losing Their Shit can be such an effective tool, because men think we won’t really use it. Once, a man started catcalling me – whistling, “Hey, baby”, etc. I was suddenly so furious, so sick of being told to ignore street harassment, I went nuclear Travis Bickle on him: ARE YOU TALKING TO ME?!?! ARE YOU FUCKING TALKING TO ME, YOU PIECE OF SHIT?!? I didn’t stop. I didn’t lower the volume. I kept screaming at him while he bolted to his car and peeled out into traffic, terrified of the angry woman who wouldn’t stop bellowing at him. What eventually made me stop and catch my breath was seeing female drivers passing me with big smiles on their faces and their thumbs up.

    7. One of the single weirdest things that has ever happened to me was when I decided to take the boat across Lake Geneva and visit Evian-les-bains. Evian-les-bains is, once you’ve visited the fountains, a pretty boring little town, so I walked to the train station, thinking I might catch it to the next town over (answer, no I would not, because I had neither a French credit card nor a bunch of euro coins handy.) In front of the train station I accidentally ran into a group of 5-6 younger teenage girl who asked me (in French) if they could borrow my phone.

      I said “No,” then caught myself and said “Je comprends pas” (I don’t understand.) In all honesty, I didn’t even consider letting them borrow it; I’ve been mugged before, and am basically totally unfriendly to strangers, especially ones exuding vague malevolence (as they were.) So I walked by them.


      (To be clear, I am a short American woman. So, while my physical person was likely not in danger, things could have been unpleasant.)

      After I discovered that I couldn’t buy a ticket from the automatic ticket machine, I walked back to the center of town and wandered around some more. A couple of the same girls walked by me later that day and repeated “Je comprends pas” under their breath.

      1. My bff and I were followed for probably half a kilometre in Paris by two women and some tweens shrieking angrily at us in broken English because we wouldn’t be extorted for money in the name of their “charity”. My bff has amazing bitchface and I am fine with angrily repeating “No!” until I too am shrieking. 🙂 Though I’m rather surprised you had that kind of trouble in such a small town!–perhaps they were just opportunistic teens. (I have never had to make my way through so many aggressive grifters/fake charity canvassers as in Paris.)

        1. I went on a tour of Europe once with my sister and Paris was, hands down, the worst part. People there *hate* Americans, and they can be incredibly rude and creepy about it. idk if you’re American or not, but either way, you’re not alone in your experiences.

          1. That’s not exclusive to Americans. They seem to dislike everyone who a) doesn’t speak french perfectly and b) is not french. I spend one holiday there and do not plan to spend another one there. Luckily, in Europe we have a lot of other countries where people are actually nice.

          2. @ anoia74, for the snobby types, even being French isn’t enough. My cousin and I were there recently and our friendly and helpful Parisian bartender at one restaurant looked hilariously crestfallen when we mentioned we were heading to a smaller town in France the next day.

            That said, I found the stereotype largely overblown. Nearly everyone we interacted with was perfectly lovely, although they were generally all in the service industry which I’m sure made a difference.

          3. Everyone else was absolutely fantastic to us. Paris is a charming city full of lovely people who indulge you in your schoolgirl French and patiently say things super slowly and have very banal conversations with you when you indicate you would like to practice, and look absolutely charmed to do so. When we went out into the countryside, where very few people spoke English, we had no problems. It was a lovely trip with the SOLE exception of the horrid grifters shrieking at us.

            I actually had more problems in Québec, where the shopgirls at Jean Coutu didn’t speak English and it took me ten full minutes to remember the word for “sock”, during which I said “chaussure? non, non…ummmm…” about six times. (For the similarly-afflicted traveller, chaussettes are socks.)

        2. I mean, to be clear, this was BY FAR the weirdest stranger interaction that has ever happened to me. I’ve been mugged in Madrid, I’ve been approached by Postcard Scam Girl multiple times in Paris, I’ve been harassed in Paris and Barcelona and Granada, but all of those were things I had read about on the internet and was moderately prepared for.



          I also have to say that on my last trip to France (10 days bicycle/train) everyone I talked to was perfectly lovely and even seemed delighted that I spoke French (I mean, not well, but well enough to understand and be understood.) I actually had three or four different train station attendants go way out of their way to help me (in Dijon, in Fountainebleau, in Dreux, and one other place I think.) It was a bit unexpected, given that the last few times I was in France I was just in Paris, where I think people are just completely tired of tourists.

          1. I would agree with this. At one point in Marseilles I braced myself to ask for directions – I’m Canadian and speak fluent French and Paris was still rough – and was met, to my astonishment, with smiles and helpfulness and sent off with “bon soir, mademoiselle!”

          2. I was shoplifted by a small gang of girls when I was vending at an event. The two younger ones kept me occupied while the older one browsed the display. Every now and then she’d interrupt to ask a price, and pretend to put it back when I answered. After the girls left, I noticed conspicuous gaps in my display of the objects she’d asked about. Luckily, they were more-or-less trapped waiting in line, and I confronted her about the missing stuff, asking for her to turn out her pockets in her skin-tight jeans. I got it all back, minus tags and jewelry cards–she claimed her sisters dropped it in her pocket as a joke. yeah, right. You needed a shoehorn to get into those pockets!

      2. So, this is not in any way an excuse for those horrible girls. But if you actually said “je comprends pas” and left off the “ne” (je ne comprends pas), they were quite probably mocking your broken French. :/

        1. I dunno about this. A lot of french people don’t always pronounce it properly and skip the “ne”. The girls sound to me like they were just mean and bored with a pack mentality.

        2. Dropping the “ne” is really common in slang/informal french, it was a common construction in the modern plays I read in french class.

        3. Uhm, but it does sound like an excuse bordering on victim blaming? As others have said, that is very common. Afaik you sound weirder if you say the whole sentence (with “ne”) because then you’re talking like you’re in French class. Sounds weird to native speakers.

          1. Eurgh. I’m sorry I came across that way. I meant to describe what they were being horrible about, not to suggest they were not being horrible in doing it. An informal construction combined with a foreigner’s accent isn’t the same thing as the same construction in a native one (consider “yeah, bro, I’m totally down with that” from someone with an Aussie accent, or a German one.) Non-native speakers commonly use standard constructions straight out of first-year language classes. But people who were not absolutely horrible would not make fun of the way a foreigner talks at all, especially not tweens/young teens directing it at an adult. It’s a kindergarten/early grade school bullying tactic to repeat back (often singsong) the thing that the other person said.

    8. This is one of the times when I actually appreciate having my trust issues. My phone is ancient but I’m still not lending it out.

    9. Yes, all of this!

      I provide childcare, and I was walking the girl I look after plus a few of her friends away from school. They’re not even 13. We’d barely rounded the corner of the building when this middle-aged dude zeroed in on one of the girls and asked to use her phone for urgent reasons.

      An older teenage boy passed by and said to the girl, ‘Oi, don’t let him use your phone!’ and the dude turned from soft and oily pleading to roaring ‘WHAT?’ at the teenager. Since he responded so frighteningly to that, I quickly got the girls away from the dude by using a fake-nice voice to remind them we had to get going (AWAY FROM THE CREEPY DUDE). We all walk-ran away from him.

      The girls all knew there was something wrong, but until older/mouthier people intervened, they felt (for so many reasons, as you can imagine) that they couldn’t say ‘no’ and move on quickly. I often resurrect my deeply unsociable habit of completely ignoring people when they talk to me (long story: I did not know this was really rude until adulthood…) when out and about. I still find it hard to shut down the internal voice which says ‘BUT WHAT IF THEY ARE REALLY IN NEED?’ though, but I’m getting better.

    10. Definitely! Because think about this: If you, who are perfectly reasonable, and not nefarious, and not intrusive, were unable to use your own cell phone for some reason, what would you do?
      You wouldn’t approach some random somebody and ask to use their phone. You’d walk the block to the bar and use the payphone.
      “Is this a reasonable request? Would I, or my reasonable friends, ask this of a total stranger–or even of one another?” It’s a pretty good gauge.

    11. You know, I’ve actually let people borrow my phone a couple of times, but it’s always been either at a bus stop or actually on the bus – enough people around that they wouldn’t be able to run off with it easily and would have a lot of witnesses, and on the bus, actually trapped with me until the next stop.

  7. I had something happen to me that was very similar to this story! The guy was wearing a polo with some logo on it and carrying a clipboard — he showed up at our door at twilight — and he wanted me to tell him which houses had children in them! And he seemed surprised when I said no!

    1. He claimed that his company sold children’s books. Totally a legit marketing method, the accost-the-neighbors-by-twilight method.

  8. If the police is knocking on your door, ask to see their badges/warrant card/etc.!

    Had police at my door asking if I knew where a former neighbour moved to. After I checked if they actually were police I pointed them at the landlord.

    Another time I had police at my door asking me if I was X. After checking if they actually were police I pointed them at the floor below, where X lives. I did that because Mr. X was a mean drunk and Mrs. X often sported black eyes and other assorted bruises.

    There is no name on my door. My letterbox only has initial and last name, as does my door bell.

    1. Depending on the context, I even reserve the right to not give certain information to police, or to be deliberately vague. A few times police have knocked on my door and, after showing me their badges, asked if I knew a certain person or recognized someone in a photo. Each time I genuinely didn’t know this person, but the cops used various euphemisms to get around our city’s laws about racial profiling. “Is there anyone here who might, say, work in, oh, a bodega?” “Are the people in this building what you might call, ‘police-friendly’?” For context: in my area a bodega is a deli/convenience store, and, despite the Spanish name, generally run by Arab people. My building has a bunch of Arab families, but I have no quarrel with them and I’m not going to set them up for harassment based on their national origin. I think there’s nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t recognize the person in the photo, and don’t really know my neighbors,” if it’s mostly true.

  9. Ooh, thank you, Cap’n! Even if the person is only a scammer/ con artist and not a stalker/potential murderer, it’s a good reminder to ask for ID and verify when someone comes to your door asking for information. Word just went around my local friend group yesterday that several of them had been doorknocked by a man in an official-looking vest and with a clipboard claiming to be from the local electric company and offering to help them lower their payments, if he could just take a look at copy of their bill… Suuuure, sounds legit!

    1. What is it with clipboards, that they automatically confer legitimacy and trustworthiness? Someone should do a study…

      1. In the Milgram study, the researchers had clipboards and wore lab coats. (Of course, they did not try it without the clipboards.)

      2. A co-worker of mine told me that some guy actually stole a piece of construction equipment from a job site by showing up with a clipboard and driving it away.

      3. I swear, clipboards are like magic in their powers to confer legitimacy. When I was younger, I did a fair amount of urban exploration, and the clipboard was absolutely key in looking like you were supposed to be wherever it was you were.

        1. It’s true! I worked on the botanical survey of a college campus, and the clipboard was key to security not coming over and asking you what in sam hill you were up to in those bushes.

          1. Oh, when I was in college, clipboard was an immediate sign to campus security to come over. There had been multiple instances of people using clipboards to look official and get into dorms, then robbing unlocked rooms.

        2. Even better, it’s a great way to avoid chuggers and move through throngs. I live in a historical university town where the high street is usually a solid wall of tourists, students and chuggers. My only other route home from the station is semi privately owned and gets locked down at sundown which means that the winter months I have no option but the high street. I’m small and unimposing. People often walk straight into me and try to stand on top of me – except for the chuggers who love me. It’s a nightmare that I dread as my working day draws to an end.

          Then one day I was carrying a clipboard for reasons of moving the clipboard from point A to point B and lo! The sea parted and let me through. Even the chuggers. They all thought I was a chugger and made a wide berth.

      4. It’s that and having an air of “I’m totally supposed to be here”. Years back, a few guys came into the office where my dad worked and walked out with the senior partner’s desk – one of those antique wooden ones the size of a double bed, weighing a ton, rolled leather top etc. All they did was say “we’re collecting this for cleaning” and NOBODY checked. Unbelievable.

      5. Absolutely. I used to do environmental site assessments and in some cases, the site contact would just be like “oh just go wander around,” and nobody EVER bothered me, since I had a hard hat, clipboard, and safety vest.

      6. I don’t know, but it’s super real. Frank Abagnale’s The Art of the Steal is full of stuff like that. Like, he hung a sign on a bank’s after hours deposit slot, saying “slot broken, give money to security guard”, and stood there in a security uniform with a box for all the money, and it WORKED.

    2. In Canada (Especially when I lived in Ontario), there are (legitimate) energy companies that doorknock, trying to get you to sign up, saying they have the best energy prices (It has to do with offering flat rates, vs. fluctuating prices).

      They absolutely do not. I cannot stress this enough. They tried to pull this line when I lived in a town that had the lowest energy prices in the whole province. All you end up with are larger bills, and even bigger fines if you try to get out of the contract.

      There’s numerous cases of them signing up people without their permission (This happened to a friend of mine), and they especially target seniors and vulnerable people. In other words, downright predatory.

      So even if they are legitimate businesses, and can provide proper identification, say no, never show them your bills or ANYTHING, don’t accept papers, don’t sign anything saying they’ve visited. Tell them no and shut the door.

      1. They also exist in the US. In NYC, at least, they even sometimes claim to be affiliated with Con Edison (the main energy provider on the East coast)– until you ask to see their ID.

        1. This used to happen a lot in the UK, but eventually the big energy companies stopped doing it (not-so-coincidentally, after being found guilty of misselling by the energy regulator). It was completely predatory and they would often sign people up without their permission.

          I get a lot of doorstep approaches from what we in the UK call “chuggers” (=”charity muggers”). They are nearly always paid “volunteers” from a company to which the charity has sub-contracted the campaign and they have sign-up targets to meet, which means they can be really pushy. They come to the door and try to get you to sign up for a regular direct debit. I used to listen politely and have even signed up once or twice, but now I just stop them mid-spiel and tell them that I like to pick the causes I donate to carefully so they’re welcome to leave me some information about their charity, but I don’t sign up for anything on the door. It feels REALLY rude, but I have had to train myself to power through the awkwardness. The thing I hate about the doorstep sales call is that it trades on your natural politeness in order to make you feel obligated to sign up.

          Once when I refused to sign up, the person at the door said “don’t you care about dying children?”. I slammed the door in her face and then rang the charity and reported her. I hope she was fired for that.

          1. I used to live in Vancouver and people would come around sometimes saying they were location scouts. Some of them probably were, but I’m pretty sure some of them just wanted to get into buildings.

          2. I’ve responded to solicitors’ “But think of the children!!!!!!” plaints with a deadpan, “I hate children.” It’s as if you can see the Windows 95-era shooting-star screensaver click on in their brain while they try to process this, and it buys me plenty of time to either slam the door or skedaddle away, depending on how I encounter them.

          3. I fully admit to having used the fact that I look a lot younger than I am to get doorknockers to go away. Apparently, looking like a kid home sick from school, and saying woefully “sorry, my parents aren’t here right now” gets them to go right away.

            (Contracts with minors are worth nothing here, unless they are for necessities not already provided to them)

          4. Once while walking away from a Greenpeace person, they shouted after me “WHY DO YOU HATE BABY SEALS?”

            In retrospect the appropriate response would have been “I love them, they’re delicious!”

          5. @freyakitten: I’d be very careful about using that tactic. All it takes is one child abuser to say, “Good” and try to force hir way in.

          6. oh, I respond to the Police money drives that say, “don’t you want to protect our children from drug dealers”? with “No, I think all drugs should be legalized and people who have problems with drugs should be able to see a doctor and get medical help.” They are astonished and hate this obvsly

          7. I try to focus on how rude they are being. “I don’t make on-the-spot financial decisions (or commitments)” is my go-to response. Works for charity muggers, people who claim they can save me money on long distance, even pushy “service” people from my bank. I like to think things over, and I don’t like giving out my personal information. Nor do I like random people acting like I’m supposed to drop everything right-then-and-there to look up information or make decisions, especially since most of the time the pressure is because they’re trying to make some individual productivity target. I’ve managed to give myself permission to notice that they’re being rude, and to resent it enough to push back.

            “Why do you want to know?” is also a favorite. Not only does it work as a deflection/rejection, it also works to help someone if they really do need information, because I can give better targeted info if I know what they’re really after. I answer a lot of questions in my average workday, some on-target and many not, so modeling the questioner has become automatic.

            Return the rudeness from whence it came.

          8. @freyakitten, I look pretty youthful, and have a young voice, and for many years, if you woke me up I sounded about eight. When I was twenty I was living in a shared house that everyone else had work early, so I was the only one home after 7:30am. For a few weeks one spring, every morning around 8:30am the phone would ring, I would stumble out of bed and pick it up, say “Hello?” and a male voice would ask “Is your mommy or daddy home?” and I would, because I wanted to go back to bed, say “No” and the person would hang up. After a couple of weeks, the male voice started getting noticeably more irritated when I picked up the phone.

            Finally one morning, he shouted “I have called this number every morning for weeks and you are always home alone, young lady! I am going to call the truant officer and give him your address and you are going to be in BIG TROUBLE!” As he was doing this, I woke up, and when he finished, I said “You do that, mister, I think that’ll be HYSTERICAL.” He said “How old are you and why are your parents leaving you home alone?”

            I said “I’m twenty years old and I haven’t lived with my mommy or daddy since I was seventeen. How about you?”

          9. In the UK, charities can be fined thousands of pounds for violating the regulations.

            It looks like your chugger was “deliberately using guilt”, which brings the organisation into disrepute, so that’s definitely a fireable offense.

            I did street chugging for a while, and there is a script we had to follow – “Hi, I’m [Name], I’m a paid fundraiser for [ORGANISATION], we’re a Non-Government-Organisation.” before we launched into our pitch, we had to disclose our name, our paid employee status, and that the organisation was an NGO (not a charity), and show our ID lanyards.

            Once you start speaking to someone, you cannot take more than 3 steps towards them. This prevents chuggers following people down the street. You can’t stand within 3m of a business’ entrance. You cannot approach people who are stationary or sitting down, so no “captive audiences”.
            If we wanted to go on break, or walk over to our supervisors for whatever reason, we had to take off all our work clothing so that it didn’t look like we were following people. We could only approach people and make pitches if we were standing in our designated spot, wearing all the identifying gear, with lanyards clearly visible.

            If someone cuts you off, you stop talking and wish them a good day. More than anything, there’s no point wasting time talking to someone who isn’t going to sign up.

            Once you’ve delivered your pitch, you’re taught to “handle objections” twice, before accepting a NO and closing the pitch. So if someone says “I can’t sign up because [reason]” you offer a solution or refute that reason twice, and then give up. Anything else is harassment.
            If you’re not sure, always ask how old the person is before taking any financial details. You make it clear once they sign up, that they will be contacted by phone to confirm their donation and that they have a period of [x] weeks before the money goes through.

            If anyone raising for charity doesn’t abide by the standards set out by the IoF, call them out on it and report them. But most of all, refuse to give them access to your time or money, because legitimate organisations will do everything they can to play by the rules.

            The More You Know!

          10. Chuggers! I rarely get them knocking on the door but in London and York I run into them constantly on the street in busy areas. The trick I have found is just to look straight ahead and ignore them, don’t look their way at all and march past. That works to stop them accosting you in the first place nine times out of ten. Never look their way, if you do they will pretty much always try and stop you. If they do try and talk to you, keep up pace and walk past them but as you do so give them an enormous smile and say “No thank you!” very loudly and keep walking. Do not on any account stop.

          11. Once while walking away from a canvasser in Berkeley, he said “what, you don’t care about gay rights?” so I turned around and hissed “I AM gay rights!” (I’m queer)

          12. The mother of a friend of mine once chased Greenpeace off her property yelling “my grandfather went to the ice!”
            In a thicker NF accent than she generally has.

          13. Anyone that tries that on us gets their DD stopped instantly now, because in the last couple of years the constant harassment of donors has become ridiculous.

            . One charity doorstepped us demanding we increase our monthly donation from £10 to £30! A certain charity with ‘Save the’ and ‘Children’ in its name called us twice a day for three weeks (thanks caller ID!). A certain homeless charity did likewise, and a programme for women and children who are victims of domestic abuse sends three or four emails a week. They were hilariously off the mark recently, begging me daily to take part in their sponsored run. Even if my legs did work I wouldn’t be running anywhere, too much like hard work!

            Macmillan Cancer most recently incurred my wrath. Their rep told my wife that her inability to increase our direct debit meant that cancer patients were going to die alone, in pain, and scared. This, just minutes after she’d told him that we supported Macmillan because her mam died from cancer. He repeatedly tried to guilt her into doubling our direct debit, insisting that she was selfish for not wanting other people to benefit from Macmillan’s services. She was crying and shaking so much that she couldn’t even hang up the phone.. Direct debit – cancelled. I think we’re down to two DD-based donations now: Dogs Trust, and Girl Child International, a truly amazing charity.

        2. I got one of these (I’m pretty sure) last fall. It was early evening, but I’d already changed into my nightshirt & didn’t feel like opening the door, so when they told me (through the door) that they were “PG&E — protocol”, I hollered back “I don’t believe you! Go away!”

          Being a cranky old lady is going to be fun, I think.

          1. I got to do that with a guy who was *wearing a BG&E polo,* trying to fast talk me into to handing over my power bill. He yelled through the door for a few minutes after I slammed it in his face, and then I could hear the same pattern as he continued through the rest of the apartments… (Buzz)voices(slam) over and over. Ah, Baltimore.

          2. I’ve never had utilities or inspectors show up unannounced. I suppose someone could pull an inside job and when management gives us our 24-hour inspection notices, tell their crook friends to come around with clipboards and tool belts, but I don’t know if my neighbors are that clever.

        3. This has been happening a LOT in my neighborhood in Boston (Mission Hill/Roxbury). Spread the word, Boston folks!

      2. My mom once chased one of them out onto the street when he got snippy with her about her probing questions of his so-called preferred rates and tried to tell her she should just trust him and that it was inappropriate for her to want to verify his ID (he was also trying to pass himself off as a rep of the actual hydro company and not his own company). After over a decade of living with an abusive husband, she’s got a pretty short fuse when it comes to someone trying to gaslight and manipulate her. I’m surprised he didn’t end up on his ass in the driveway but he sure as hell stopped coming around our street when my mom alerted all the neighbours to his shenanigans.

      3. They very much exist in Chicago. I fell for it the first time but was able to call my regular utility company right away and told them to block any changes to my account. A year later and I haven’t noticed anything strange.

        I absolutely hate it when you can hear them buzzing every apartment hoping to be let in, and then somebody does! We’ve had too many crimes in my neighborhood for people to be so careless.

      4. This has been happening in and around Philadelphia a lot too, now that you can get your electricity from a supplier that isn’t PECO. Several times, reps from these other companies have knocked on my door at twilight which is potentially red flag number 1. Then when I answered (because this was before I adopted my really strict “not answering the door to people I don’t know/not expecting” policy), they’d not only immediately launch into their super-fast spiel about “lower” energy rates (bullshit) but they’d get really aggressive: “so you just go grab a copy of your bill and we’ll go over it”–
        me: No, goodbye [shuts door]
        them: but if you just grab a copy of your bill, you can have low rates, etc!
        [door is now shut, locked, lights are going off]. They are now muttering and I don’t care.

        The hard part is getting my parents to not just automatically answer the door when it rings. Like, 9 times out of 10, it’s a sales/scam thing. So you know that you’re just going to say “goodbye, not interested” and shut the door. So why not skip that middle step entirely and just don’t answer the door in the first place? If it’s a random neighbor or relative dropping by, they can call from out on the porch! (or announce themselves).

        ******You don’t have to answer the door, or phone, to anyone just because it rang********

        One of my neighbors signed up for an alternate energy supplier and is now freaking out over how his bill suddenly jumped up, even higher than PECO’s rates. So their whole “oh, we’re cheaper than [established utility]!!” kind of seems like BS too.

    3. This happened to me a few weeks ago. The guy claimed to be “from” my electric company and when I said “That’s funny, because your badge doesn’t say PEPCO on it” he changed his tune to “we work WITH your electric company” and wanted me to get a copy of my bill so he could “be sure I was getting the best rate”. I had to work pretty hard to get rid of the guy, and when I looked up the company he was actually with, basically the whole internet was full of stories of how big a scam the company is. I let my actual utility company know it had happened, but I do wonder if any less-savvy folks in the neighborhood might have gotten preyed upon by this guy and his sketchy, sketchy “we can lower your rates” spiel. :/

      1. This happened to me when I lived in DC, too. I just kept repeating like a robot “I would need permission from my landlord for that, I would need permission from my landlord for that.” (I’d say this would work even if you own your place, because how do they know that?)

  10. Captain:

    What would be your answer to living in a building where people have to scan a card to gain access?  Often, I hold the door open for people following behind me out of courtesy.  Should I shut the door behind me and make them scan their way in?  This seems a little rude to me, but if it will increase the security of my neighbors I’ll start doing it.

    1. Does your local fire department use that kind of thing to make sure a building is clear in case of fire? I’ve heard that mentioned as an idea, but have no idea whether anyone has actually done it anywhere.

      1. I guess I should explain further.

        The individual units within the apartment complex are only accessible via a traditional lock and metal key.  The front and rear entrances require a scan card to open the doors.  Occasionally, when I scan my card, there will be another resident following close behind me and I’ll just hold the door open until they grab the handle (instead of letting the door close behind me so that the other person also has to scan their card).

        The local fire department may indeed have their own scan card.  I wouldn’t know.  I consider what I do just to be neighborly and good manners, but if the Captain thinks this invites creepers into the building I would most certainly stop.  This doesn’t involve people trying to talk their way in or acting in an otherwise shifty and suspicious manner.

        1. This is actually a really big security hole and I would stop doing it. One of the favorite tactics of people who are trying to get into somewhere they shouldn’t be is to wait near the entrance and try to follow behind somebody with a legitimate card/key/means of entry–it’s a documented, fairly common strategy (it’s probably more common with corporate or other secure, non-dwelling buildings, but stalkers and the like use the tactic too). Sometimes people will hold packages to make it even harder for a nice person to politely refuse to hold the door–basically the scheming person is playing off your desire to not be a jerk so that they can go and be a jerk more easily.

          1. +1 to “stop doing this.”

            I used to work at the front desk in a building that had what sounds like a similar set-up (card keys to get into the residence hallways, then tradional lock-and-key on the individual apartment doors), and a couple who lived in the building ended up in a messy divorce, with the wife eventually getting a restraining order against the husband. The guy got into the building so. many. times. just from other residents swiping him in (they didn’t know he’d moved out, so they thought they were doing a neighbor a solid). Even if you think you recognize the person, you have no idea if you have up-to-date knowledge on whether or not they should be in the building. Stop letting people in (and talk to building management about posting a sign about it – we had signs up, and residents who didn’t want to swipe other people in, but also didn’t want to be “jerks,” would just point to the sign and say “sorry, I’m not comfortable breaking the rule” as they let the door close).

          2. I can’t find stats for this but I’m fairly certain that more than one workplace shooting involved the former employee claiming they’d forgotten their access key/access card/whatever and/or following a current employee in, who had an access card. My office likes to fire people but not tell anyone else that So and So is no longer an employee. I’m (not) waiting for the day when a disgruntled ex-employee tries this and someone lets him in because hey! they didn’t know that So and So doesn’t work here anymore!

          3. Yeah, if it’s not a person you recognize as a resident, you can play the “Sorry, I’m new here and I don’t recognize you,” card and shut the door. With a really sad face. They may not like it, but good people will understand.

          4. I’m actually trying to respond to MellifluousDissent below but I can’t so I’m posting my response here.

            MD, I think your suggestion was a very good one and I e-mailed our building management, quoting your last sentence. Hopefully they will implement this as a policy.

            Even if they don’t, I’m not letting anyone else in the building anymore. Thanks for the feedback.  : – )

          5. This caused rather a shitstorm at my old workplace. The research lab building is connected to the hospital by a single hallway with a card-swipe door, and there were so many of us there was no way to know everyone who belonged there. Some guy checked in as a hospital visitor, followed some poor polite person in *three different times,* walked into people’s labs in the middle of the day, and just walked out with all the computer equipment they could carry. (It ended up being a shitstorm when one item stolen was a laptop with protected research participant information. Coded, but still.) It’s amazing how far you can get with nothing but a confident demeanor.

            Those of us who did belong learned how to space ourselves out in the hallway so the door could close between each of us with enough space to not feel rude. It was kind of amusing, watching people adjust their stride trying to be polite. =)

        2. We have a lower-stakes version of this issue at work – all our doors to the outside require a key card to get into the building (once you’re in, you can go pretty much anywhere, and you only need to push a button to get out). There are c. 2000 of us in the building, so there’s no way any of us would recognise everyone who had a right to be there. Mostly people wear their cards around their necks on a lanyard so they’re visible and I don’t mind holding the doors for them, but sometimes their card isn’t visible and then I am torn between holding the door for them (courtesy!) and asking to see their card before letting them into the building (security!). Mostly I don’t ask but then feel bad about it, which is the most useless possible approach – all the guilt, none of the security.

          A few years ago we had a spate of thefts around the office and were asked to be more carefully about security, so we got a lot better at asking to see cards before holding doors for people, but we’ve all relapsed into bad habits now.

          1. We used to get memos about letting in only those people who had badges, regardless of if we knew them or not…even if the person was a manager. The building was supposed to stay secure, and there was also the issue of whether the person might have been fired, and you don’t know that.
            They really wanted everyone to use the keycard and their own combination to come in on their own, but, it is REALLY REALLY HARD to get people to do that when we are all so thoroughly trained to open doors for the people following us.

          2. We have a similar number of employees at my work and use scanning id cards throughout to get into the staff only parts of the building. Security periodically send out reminders in the staff email bulletin reminding us to only hold doors open if we can see the other person’s ID. I’ve been asked a couple of times and never felt offended by it, and whenever I’ve asked anyone they’ve been happy to show me. In fact, it usually prompts a nice bit of low level workplace interaction where we have a bit of a friendly ‘better safe than sorry’ exchange. Knowing that it doesn’t offend people has definitely made me feel more confident to check. 🙂

          3. My workplace has several buildings and about 6000 people on the site. In theory all guests are supposed to be checked in through reception or security, but my corner of the complex has 5 buildings served by one reception desk, which operates strictly inside business hours. There is one security office (reasonably central, but it’s a huge complex). If someone doesn’t have a (working) badge, they’re supposed to have an escort at all times. You can call security if there’s a situation.

            Practically speaking, security has said that if someone is outside the door and looking for a specific person in the building, if you feel okay about the situation, you may personally escort that person to meet the person who they are looking for. But that person should not be left unattended. In practice this tends to involve giving the guest more helpful context for the person they’re on the cellphone with (“Tell them you’re in the northeast corner by the lava lamp.”) because the building has kind of no helpful signage to tell which entrance is which. Though I have escorted a “woops, forgot my badge” or two back to their own desks.

        3. What Brown Kitty is saying is not ‘does the fire department use their own keycard to enter’ but rather ‘does the fire department use the records of who is “inside” to make sure they have an all-clear.’ If they use the records to know who is in and who is out, then someone who didn’t scan their keycard could still be inside and no one would know. I, also, don’t know if this is actually done anywhere. It would be a secondary reason (beyond safety / access) to ask people scan their card, even if you are there and could hold the door.

          1. We wondered about this when my office building started requiring us to badge in and out through turnstiles, but when the fire alarm went off, the turnstiles all opened–because if it was a real fire, expecting people to badge out would be a recipe for panic and disaster.

            I’ve lived in dorms and apartments where you have to badge in, and none of those have ever had a system for badging out, so the card scan data wouldn’t be a reliable way to tell who’s still inside. Also, even if a building is strict about not admitting strangers, families and roommates aren’t going to badge in individually unless a physical barrier requires it.

            My dad once fought a fire where they had to extract thirteen unattended children from different apartments. Having a roll call is handy for firefighters because it can tell them if they should be on the lookout for a particular person, but they’re not going to rely on it for anything larger than a single-family dwelling.

          2. I think the notorious unreliability of the scan-card system would probably have any fire department erring on the side of caution and checking every residence thoroughly anyway. Also, it’s fully possible that residents might have guests over who would not be on the system anyway.

          3. I don’t think that would work, though, because you don’t have to scan on your way out. (At least, you’d better not have to: impeding egress like that would be a violation of fire codes!)

            So the system might have a log of you coming in last night at 9:35:18 pm, but has no log of you leaving for work this morning at 8:04:22 am. So when the fire department shows up at 10:56:33 to put out the fire, they don’t know who’s gone for work, who works at home, who doesn’t work, who went out to the movies, or whatever.

            About all you could likely rely on is, “This person scanned in within the past 15 minutes, so they’re probably still here…” but they might have just been dropping off their new books and picking up their coat before going back out — elapsed time, 3 minutes and 17 seconds!

          4. It seems like that would only work if you also had to scan to get out. And then, what about flat-mates or families who go out together or maybe singly? How would anyone know? I can’t imagine that would be a viable safety plan.

        4. Pretty sure the fire department question is so that, in case of emergency, the responders can look at a log of card entries to know who is home and check their units. Not about letting the firefighters into the building.

        5. Yep, please stop doing this. People with a good reason to be there will understand.

          1. Ooh. You all are the perfect crowd for this question. Tiny script for not holding the door for someone? I am in a keyfob entrance, elevator building. If I approach the door just ahead of someone I can sometimes feign a shoe-tying need to force them to go first, but it’s not always practical to wait them out. Or, what about where I am exiting (large glass doors between exterior and lobby) and someone is coming up the walkway to enter? What’s a clear, really short, in-passing, friendly phrase that says “I don’t want to let you in because I don’t know who you are”? I’d like to avoid being rude to people who in all likelihood are my friendly neighbors, but I’d like to avoid being rude in a way that also avoids letting strangers into an otherwise secure building.

          2. You don’t have to say anything, but, “Nothing personal, but we have keys/codes/locks for a reason” can work.

          3. I have literally never had someone be weird about this. I’ve made a point of catching the door and pulling or pushing it to after me rather than letting someone in on my coattails and no one’s ever said anything. Just silently don’t let them in and carry on. Everybody gets it. Anyone who makes an issue of it is in the wrong, and you are warranted in just disengaging from the conversation and going on about your business.

          4. A guy declined to let me tailgate behind him into my secure office building with this script: “I’ll let you use your own tag — unless you don’t have one and would like me to call someone for you while you wait here?” I thought that was pretty good — helpful without defeating the security regulations.

          5. Will do. I actually contacted our building’s management about posting signs (per MellifluousDissent’s suggestion) as I think that would help residents follow the rule without appearing rude. Even if management doesn’t implement the suggestion, I’m not letting people follow in behind me anymore.

            Thanks for the feedback.  : – )

        6. My building works the same way. I’ll let people in that I recognize/know are actual neighbors, but no one else.

        7. AAAtheist, glad I could help! The signs really made a difference – so many residents (especially the single female residents and younger residents, shocker, right?) commented that being able to point to them as they said “no” made it a lot easier for them to stop doing something they’d been uncomfortable with anyway, and other residents who hadn’t previously thought about the safety implications became more aware. We had a few cranky-pantses who complained, but I’d say that ultimately about 90ish% of the residents ended up fully on board with enforcing the rule always, which was a vast improvement!

        8. You can hold a door for someone and also verify that they swipe in. That’s my preferred option.

    2. That was the official policy in my college dorm, which had card-controlled access — do not hold the door for anyone or let anyone in, even if you recognize them and are 100% sure they live in the building. (Not that that policy was ever actually followed, but it was officially the rule.) I think there’s room for argument on the “even if you know them, even if they have their card out and are about to swipe, etc.” clause — on the one hand, knowing your neighbors and fostering a sense of community and making it easier for everyone to feel at home; on the other, the risk that you might think you’re letting in your neighbor’s roommate but actually be letting in your neighbor’s troublemaking recently-ex-roommate or similar — but at a minimum I would not hold the door for strangers.

      1. Not really, because you see a card does not mean that it is active. I’ve had places that were pretty lax about making sure the card was collected after deactivation. Heck even though he’s an honest guy, I know a guy who worked for a CABLE company (way to trick your way into someone’s house right?) whose card was not taken when he left work there. A lot of companies just deactivate the card.

        tl;dr – presence of a card does not equal currently permitted access.

        1. Yup. I had a temp job in a building that used that sort of card, for a company that had separate photo ID cards. When the assignment ended, the temp agency told me not to go back the following week. Nobody asked for either card back. I assume the one for the building was deactivated, but the company photo ID still looks like me.

    3. Make ’em scan. This kind of stuff is why college students and apartment residents get their stuff jacked. Anyone can don the right clothes, clean up, and look “in place” enough to convince people who aren’t thinking to let them in. Be the one who does think.

    4. I think one other relevant piece of information is whether the person you’re letting in is a stranger or someone you know lives in the building (whether or not you know them well, as in “that guy lives across the hall from me even though we’ve never chatted”). It’s probably a good idea to stop letting in people that you don’t recognize at all (though it’s not completely clear whether this is the case or not from your posts), but if you know for a fact that someone is a current resident (and not just someone who visits often), and there isn’t anybody else who would sneak in in between you and the person you know, I think that is ok. It is ok to err on the side of security though, too. And, anyone with a legitimate reason to be there will have a way in.

      1. People mentioned troublesome exes/ex roommates further up. I think that’s good reason not to let people in *even if* you recognize them. They’ll either have their own card or should be able to contact the person they live with/want to visit. *if* that person wants to be in contact with them.

    5. We have card scans at my work, and the way they tell us to handle this is to hold the door if you want, but say “can you please scan in?” and then watch/listen for the green light and ding, and if they get squirrely or refuse then block them and start hollering. Course that’s in a building with lots of people nearby, including a security staff, so not as helpful unless you have a full-time desk staff that you trust…

    6. I would. Unless I personally knew them as a tenant in good standing. it’s not going to cost them that much time. Just say, “Could you scan your own card? I don’t recognize you.”

  11. Ugh, yes. All of this.

    A few months back we had someone from the Daily Mail (horrible British right-wing sensationalist paper, for those lucky enough never to have encountered it) knock on our door. She was fishing for information about an incident that had apparently occurred on our street which had involved a family with a child, and our neighbours had pointed her to our house because we have a child. SERIOUSLY UGH NO DO NOT DO THAT. It wasn’t even a dangerous situation but I felt most uncomfortably violated.

      1. I shut the door in her face saying something like “No we don’t have any unsecured cameras in this house and also we don’t have the Daily Mail, ever.” I got told off by my Very British wife for being rude, but it was totally worth it.

  12. I’m worried for the neighbour 😦 hopefully this guy’s fishing expedition was not any more successful with other neighbours. Other neighbours may not have been as guarded as your friend.

  13. Haven’t run into this in personal life, but have run into it in my library work. Patrons will quiz me about a staff member (most often about some of the female pages/volunteers.) Beyond making it clear that that kind of info isn’t something we give out, I just continually tell them I have no info I can give him, though they can leave their name if they so like (which then gets forwarded to my boss–no one’s left a name). For some reason some people think it’s fair game to harass our pages–I won’t have it.

      1. OMG yes. I paged for five years at the main branch of our county’s system during and right after college, and got asked out, hit on, condescended to, you name it. I also got stalked for almost a year by one of the homeless regulars, who made it his daily routine to watch me shelve or hang around the aisles I was reordering, pestering me for my name and phone number. My supervisor staunchly pretended nothing was happening (“He’s not, y’know, DOING anything. Just ignore him!”), but my coworkers backed me up, and would either warn me or shelve with me when he was in the building.

        In keeping with the theme, he tried a couple of times to barge in behind me when I entered the library each morning (an hour before official opening time, the homeless patrons would already be queuing by then), but the door was keypad-locked, and I became very adept at either arriving at the same time as someone else so they could block him, or opening the door the tiniest amount possible and squeezing in. God bless that keypad.

        This went on, by the way, until A) he left a note on my shelving cart detailing all the things he wanted to do to me, and B) I showed it to my *new* supervisor, who went into a towering rage and had him escorted from the building and barred from the county library system. Never piss off a librarian.

    1. Would you mind telling me what a page is? I only know the term as “old-timey servant”.

      1. Some libraries have closed/secure stacks. Pages retrieve books or other items from the stacks for patrons. It can also mean someone who shelves books, though every library I’ve worked in calls those folks “shelvers.”

      2. Hi! Sorry, a page in the library is our usually teen or young adult employees who work part time shelving books and assisting in neatening the bookcases etc. They’re usually kids looking for a little work after school. So really young, often on their first job.

    2. I’m so glad that the people I’ve worked with are sensible about this like you’ve been. Several years ago I was working as a teacher at a public middle school, and I was the only person of my race at the school and one of very few in the entire town, so I’m sure I stood out walking to and from the school. Once, the principal and vice principal both came to me together in the staff room and told me I’d gotten a call from a Mr. ____. They’d taken his phone number, but hadn’t given him mine even though he’d insisted that he’d had it before, but had just lost it. I’d never heard of any Mr. ____, and was so relieved that they hadn’t fallen for his total scam (the principal and VP suggested, probably correctly, that he only even knew my name by asking one of the students what the name of their English teacher was). After confirming that I didn’t know the guy, they told all the other teachers to watch out for this guy, and also reminded the kids at the next assembly not to give information to strangers. (Apparently he did try a few more times but was shut down instantly by various other teachers). A++ awesome staff!

      1. Glad you had an awesome staff! I keep a wary eye on the younger staff and volunteers . Had one older teenage boy hanging out on the children’s floor by two teen volunteers. I asked them over and found out that the guy was their friend. But I made sure they knew that anyone bothering them and asking them questions or simply creeping them out was something they should let me or other staff know about.

        I take this very seriously. I’m always trying to keep the children’s floor safe for the kids on it as much as I can, but the volunteers and the pages need to know they don’t have to put up with it.

        I think sometimes these kids feel like they have to stick to the work they’re doing and just brush off the comments. I don’t like bullies or stalkers.

    3. I went through a nasty divorce while working at a public library. My co-workers knew what was going on, and were absolutely brilliant at keeping my ex away from me even while I was working at a public desk (I had a restraining order, and he wasn’t allowed to go to the library while I was working there, but he didn’t care, and my only recourse was the ability to take him to court for breaking the order). I will be forever grateful to those folks, even thirty years later and long after I’ve lost touch with all of them.

  14. Yes please do not give out info on your neighbors. Nor your coworkers, nor your classmates, nor your friends. Some of us have stalkers, some of us have estranged family members, some of us simply value both our privacy and the consent involved with being the ones to decide how, and to whom, to disseminate our personal details.

    Several years ago, as I was outside gardening, a man flagged me down wanting to know who it was lived in the house behind mine and what I could tell him about them. The resident of that house happened to be another neighbor’s elderly mother, who lived alone, and her son wasn’t home for me to get. I pretty much decided on the spot that if dude had legitimate business with the mother, he’d know who lived in that house already, so I declined to be forthcoming. For my troubles I was called something to the effect of a “fucking Yankee bitch” before he drove away. Sure, dude, endear yourself some more why don’t you? I totally trust you now!

    That wasn’t the only time something like that has happened. At a different house, more recently, some fairly insistently hostile people showed up at my young-ish neighbor’s one day, banging on her door, peering in and banging on her windows, one older man and one older woman. I went out to ask what was going on, phone in hand, and the man began to grill me. Where was [neighbor]? Why wasn’t she home? Where did she work? When would she be back? Again, I declined to answer, asked them their business, asked have they tried calling? They were so hostile and evasive I returned the favor. Said I don’t give out my neighbors’ personal information to strangers. Neighbor finally woke up and came out to meet them; apparently their adult son had left his guitar at her house and they’d driven up from another state (unannounced! very angry!) to retrieve it. Why he couldn’t come himself, why they were so hostile, I don’t know.

    For me, I have an ex who stalked me for quite some time, a phone stalker, a relative I used to fear would show up out of the blue who I did not want involved in my life, and random toxic odds and ends of my past I’d rather not have back in my life in any capacity. For better than 20 years the rule with friends and coworkers has been if someone asks for info about me, tell me, not them.

  15. The way my house is laid out, if I’m sitting in my normal spot in my living room and someone comes to the front door, I can see who it is through the sidelights, and said person can clearly see ME as well. There have been occasions in the past where someone who was clearly a solicitor of some sort (Comcast canvasser, religious missionary, etc.) came to the front door and rang my doorbell, and I would look them directly in the eye, then go back to whatever I was doing and ignore them until they went away.

    I’ve been told that this is breathtakingly rude, but I’m a single woman who lives alone, and I simply DO NOT open the door to people who come to my house uninvited. Nope. All the nopes. And I won’t apologize for it.

      1. I think it’s the blatant eye-contact, so the visitor KNOWS I’ve seen them, yet subsequent ignoring that throws people. I look at uninvited physical guests the same way I view phone calls when I’m not in the mood to talk. Answering the door *or* the phone is never a requirement.

        1. I think the look is instrumental to making them go the fuck away. Otherwise they could delude themselves you were somehow unable to sense them and they should be more insistent. Also no, they are being rude.

        2. “Answering the door *or* the phone is never a requirement.”

          Is it okay with you if I embroider this on a sampler/make it into a sign/post it on FB/make it my personal mantra?

    1. Given the amount of time I’ve spent discussing the pretty pretty gardens at the house I live in with total strangers who want something from me (and have already been told NO), and the amount of time it then takes me to get back to where I was (mentally) before the doorbell rang, I’m voting that you are being SMART and looking out for your own best interest, rather than rude.

    2. I pretty much do the exact same thing, although no one can see if I’m home or not. I live on the second floor of an apartment that has an inside staircase, so even if I’m expecting packages sometimes I’m too lazy/tired/busy to run downstairs to get the door at that exact minute. It’s also helped to prevent the neighbors from randomly knocking on my door to borrow stuff/bother me/chat/etc, because I’ve made it known that, while it’s nothing personal, I rarely open the door when I’m not expecting someone. I’m really just a stickler about my personal time and space (and safety).

      Totally. Not. Rude.

      1. Yup. We live on the third floor of a shared building and about the only people who ever buzz for us are the pizza delivery guys, so I take full advantage of my mild phobia about the intercom system to cheerfully ignore all other buzzes. If I’m not expecting you, I’m not answering, let alone running down three flights of stairs with my toddler in arms to see WTF you might want.

    3. The “I know you’re there, I know what you’re up to, and I do not have the patience for it” stare with no other comment is a great way to fend off unwanted male attention in bars, too (though it definitely helps if you have worked up a good case of RBF like I have).

    4. It’s “breathtakingly rude” to sit peacefully in your own home, and not feel required to open your door to strangers when they demand it?! Sign me up – rude it is!

    5. Breathtaking rude? Wow, thanks, societal standards that women should be nice to everyone. Nopetopus.jpg. There was a dude in a lime green polo who came to my door three times. The first two times, I hid, the third time, he caught me through the window so I couldn’t hide. I vigorously shook my head, and he continued to stand there and talk through the open window. So I walked over to the door/window, closed the window, and pulled the shades down. As you say, all the nopes.

    6. I’m not single and don’t live alone and I think I’m going to steal your idea. Something about reading this comment thread finally made it click for me: if I’m not expecting a friend or a delivery, I’ve literally never been happy I opened the door and wasted my time on a stranger. Either it’s a solicitor of some sort (waste of time), or some random stranger asking if I know where someone who doesn’t live here is (creepy – if “someone” wanted to see you, they would’ve taken the bizarre and unprecedented step of making sure you had their address and directions to their home).

      I think I’m just going to stop answering the door if I’m not expecting someone. If I do a thing and it never makes me happy, I should just stop doing the thing! Eureka!

      Also I don’t think it’s the least bit rude not to be home to callers, like Novel deVice said. Safety aside, no one who I *want* to see would ever be so rude as to show up at my home uninvited. That’s what’s rude here, showing up unannounced and expecting the person you’ve interrupted to treat what you want as more important than whatever they were doing before you came to bother them.

      1. Exactly. As I’m only about to meet annoying, awkward or dangerous people if I open the door to un-announced visitors, I simply don’t.

    7. My set up is similar and I have the same attitude about it. I am not home to people I don’t know or anticipate visiting, no matter what they might see through the window.

    8. We started doing this after we got tired of all the solicitors coming by (especially while waiting breathlessly for the UPS guy, who would come and go like a wraith), and we actually got someone mad enough to leave us a note about how rude we were being. 🙂 We called their supervisor and you better believe they got an earful.

  16. When I lived in the D.C. area, one of my neighbors came over and told me he was getting his security clearance updated, so there might be someone coming around asking questions. Sure enough, two agents came to my door about a week later. With ID. I was glad for the head’s up, because otherwise that would have freaked me out.

    TL/DR If you know someone is going to be asking questions, let people know.

    1. I was just going to mention this. I work as a contractor with military in a military town, so I’ve had to get clearances as well as provide references for others. It’s not unusual for the agents dong the screening to just go around asking coworkers and neighbors even if you didn’t put them down as a reference, so it probably wouldn’t faze me if a guy showed up at my door asking questions. But, they carry a badge and are required to show it to you. I try to give my references a heads up when someone might come talk to them (though sometimes there are several months between doing the paperwork and when the process actually gets to that stage), so it’s also good to know, they have to show you the badge. The last guy I spoke to was introduced to me by my colleague getting the clearance, yet he still took out his badge saying, “I’m REQUIRED to show this to you.”

      Thanks Captain for the safety reminder! I needed it.

  17. I have an ongoing stalker of the very persistent kind, unfortunately. The stalker is very well-off which makes things worse, too. I once called the police when they were in the middle of literally breaking into my home at the time, and due to the nice car, smart suit, well-spokenness, and convincing story, it ended up being *me* who was trying to justify things to the police, not the other way around. It took hours, and I had to move immediately afterwards anyway. Ever tried that? Not fun.

    So I tell people who know me pretty early on, “Please don’t ever mention me on social media, and don’t give out any of my information, even phone number or full name, to anyone who asks, no matter who they say they are. Get their information instead and pass it onto me.” In this day and age, wanting personal privacy to this degree is considered unusual (which is kind of terrifying when you think about it), so a lot of people are surprised. Some will be reluctant, or say, “OK, sure,” and promptly forget, because (to them) I’m just being paranoid and over the top, and it’s not so important really. These are always people who have never experienced something as torturous or dangerous as stalking. Some will hint that I should make up with my stalker, and how unfair of me not to hear them out and so on. I used to actually humour these conversations with a response. And I’ll soon find out they put up a Facebook post that includes my name and location after a company party or something. And will have to explain that they need to take it down now and to never ever do that again no matter how innocent it seems.

    Once, a colleague wrote something like, “Was at XYZ restaurant with [name1], [name2], and [my first name] for lunch. Had a blast!” Although it was only my very common first name mentioned, he got a friend request from the stalker within an hour, and was then inundated with creepy emails giving a million emotionally-charged reasons why he needed to give information on what time I have lunch breaks and so on. I was in a different country to the stalker when this happened, had not contacted them or anyone they knew for some years, and thought I was in the clear after so much peace. Turns out they were following me so closely that they were able to recognise my workplace and co-workers. Long story short, it quickly escalated and eventually necessitated an *inter-continental* relocation.

    Now, if someone is kind of flippant or reluctant about not giving away my personal information, putting information (however innocuous) about me online, or otherwise compromising my safety, I pass on having any sort of relationship with them. It’s probably not fair to a lot of people who are just surprised, but I can’t justify the risk. I don’t know if that makes me a bad person. Although I am still pretty sure that anyone who recommends you make amends with a person who is a stalker, or indeed have anything to do with said stalker, does not know what they are talking about and needs to stop giving out very dangerous advice to people in a situation whose gravity they can’t understand.

    1. Oh, ugh. that’s just awful and I’m sorry you had to go through that (are going through that). Internet hugs if you want them.

    2. That is just awful. I agree with the other commenters that it doesn’t make you a bad person to protect your self.

  18. I don’t give out phone numbers or contact info, even among members of my close friend group. I figure it is not my job to trust Person A on behalf of Person B. That’s totally on Person B.

    1. “I figure it is not my job to trust Person A on behalf of Person B.”

      What an awesomely succinct way to put that concept! I am going to try it out the next time I’m trying to explain to a particular family member why he should stop reporting on my latest activities to another family member who I no longer speak to (because reasons). Maybe it’ll help reporter-family-member to get the idea.

    2. Exactly. When on FaceBrowse, when old high school friends want contact with *other* old high school friends, I always ask the other party first.

      1. Especially since there’s nothing stopping them from sending a “friend” request to said other party.

    3. I am in the process of getting out of a former friendship and recently had to tell the only person in my two-towns-ago place who has my new number “please don’t give out any of my info, if someone asks tell them you’ll contact me with their information”. It can be kind of awkward, and I always worry that the person will decide to interpret my wishes.

    4. I do, but only where I have previously got explicit permission to do so. If I have no explicit permission, then I get contact details to pass on, and ask about when is a good time for the asker to be called. No one has yet been truly weird about it, and for slightly weird, an explanation that “the askee has a chaotic schedule right now and surely they’d like to talk to them when it’s a good time for both parties?” seems to work a treat.

      I even tend to get explicit permission from people whose phone numbers are their business number – it costs me nothing to ask if I can pass their details on to other people who may be interested in using their business services! And generally, the business owner gives me a short summary of the spiel that they’d like to present themselves to potential customers with, which makes it easier for me to tailor my referrals…

    5. I don’t give out anyone’s contact info, ever, unless I have permission. I will do “Give me your number/email and I will pass it along to Person B” occasionally if I genuinely think Person B would like to hear from them, but that’s as far as I go unless I’ve been explicitly told it is okay.

    6. Just like with the cell phone thing, I find “It’s not my place to give out [person-i-know’s] contact info, but i’d be happy to give them your number and let them know you were asking about them.” is a pretty good indicator of someones intentions.. If they don’t want to give out their number, then something is probably sketchy. (And if they just don’t want to give me their number because privacy, I figure they’ll understand why I don’t want to give out someone else’s number).

  19. As a former political canvasser, I’d like to add a few things about what to expect from them and how to make them go away. They will most likely not have ID from their organization. These groups have extremely high turnover. If you don’t want to talk to them, a direct “I am not interested” is best. They are trained to take what you say very literally and respond to “this isn’t a good time” by telling you it will only take a minute or coming back later, or respond to “I don’t have any money” with people give at all levels, how about just $5, etc. It is possible to be direct without slamming the door in their face! “I am not interested, thank you. Goodbye.” If they are canvassing for money they have a quota to meet for the day and a good canvasser doesn’t want to waste her time on someone who isn’t going to make a contribution.

    1. This.

      I fundraise over the phone and the quickest way to get me off the phone is by saying “I’m not interested, goodbye.” I would rather get off the phone quickly and move on to someone who might pledge than continue an awkward conversation and make anyone uncomfortable. Don’t worry, it’s not rude, and were our places swapped I’d do the same!

      (Also, at least where I work, if you don’t want to be called again all you have to say is “Please don’t call me again.” We mark that down in our records and your number should be removed from the calling pool. Telling a white lie to end the call quickly only ensures you will get repeat calls in the future, which neither of us want to go through.)

      1. So, I want to start by saying that I recognize that this is not your own fault and that people generally work for these organizations either because they have the best political/charitable intentions or because they need the money, and I can’t fault either group.

        That said, I call bullshit on the “you just have to be direct” line. What you are doing when you “take what [we] say very literally” is willfully ignoring a soft no. “Don’t worry, it’s not rude” is easy for you to say, but is not usefully true in most parts of our current society; I take your meaning that you aren’t bothered by it, but you are still putting people in a position where they have to overcome years of training and act in a way that feels rude to them, or cave and give you what you’re asking for. Your claims about wanting to get off the phone quickly, make quota, etc should apply to the soft no just as readily as to the direct/rude no; the real distinction is of course a probability game on what kinds of no you can get people to retract. It’s not, of course, remotely as severe a problem as some other situations where people ignore soft nos and take advantage of the social niceties, but it is rude and manipulative and I maintain my right to be irritated when canvassers do this to me.

        1. I’m not defending it. It was a job I did when I was 20 and naive. The strategies they train canvassers to use are absolutely intended to be manipulative. Using those techniques really doesn’t come naturally, but it’s a cult-like organization that brainwashes you into thinking that it’s all worth it for the cause. It is a truly shitty job.

          1. This. Nowhere in my comment did I tell anyone how to feel about being approached (the “Don’t worry” bit was something I knew I myself would appreciate hearing because I often put up with this because I feel anxious about being rude, but rereading I realize it can be read as dismissive, so I apologize), or condone the tactics canvassers/fundraisers use.

        2. This. These techniques are boundary violating and it feels very scary to be on the receiving end.

        3. I see your comment, and I do appreciate your starting paragraph. Thanks for giving the benefit of the doubt.

      2. Actually, the quickest way to end the call is to just hang up, which I feel I’m totally allowed to do. Here’s my script:

        Them: We’re calling from the Blah Blah Blah…
        Me: (interrupting, but in a calm tone) Sorry, not interested, please put me on your Do Not Call list.
        Me: *hangs up without waiting for further response*

        aaaaand SCENE!

        Works just as well with people at your door.

  20. Always gotta be careful. The factory where I work is pretty stringent on security; the main entrance where the visitor doors are has a security booth where if you are a visitor you have to talk to them before being allowed access into the building.

    Also, employees have to use their swipe cards for the doors at other entrances to open (revolving doors), and if someone forgets their card they have to use one of the phones in the little room between the outside and inside doors to verify their identity by calling security. We are also coached to NOT let anyone in without their card; I.e. if someone comes up behind us, “Hey man, I forgot my card, let me in?” we are not supposed to and (apparently) could actually face disciplinary action for doing so. Then again, the company has to keep manufacturing processes and such confidential as well, so it makes sense.

  21. People are so bad at security. For shits and giggles I have gotten to my boyfriend’s dorm room (with *his* approval) without having a key, a student ID, *or* any sketchy means of entry. People will hold the door for you if you look anywhere between 18 and 30 and walk with intent. I did it just to see if my old dorm really did have such shitty security. (I did in truth once live there, but of course I had my own key/card then.)

    Yep. People are so bad at this. No wonder everyone gets their laptops jacked. Don’t hold the door, guys!

    1. When I was in college I occasionally forgot my key card and just waited 3-4 minutes until someone else came by EVERY TIME.

      1. I used to pick up a friend at her dorm, which had a phone on the outside wall to call the residents, so I’d call her, tell her I was down at the door, she’d come down to meet me, and we’d leave. Just like you, every time I was waiting, SEVERAL people would offer to let me in! Eep! (When they finally put up a sign telling people not to do that, I’d just goggle at them and point to it. I’m not sure they got the point in general, but *I* suddenly looked creepy. I’m OK with that!)

  22. We are socialized to tell the truth and to be nice, and that’s hard training to overcome especially when someone catches you off guard, but “I don’t know” and “Why don’t you leave your information” are good stock phrases.

    Miss Manners sometimes recommends “Why do you ask?” for nosey questions, which may be a good place to start, especially if you need a second to catch up when caught off guard. Someone with a legitimate reason is probably going to supply it at that point, which can direct the conversation towards asking for ID etc.

    I think there’s also something to be said for making it conspicuously Awkward for someone who’s asking nosey questions, if it’s safe to do so. Modeling good behavior around handling other people’s privacy can make onlookers think twice about whether they should help the guy with the clipboard (or the new church member who wants info on the young lady who recently stopped attending, or the person in your friends group with mad mention-itis about the person who’s already turned them down, etc).

    1. I’m trying to imagine a universe in which that course of action makes a lick of sense, and I just can’t.

      1. sorry, I’m not sure what you mean–you can’t see where asking “why do you ask?” makes a lick of sense?

        1. I know that feel when you post something and someone responds without mentioning why or what specifically they take issue with, just that they do. And also it’s usually an exaggeration – your helpful advice contains not even a tiny amount of sense, not in this universe or any other.

          It boils my bubbles that on a website about communication you can post a helpful thought-out comment and get back what is essentially “NOOOOO” from a random person.

          It is very good advice. I’m working at a new place, and I’ve been warned the customers can get weird. I’ll add “Why do you ask?” to my script vocabulary.

          1. I find “why do you ask?” or “why do you need to know?” to be very useful when it comes to helping people. I work for a public institution, and frequently run into detailed inquiries that show signs of the questioner thinking that the answer will tell them what they want to know, while instead (not knowing the answer or related information) they are asking something that does not apply or will only lead them further astray. Getting a literal answer to what they asked, without interpreting it in context, does not help them. When I’m in that situation (asking for details that may or may not help me) I try to remember to give context, or at least not mind if they ask. We should endeavour to not treat others as if they are a query interface to the database of their brains.

            As for the apparent nonsequitur response above, it looks like it might have been intended for a different comment. If not, whatever.

        2. Shoot, sorry, Annalee, this posted in response to the wrong post – it was in response to A Becky Lee’s post below.

          1. Right after I responded, I was like “oooh that was probably for the other thread,” but thanks for clarifying!

  23. Aww man, I once went on holiday and left my home in the care of a friend. While I was away, some guy came to the callbox downstairs on New Years Eve and started yelling at her to let him in. She was “so frightened” that she let him in, then went to stay at another friend’s place for the night.

    I came back to find some random hobo living in my house. I didn’t know the guy, but he ran away. Ate most of my food but, for some reason, fed my pet mice. And took a few small items of jewellery. It could have been worse, but I really gave my friend what for for letting a random stranger into my house.

    1. …what the…how the…this flabbergasts me.

      If a “friend” let some random person into my house (especially a house they were WATCHING because no one else was there), they would not be my friend any longer.

      How on earth was “letting him in” ever even considered an option? Even people in horror movies know better than that.

      Really, really glad you’re okay (and your pets are okay).

      1. Well, I was quite short with her and I never trusted her with anything else ever again.

        From what I gathered once I managed to contact her again, he told her that “the woman who stays there would let him in”. No, he didn’t actually use my name. But he was very drunk and made a big ruckus downstairs, so she just let him in and then went to stay at another friend’s apartment, then abandoned my apartment altogether.

        Imagine my surprise when I returned home and he was standing there and said, “The woman who stays here said I could stay here for as long as I liked.” I told him that I was the woman who stayed there and that he was most certainly not welcome, so he pushed me over and ran out the door.

        In hindsight, perhaps I could have been more cautious, but I was really very surprised that he was there. At least he was wearing clothes. He left a lovely stink on my mattress.

      2. I can understand how you might be so frightened that you let someone in. But *staying somewhere else without immediately calling the police*? What the HELL.

    2. I… what? She was afraid of someone who was outside, so she let them inside? That’s, like, the exact opposite of what one should do to reduce fear of a person currently being kept away from you by walls and a door.

      1. Yeah … though it is sort of understandable. Hard to think properly when you feel threatened. Maybe she was afraid he would smash the windows. (I have done stupid things in dangerous situations myself, though I harmed no one but myself.)

        1. I understand doing things you don’t want to do out of fear, but then surely you call the police once you get to a safe space? Or if you think it might be legit and they’re contactable, the person whose home it is?

    3. Wow. That is one of the strangest stories I’ve heard. I can’t even imagine what your friend was thinking.

      At least he fed your pets?

      1. Yeah, I don’t know why he fed the mice. He even used the mouse cubes stored next to the mouse house – and I know that it wasn’t my friend who fed them, because he didn’t follow the very specific mouse feeding instructions that I left for her. The cubes were just thrown into the mouse house willy nilly.

        I like to think it’s because my mice could beg so prettily when they were hungry.

        Don’t have mice anymore though, moved on to rats.

    4. That is beyond bonkers. I do hope your “friend” has since learned that the ONLY appropriate course of action in such a situation is “Keep the door locked and call the police immediately.”

  24. I worked at a post-production house for a while, and part of my job was to pick up and deliver tapes to various entertainment facilities. (We’re talking recognizable, big-name places.) Although the studio lots were very well guarded, the office building branches of some of these places were fairly easy to social engineer/sneak my way into. It became a bit of a fun challenge to see how often I could get into key-carded spaces without getting buzzed in, and I can only think of a couple of times that I was ever questioned (and not once was it ever a man who stopped me).

    One time, on a controlled floor of a large building, a woman who didn’t recognize me asked me where I was going. She had just exited out a door I needed access to, so I just said I had it handled… and kept on walking right through the door. And nope. Nothing happened. Now, granted, I was ACTUALLY supposed to be there, but it certainly taught me a lot. Not just about my personal safety, but also how so many men just never seem to worry about their own safety in the same way women do. What I wouldn’t kill to feel that kind of ease with the world sometimes.

    1. (Dude-type person here.)

      I have been on work trips where a female colleague and I were stuck walking back to our hotel after dark. Even on well-lighted streets in major cities considered very safe, it has been an education watching them gird up for the same walk for which I’m about to blithely stroll out the door. I’ve also had to explain to other, younger male colleagues that when the women say, “We’ll take a cab back,” they aren’t being weak or lazy or antisocial, they’re being cautious.

      Men just aren’t taught that this is even a concern. Sure, we mostly know not to walk alone down unlighted alleys in an unfamiliar town, but the idea that walking in a familiar place with plenty of lighting could ever be a safety issue — nope, doesn’t come up. It’s a deficiency in our education, to be sure.

  25. I’ll usually go to the door if someone knocks unexpectedly because I know the folks here are either 1. nice or 2. intimidated by me*, but I have zero qualms about pushing aside the door curtain to look, make eye contact, and turn around and leave if they’re clearly solicitors or door to door evangelists.

    *I have no idea how I managed this because I’m five foot one and barely weigh anything, but if I’m walking late at night and pass a dude he meekly calls me “ma’am”. Pretty sure it’s the “walk with intent” thing. I ain’t complaining.

    1. I tried a similar thing on a canvasser once, though instead of looking at him through a window, I asked who he was through the door. I ignored him once I found out. He stayed at my door and knocked and called out for 20 FREAKING MINUTES. I finally had to scream at him through the door to get lost.

      1. Mr Hypotenuse has used the “you are now trespassing” line on such people with success. I’ve always been too nervous to try it myself, but next time I might (had a persistent guy the other day and am currently VERY CRANKY with such folks).

  26. I haven’t seen debt collectors mentioned here yet. I’ve gotten calls from “old high school friends” wondering if so-and-so still lived two doors down from me, etc. Yeah, no. If they are legit debt collectors in the US, they do have to own up to it if asked, not that it matters. Not my business to make sure a stranger has access to somebody else’s life, physically or virtually.

    1. That’s not exactly true. People collecting on defaulted student loans can’t tell anyone but the consumer/borrower (and those who fall under that category, such as spouses in some states) can’t tell you they are trying to collect on a debt – that will get the collector fired and the person with the loan can sue the company. Telling a third party about another person’s student loan debt equals harassment. *However*, even in those cases, they aren’t allowed to lie about who they are – they can state what company they are with if directly asked (such as ‘who do you work for’ – asking ‘where are you from’ isn’t considered a ‘direct question’ and they can’t answer it with a company name, and they cannot say they are a debt collection agency), they can state their name, and they can say they are calling in regards to a personal business matter.

      When it comes to other types of debt, I’m not sure if the collectors are allowed to disclose or who they can disclose to. Of course debt collectors pull unethical or actually illegal stuff, but that is a whole issue that is constantly getting fought over in the courts.

      Agree that it’s not one’s business to allow a stranger access to somebody’s life though, even if they are a ‘legitimate business’.

      1. That applies to all third party collectors in the US, not just student loans. The rules are looser for first-party collectors.

    2. I once had a debt agency call me and the guy wanted to verify my details to “make sure he was speaking to the account holder”. I refused and he argued with me a bit and I asked him to tell what it was about and he refused because I wasn’t “verified” and in the end I said, “I don’t know if this is a scam so I’m not giving you my information” and hung up. My boyfriend looked at me and said, “I never would have thought of that, I just would’ve given them my details.”

      1. My bank is fantastic that way. They called me once and wanted me to verify my identity.

        I responded “how do I know that you’re from my bank?” and instead of getting pissy about it, they explained their verification procedure, which was pretty tight, but also immediately suggested I call the number on my debit card or off their website and ask to be put through.

        I’ve had cold callers get horribly offended when I demanded proof that they were who they said they were and this was just so sensible of them. Also, their call centre staff are lovely and not under ridiculous targets.

        Unlike my electricity company who do not understand “I will not buy anything over the phone and I am at work”.

        “I’ll call you back later!”

        “Which bit of ‘I refuse to do this sort of business over the phone’ did you not understand? If you call me again, I’ll change supplier.”

        That seemed to work.

  27. THANK YOU. Would you consider posting this regularly? We could all use the reminder.

    My landlord gets a kick out of the fact that barely-over-five-feet-tall me has scared off men trying to get into the building without authorization. I don’t care that you said you’re dating so-and-so in #7. I don’t know that she didn’t break up with you because you’re a creepy stalking bastard. I don’t care that you say you’re a contractor for a local utility. Call the damn phone number listed on the damn account and set up a damn appointment with the damn landlord. And I’d better be able to see you drive away, too…don’t think I’m turning around until you are GONE.

    Heh. Five feet tall, ten feet mean.

  28. “If you live in a multi-family housing situation, be a mensch about security. Lock doors and gates. Don’t randomly buzz people in. Walk downstairs and greet the pizza delivery person, don’t prop the gate or door open or let strangers into the building.”

    Slightly offtopic, does “mensch” mean “nice person” here? That’s … nice. 🙂 (Because in my language, it just means human being. Which sort of makes sense)

    Your advice, sensible as it is, makes me very sad. Because I really would prefer to live in a world where one can let the door unlocked at all times. Where I live, it is totally normal to let people into the house if you have just opened the door, and everyone does it. (Of course, that’s just my experience, and I’m 1,65 and look totally non-threatening, so there is that)

    1. In Yiddish, mensch does mean a good person. Someone who helps and is actually helpful, tips well, and is generally well put together and generous with what they have. The opposite of a schmuck, putz, schnorr, or general nogoodnik. It’s one of the words that’s slipped into general English in some places.

      I agree, it would be nice to live in a world without entitled assholes, stalkers, and various nogoodniks of that ilk.

    2. It’s Yiddish for “good, upstanding person”. And it’d be lovely if we lived in a world where one could leave the door unlocked at all times…but even when I lived in a tiny rural community, it wasn’t considered a bright idea to do that. I suspect that the age of “everyone leaves the door unlocked” is either apocryphal, or was much briefer than people actually believe. In either case, I really doubt that it’s coming back any time soon; a locked door is a comfort.

      1. I know the Age of the Unlocked Door was a thing in Montana in the early 90s. People would never lock the doors to their houses or their car door. Hell, at the grocery store, people would leave their cars on and their trunks/hatchbacks open so they could just out their groceries in their car and jam once they were done shopping (!!!).

        I was a small child when we lived in Montana (as in I only lived there between ages 2 and 6), so it’s not something I really noticed at the tine, but it really baffled and horrified me when my parents told me about that later. They were baffled too they both came from Everybody Lock All Doors places.

        As far as my parents know, nobody ever got broken into or had their car stolen from the grocery store (again, !!!), but all it takes is that one time, you know?

        I’m wondering if the people.there still do that. On the one hand, the town we lived in is way bigger and has a lot more residents from elsewhere now than it did when we lived there. On the other hand, Monatana is still it’s own weird place. So who knows.

        1. I grew up in (and recently moved back to) Vermont, and the “leave your car running while you pop into the corner store” thing is still a thing, especially in the wintertime because apparently having to get back into a slightly cooled-off car is the worst thing ever. It drives me nuts just from a conservation/wasting-gas perspective, which is probably why I was inwardly pretty amused when a family member did this one morning and a woman promptly jumped into his car and drove away. (He in turn promptly called the cops, and she didn’t get far.) The “good old days” are over, folks, and that ain’t all bad.

          1. Ha, this very morning I saw a van with security messages all over it e.g. “Our drivers do not have access to the safe” etc etc that made it clear it was for delivering/collecting large quantities of cash. The engine was running with nobody inside for at least five minutes.

          2. My in-laws live on an island to which there is no bridge, and islanders often leave the keys in the ignition, though usually not the engine running. “Where are they gonna go?” my MIL says, when asked. “They can’t get off the island.” (There is a ferry, but you need a reservation.)

          3. @J. Preposterice: when I lived in Vancouver, I went fairly regularly to Bowen Island, which has similar customs, for similar reasons. It’s not at all unknown for people to line up for the ferry and then turn the car off and pop down to the pub for a drink before the ferry goes.

        2. I lived in a small town in Montana in the early 90s for a short time, and used to get laughed at for locking my car while I went inside the gas station to pay for my gas. But I grew up in suburban Los Angeles, so that was my norm. Montana was a real culture shock for me, and not just because of that.

        3. Rural Montanan here, and I don’t know anyone who locks their house or their vehicle, at least in the country. How are you supposed to leave food in other people’s refrigerators/on their counters if the door is locked? (I’m only slightly joking. We do that.) The rule is you leave animals on whichever side of the door they were when you got there. The only houses that are locked are the empty ones that aren’t being lived in.

          Now when I go into town, I do lock my truck.

      2. See, the reason my grandparents didn’t lock their door (they lived way out in the country) is because they figured that no one would hear if the windows got bashed in, and then they’d have stolen stuff *and* broken windows. Now that my grandma has some neighbors, she locks the door.

        1. I used to do something similar with a previous car of mine, a little over 10 years ago. There had been a few car break-ins in the area, and I drove a 20+-year-old car with a broken tape deck, a mediocre radio, and a blue book value of about $500. My then-fiance had his car window broken and some CDs stolen. I wanted any potential thieves to be able to quickly and easily verify there was nothing worth taking. Don’t know if anyone ever did, but nobody ever broke into it.

    3. I’m from a German-speaking country and readings this made me realize that we’re extremely far from the safety standards mentioned in this post. For example, I work at an university, and all the info about me is on the website, including where my office is located. The building I’m in is open to everyone during office hours. So anyone can walk in and find me, no problem. (I’m not actively scared by this, but it must be really problematic for stalking victims.) It’s also fairly normal to let people into houses when they’re at the door at the same time, though I personally try to avoid it (there is actually a pretty high percentage of houses where the main door is not locked during the day at all, and when I was a child we rarely locked any of the doors, so anyone could have walked into our apartment, to my knowledge that never happened). The safety standards here are just… different and it’s clear we’d have to change a lot to protect people better. I’ll admit I have the same “that’s kind of sad” reaction as sellmaeth to the prospect of having to implement these changes, and I probably should get over that, as there’s no way our “system” isn’t harming the victims of stalking.

  29. Slightly related: I once pissed off some people online (as part of a large group; I wasn’t unique). My number was unlisted because I was working at a job where I could expect late-night/early-morning inconvenient phone calls from people I did not want to talk to at that hour. My parents, however, lived in the same city, and their number was listed (and still is, I believe). And my surname is pretty distinctive.

    So I’m over at the house doing laundry one night, and my mom casually remarks, “Oh, I got a call from [NAME] in your high school class, wanting to reconnect. That’s really nice.” I did not recall anyone named [NAME] in my class and said so. “But he knew what school you went to and what class you were in,” Mom continued. Further questioning revealed that what this person ACTUALLY said was, “I’m trying to track down a friend who went to [LOCAL HIGH SCHOOL] and may have been in my class. I graduated in [YEAR]; do I have the right person?” The year was a couple of years off, but close enough that my mom just said, “Oh, no, Drew was class of [MY YEAR]. Did you have classes together?” and had a lovely conversation — during which the caller got my unlisted number and address, confirmation that these WERE my parents, my approximate age (and probably could have gotten my birthday; I’ve mentioned the date online before because it’s a bit distinctive and then it’s just subtraction to find the year within one either way), and oh yes, SHE TOLD HIM WHERE I WORKED.

    Which is why my bosses started getting calls about how I was doing a shitty job, being wildly unprofessional online, and being inappropriate with colleagues. That could easily have gotten me fired if I hadn’t already resigned effective the end of the current project. I got several “counseling” sessions with my boss, however, about the things I was supposedly doing, and my boss was an older person who just didn’t understand that this was all because someone got annoyed at something I did online and decided to make my life hell for a few months.

    Oh, and all my personal information this guy discovered got posted online. Because why not. Luckily, this was before social media was huge and swatting definitely wasn’t a thing yet, so all I got were a few unordered packages (returned to sender) and unsubscribed-for magazines (do you know how hard it is to get out from under those?) and an uncomfortable time at work until my contract was up. Oh, and a new phone number immediately and a new address as soon as I could get out of my lease.

    I don’t blame my mom. She was caught off-guard and the guy on the phone talked a good game, and she’s a genuinely nice, sweet person who couldn’t dream of someone being so evil. But we had a talk about it, shortly after I found out what was going on, and when I started saying all the things that were happening at work and popping up online, she went completely ashen and just said, “Oh, God,” over and over.

    To this day, well over a decade later, we have a standing “Do not discuss ANY private information” policy, no matter how sure we are about the person on the other end. I have told my mom that anyone who needs to contact me has FAR better ways of finding me than calling my parents, so she should assume all such calls are bogus. Luckily, it hasn’t been a problem, but once burned, twice shy.

  30. Wow, oh, wow. Years ago, a jag-off workmate gave my home phone number to a student who called the lab when I wasn’t there. It was like 10 at night, too. I chewed out the student for calling at 10 PM, then I called the lab and chewed out the workmate who gave out my number.

    Another note – all those “Looking for Joanne Schmoe, she’s my birthmother/long lost relative/missing neighbor/what have you” forwards all over facebook – do not forward them and encourage others to stop forwarding them. You don’t know who that person is, either the one in the photo or the one who wants to contact them. For all you know, it’s an abuser tracking down their target. Just don’t.

    1. My workplace has a written policy of “Do not give out personal contact information. If someone says it is an emergency, take THEIR information and pass it along to the person they’re trying to reach.” I have known people to receive written reprimands for violating that policy; our senior management takes it VERY seriously.

    2. Yes this! I think it’s OK to share a missing post that comes from the actual official police facebook account of your local area (in Australia the police post these things on social media) because that at least has been vetted. Though of course this depends on how reasonable your local police are – use your judgement here. But *never* *ever* share social media posts of missing people from some random source. It’s a common stalker tactic.

    3. Oh wow, I never thought of that (the facebook “looking for” thing) but that makes perfect sense. I’ll mention that to my friends who are always posting those things. Scary.


    (TW: The following story is about stalking. It was terrifying at the time, but it ended quickly. Also, TW for suicide.)

    Years ago, when I lived in an all-girls dormitory at a Christian college, the rule was that every male visitor had to be signed in by a resident and had to leave before curfew (10 pm on weeknights, midnight on weekends, if my memory serves me correctly — I’m queer and never had male guests late at night so I don’t remember exactly).

    My roommate at the time was being harassed by an out-of-state male acquaintance. For a while we thought that the situation was annoying but harmless — he lived hundreds of miles away, after all — but when he began actually making threats, I told the dorm management, who called campus security. The threats were explicitly about my roommate, but I felt implicitly threatened as well, since he clearly perceived me as someone who was getting in between him and his “soul mate”. And he was technically right: I was in the middle of the situation since she was avoiding our shared dormitory telephone and she had asked me to tell him that she wasn’t available when he called.

    Since campus security had already been alerted to the danger, the staff at our dormitory reception desk knew not to allow him in the building, and to call security immediately if he showed up. My roommate and I assumed that the heightened security was an over-reaction, but we appreciated knowing that people took our concerns so seriously. Unfortunately, a few days after that threatening phone call, someone let a random person into our building. I don’t know if the stalker sweet-talked one of the residents into signing him in under a false name, or if he crept in behind a large group and the staff at the reception desk didn’t notice that one of them hadn’t been signed in. He got all the way to the bedroom door that my roommate and I shared. When the stalker got there, he found that our bedroom door was locked and nobody was home, so he wrote the most terrifying “friendly” message I’ve ever read, letting her know that he was in town and he had stopped by for a little visit, and he left that note on our bedroom door.

    When we saw that note, we notified campus security: they had already had one run-in with him, told him that he was not allowed on university property, and let him go with the warning that he would be arrested for trespassing if he returned. A few hours later, he was right back on campus, and campus security was furious with him for not only repeatedly trespassing on private property, but for sneaking into a campus building as well.

    My roommate and I were the lucky ones, in some ways. Not enough people take stalking and harassment seriously, but in our case, when campus security turned the stalker over to the local police, they made sure to contact officers who would prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law. He was charged with stalking, harassment, trespassing, making terrorist threats, and breaking and entering. Additionally, since he crossed state lines with the intention of committing a felony, those were federal charges, not just local ones. I was subpoenaed as a primary witness in a federal criminal case, but then the stalker killed himself before the end of the trial. It’s been nearly two decades and I still have a lot of conflicted feelings about this.

    So that’s why I agree the Captain’s safety reminders. Don’t let random people into shared housing. Respect people’s privacy and security. Take people seriously if they say they are afraid.

    It’s been nearly two decades and I still get chills and nausea when I remember that, in spite of so many people taking our security seriously, somebody slipped up enough that the stalker got in the f–ing building and stood at our bedroom door. His threats weren’t even about me, but he told me exactly what he was going to do to her, and words cannot express how thankful I am that neither of us were home when he stood there and knocked on our bedroom door.

    1. Eesh. Glad you both got out of that OK. The external doors to my student accommodation used to be entirely lock-free; I must hail from that time ‘when everyone left their doors unlocked’. Until someone got raped by an intruder, after which keycode pads were put in. No idea why the university authorities hadn’t already worked out that there might be a risk from having entirely unlocked student dorms..

    2. TW for violence.

      I think I’ve already disclosed information in various comments for somebody determined to know what school I went to, but this story is probably very identifying (at least, I hope this hasn’t happened a lot of different places??)

      My junior year in college, I think, a guy at my school in a different dorm broke up with his girlfriend, who attended another college. She was Not Pleased. She showed up at the dorm one night, and the desk workers were so used to seeing her that they just let her in without thinking about it. She then went up to his room and stabbed him seven times in the neck — without killing him, bizarrely. He has since recovered and graduated. Later investigation showed that she had also ordered a crossbow online which had not arrived in a timely fashion.

      The sad thing is that I feel like it only changed how people behaved about letting people into the dorms without ID for a week or two, and then everything went back to normal.

      1. Oof, that is terrible! I’m glad he recovered!

        And I hear you on how frustrating is it after something horrific happens, and people still let themselves slide back into unsafe habits. One year in uni, my room was right around the corner from our dorm’s back door. People left that door propped all of the time, and each time I’d leave my room, walk over there and lock it. Then we had an incident where a random guy was sneaking into our dorm at night, going into women’s unlocked rooms and crawling into bed with them! It happened several times in a two week period…everyone knew about it…I was terrified…and people were STILL propping the door open.

      2. That’s scary. And I wish that hearing about incidents like this changed people’s behavior long-term, but it rarely does.

        In my case, once the overt threat had passed, people returned to being lax about security. Even many of the people who knew about what happened with me and my roommate just didn’t seem to understand that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to keep trying to sneak people in.

  32. When I was a much younger mother of one, I was estranged from my parents. I was also living in a SafeSpace shelter with my son, when my parents decided to come back to the area where I lived (they had moved upstate a couple of years before) to look for me. Some overly-helpful neighbour *pointed out the shelter as a place where women and children stayed*, and one of the other residents buzzed my parents in (because of *course* an adult woman at a shelter must be there because of a husband, and parents don’t ping the radar.) I walked out of the laundry room into the living room to find my parents standing there and my son in my mother’s arms, and I’ve never felt so sick as I did at that moment. We’d been estranged long enough that I hadn’t told them when I got married, nor that I had a son, but there they were, in this place that was supposed to be *safe*, smiling sweetly like they hadn’t just violated every boundary in the world, and in possession of my child. I never found out who those helpful people were, but if I had, they would have had reason to think very bad things of me in short order.

    1. That is horrifying.

      Someone very close to me works at a domestic violence shelter. She says that they have to change the location of the shelter every year or two because inevitably, the neighbors start talking and saying “Oh, yeah. See that house two doors down? With the yellow flowers? That’s the shelter.” Completely missing the point and defeating the purpose of a safe space.

      And the person I know who works at the shelter? We talk to each other about almost everything, but she has never once given me even the slightest hint about where this shelter is located. And I have never asked. It’s not actually that difficult to keep such things secret, so the people who tell have no excuse.

      1. When my mother passed away, I donated her clothes to a local domestic violence shelter. Because I was still out of it when I was going through her stuff, I called the shelter office and asked for their address. It took a minute for me to realize why the conversation was going nowhere. I finally said, “I’m sorry. Let me start over. My name is X. My mother, Y, recently passed away. I know she liked to donate to your organization, and I thought some of your clients might be able to use her clothes. What’s the best way for me to get them to you?” Then we set a date for me to meet someone at a neutral location for a hand-off.

    2. OMG. That is just awful. I would hope that a shelter would be LAST place where people would assume people are OK to let in, but…wow.

  33. Operational security, or the lack thereof, is one of those things that drives me absolutely batshit crazy now that I’m not in the Army, because civilians are SO BAD AT IT.

    I get that the reason I’m good at it is because it got beaten into my head from age 18-24, but just the sheer bafflement I meet when I try to explain it to people is infuriating. I read Art of Deception when I was 22 and didn’t get anything out of it because I already knew how it worked!

    What drives me extra crazy is how freaking simple it is! Ask people why they’re there and what they want! Verify where people work! Be cautious about what you divulge on social networks! NEVER EVER GIVE OUT ANYONE’S PERSONAL CONTACT INFO NEVER EVER. (of course some of my training was along the lines of “Thumb drives are the devil, do not hook them up to the secure internet, and burn your uniforms when they’re too gross to use anymore”).

    I tend to think of it this way: If I was back in Afghanistan and the person who wants this info was a bad person, would giving it to them get people killed? It’s actually a pretty good litmus test for me. So: Stranger: “Please give me X’s contact information” –> bad person now knows where X is –> so they bomb X’s base, killing them. Stranger: “Just let me use your computer this one time” –> bad person now has access to everything I have on my computer –> such as classified information –> which they use to track troop movements, killing my friends.

    Dramatic? Sure, but it literally was that serious when I was deployed. Also it’s a reminder that strangers aren’t my friends and I don’t actually owe them information. Anyone who actually does need information can get it their damn selves.

    Personally, I’m pretty horrified by how liberal people are at giving out details about their work habits and tagging me with location without my permission. Like, listen, if you had done this while I was deployed PEOPLE WOULD HAVE DIED. DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THIS. (Fun fact: even if you tell people that they will literally get people killed through their negligence, I have the federal government to back me up, they will still ignore you and post shit willy-nilly on facebook). If you google OPSEC, every page will tell you not to facebook about where people are deployed to. And now, just because I’m not at war, it’s okay for everyone to let the whole internet know exactly where I spent my day and at what time? I don’t mind as much if it’s just a mention (“Got dinner at XYZ with Dizzy today”) but I HAAAATE when people tag my location, especially if they do it when we’re still at the place! The fact that Facebook has this service at all is incredibly unethical and should frankly be illegal.

    Anyway, a lot of what we’re talking about here is social engineering. Although the term is usually used for corporate saboteurs who are trying to steal data, it means the tactics people use to get things without having to use technology. So, someone who’s trying to get into a place they don’t belong is using social engineering. Convincing a teller that you left something in someone’s office so they should let you in is social engineering; breaking in at night is not. It relies on the fact that we’re socialized to be helpful; once you get one piece of information, it’s not hard to use that to leverage greater information. Then next thing you know you’ve convinced a bank teller to cash your fraudulent check because you “got permission” from the CFO. The thing is, you don’t actually owe them information and in fact you should be actively resisting it. If they really needed it they could get it themselves. If you want to read more about it, I recommend The Art of Deception–written by someone with a felony conviction for social engineering, extra bonus!

    1. Here’s a pdf of it:

      Click to access mitnick.pdf

      I don’t know if it’s that I grew up in Miami or was raised by extraordinarily paranoid parents or what, but my privacy/safety concerns verge on disordered. It blows my mind what kind of information people give out about themselves and how careless they are about physical security. The stereotype is that it’s men who are careless bc they don’t think about personal safety constantly, but it’s women, too. In my former neighborhood, there was a woman who told me she left her sliding glass doors open to her third-floor balcony, to which there was a spiral staircase leading up from the outside. She said there must be easier targets than a third-floor balcony. While she might have a small point, there is no easier target than an unlocked door. One of my neighbors here in my current place leaves her door unlocked, even after she was targeted by a predator! Nothing happened with the predator, but as part of ramping up his intrusiveness, he walked right into her house uninvited one day. She still leaves her door unlocked. Blows my mind.

      I used to have a security clearance, just a base level secret clearance, and I wasn’t given any training about social engineering. That blows my mind, too. Even the unclassified stuff I worked on would probably have been pretty valuable to another government.

      1. You didn’t get social engineering training? That’s super weird. I had a secret clearance, too, and that was most of the OPSEC I learned.

      2. >She said there must be easier targets than a third-floor balcony

        A friend of mine had their and their partner’s expensive carbon fiber bicycles stolen off their balcony. The thieves stole ladders and then went right for the bikes.

  34. My brother was contacted on Facebook by somebody I apparently went to school with. They told him they were organising a school reunion and asked for my number/contact details. Thankfully he just said, “I’ll pass on your information” and then told me about it. I promptly informed everybody I know that they were not to give out my information to anybody for any reason. Even though they were legit I was/am completely uninterested in going to a school reunion. If I wanted to stay in touch with those people I would be. Gah.

  35. Tangentially related: I work in childcare and we have strict rules about which children can have their photos posted on Facebook (and we never use names). We require written consent forms (they check consent given or declined) families when they start attending our centre and it can be changed at any time. We follow this policy very closely since someone who wants to find a person can recognize them without a face shot, just the back of a person is distinctive enough.
    What totally shocks me is when friends post pictures of other friends kids on Facebook! When I take a pic of my bff’s baby, I send it to her! Then she can post it if she wants, or she can keep it for herself! It is just not my place to make the decision whether her kids are on social media.

  36. Captain, thanks for this. I just posted it to my FB page, because it’s really important. A lot of data about us is regrettably easy to find on the internet (yay, not), but my loved ones don’t need to help it along. If you wanted to make this, like, an annual thing, I would love you even more than I already do.

  37. Not a stalker story, but not long after we moved to our current house, I opened the door to see two guys with clipboards who said they worked for my power company and we’d had a letter about this and if they could come inside and check the meter. I was home alone and in the seventh month of my pregnancy, and the company they named was the wrong one, but a very big one that many people use. We also had not had any letters from any power companies.

    I told them to send another letter for an appointment first and they went away. I still don’t know what would have happened, I mean, it could have been the previous occupant’s company maybe. But it’s not an uncommon scheme to enter houses like ours like that and keep you busy at the door while someone else robs the lower level. (You really won’t hear anything if they are careful and someone is chatting at you and opening doors and whatever upstairs). Or, if you’re alone, just to enter, threaten you and do whatever else while they rob you.

  38. It bothers me so, *so* much that people keep leaving the side-doors of my apartment building open. I get that summer’s approaching and it’s getting warm enough that without a bit of a cross-breeze, the stairwells get stiflingly hot. But – doors! There for a reason! Have not been replaced with screen doors for a reason!

    What’s more worrying is that someone kept propping the doors open all through the end of last summer, right into the first few weeks of September. Which was Unusual, because even if it’s still warm enough to warrant it (and past the first couple days of September, it really wasn’t – especially in the evenings, when I kept finding these doors open), once the initial week or so of move-in has completed, everyone tends to clue in and go “hey, I don’t want random people to be able to get into the building, I should leave the doors shut”. Equally worrying was the fact that this same someone kept propping the doors open during the evenings – which was *never* a time when the doors were kept open, even in the summer. The fact that I kept seeing a rather skeevy-looking dude who looked to be in his thirties or so, lurking around the entryways to the side-doors only served to make this EXTREMELY concerning, and I found myself shoving the doors shut every time I found them open, be damned to anyone who caught me and complained about the heat.
    It got to the point where the managers had an alarm installed on one door (the one facing the garbage shed, which is more secluded and out of the line-of-sight of anyone driving by) and recently put up a notice on the other door stating that if you see the door open, you’re to close it behind you.

    And yet, side-door. Still routinely left open.

    1. At my old apt building in DC, we had constant problems with this that at one point prompted me to produce and put up the only passive-aggressive “Hello idiot neighbors” note that I have ever written. The condo board had taken the trouble to write us all individual notes and leave them under our doors, asking us to please make sure the side door was locked behind us, and yet person or persons unknown could STILL not be bothered to do so. So I was pleased to, among other things, let the newer residents of the building know all about the time I opened the door to the back stairwell and found a homeless man sleeping inside. (Thankfully, he was very polite and put up no fuss when I nicely asked him to leave and sent him off with bus fare.) The note seemed to have at least some effect! And I think the building manager was happy because he left it up on the door for a year.

    2. That is horrifying! D you think management could add one of those “decorative” cast-iron screen doors?

      1. If the weather’s hot and the building isn’t otherwise well ventilated, a good screen door with metalwork seems like it would be incredibly useful!

  39. I once shared a house. I heard the doorbell ring one evening, after dark, and by the time I went down to answer it, Housemate’s Friend had just wandered into our living room!

    Like, even if Housemate had left the door unlocked and said it was ok to come straight upstairs to his room, there were 3 other people who did not know to expect Housemate’s Friend, and who do not appreciate people we hardly know coming into our personal space, in a house where our individual bedrooms did not have locks on them.

    Who lets their Friend wander in instead of walking down the stairs to answer the door?? And who the heck rings the bell and just wanders in anyway?? A-hole housemates and their A-hole friends.

    I did not trust Housemate and would not have trusted anyone he hung out with, either.
    So glad I don’t live with that skeevy P.O.S any more. He was a really bad person.

    1. My current apartment had, before I moved in, what my Horrible Roommate referred to as an “open door policy”, meaning that they left the door unlocked and people just wandered in whenever they liked. I was SIGNIFICANTLY DISPLEASED to discover this, and told my roommate that that had to stop, because random strange men wandering into my apartment was simply not on.

  40. Aah, what a timely post. Or, not timely exactly as the situation I’m about to talk about is constant but yeah. Fitting.

    We live in a building with six flats in and ours is one of two on the ground floor. If someone enters the building, the first door they see is ours. Which is why we’re especially concerned with our building’s abysmal excuse for safety rules. And by “our building’s” I mean “our neighbours'” and “our building manager’s”. The front door isn’t really broken per se but if you just let it fall closed behind you without actually pushing it it’ll look like it’s closed but it actually isn’t. Anyone could just stroll in. Sometimes even the snap lock is open so that even if the door is closed you just have to push it and you get in!

    The manager’s response to when my mum raised concerns about burglars and thelike to him, specifically saying “What if someone gets in through the open door and then later one of the inhabitants comes in and is robbed?”: “Well, then it’s too late anyway *shrug*” To this day, this remains one of the most asinine things I’ve ever heard in all my life. My mum went rightfully ballistic and suggested we then remove the front door entirely because apparently it isn’t being used anyway. What even.

    Especially annoying is the fact that this could be so easily solved by everyone just taking the two seconds you need to half turn around and push the door firmly close behind you. But apparently that can’t be expected of the poor stressed-out very important people living here. Only one of the reasons we’re looking to move in a few months. 😐

  41. I spent all day today calling up households and saying “Hi, I’m x from the Department of Education, can I speak to [name of 18-year-old-girl]?” and the number of parents who say “oh she doesn’t live here any more, let me give you her mobile number” is terrifying. I’m a woman, but I think the men who are calling get the same response.

    I can’t tell them not to give it to me, since I’d get in trouble with my boss, but jesus, don’t do this! Don’t give out other people’s phone numbers without their permission! It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that an 18-year-old might plausibly have just finished high school, I could be anyone!

    1. So, two of my neighbors in my building are young men whose apartment is subsidized and who have social workers looking after them. One of the social workers showed up at our door to say that there had been a noise complaint against the two young men. To my shock, the social worker proceeded to OFFER ME HIS CHARGES’ PHONE NUMBERS in case I needed to get in touch with them. WTF??? They live upstairs from me! I can knock on their door, put a note in their mailbox or ask them for their phone numbers anytime!

      I can’t stop wondering if he would have offered to give a 30 year old man the phone numbers of two 18-year-old women, or if it just seemed soooo safe and acceptable in his eyes, to violate the privacy of these two young MOC as a “courtesy” to a 30-year-old white woman. o_o

  42. On strangers, probably salespeople, coming to your door:

    At least four years ago – maybe as much as ten – I got some advice from an Internet article that I found reasonably persuasive. Alas the chemotherapy ate my memories of a lot of details, so I’m asking what you all think of the little I had left. It said that when a college-aged young person shows up at the door, saying they want to get you to vote for them but it turns out that has to do with magazine subscriptions to fund some college thing (labs? classes? I don’t remember), they have been blind-hired and driven far from their homes to work “on commission”, and if they don’t make the quota set by their “manager” then they will be left on the street to figure out their own rescue. The magazine referenced some tips from police, including the young’uns being underdressed for the weather and probably dehydrated and unfed. Somewhere in the conclusion, I remember suggestions to take a picture of the person, and ask them if they are safe and do they want help, do they want you to call someone for them to make sure a family member or roomie knows where they are, do they have a way to get home without having to rely on their boss, do they /feel safe/ even if they don’t make their minimum sales.

    Obviously letting a stranger into one’s home is a lousy idea, for us AND the stranger. Obviously when *I* was that age, I knew what I was doing (especially when I had no idea what I was doing) and I would not have stuck around not-working waiting for the cops to come interview me. And, of course, about two weeks after I read that article, a young lady in a sleeveless rayon shirt and no coat showed up one evening with just this sales pitch. I think we really flustered her when we started offering bottled water and a granola bar and asking all these questions. I think she did not even really wrap her head around the part where I took her photo while the husbands were doing the you-talk-I’ll-get-a-snack teamwork. She turned us down, though she put the granola bar in her pocket. When the local news had nothing about robberies or stranded twentysomethings, even after a few months went by, I deleted the photo and threw away my note with the first name and city of residence she had given us.

    But, I mean, the whole process starts with a photograph through my storm door of the stranger on my porch. Am I violating their privacy/safety? I’m not asking in legal terms, but in decent-human-being terms. Am I being a concern troll or a busybody if I call the non-emergency line and tell the cops about this visitor, and that I saw (no coat/signs of distress) even if she laughed off my questions, and that I have a photograph? I can’t properly register whole faces, I have the very mild facial agnosia, so if I am going to describe one person to another, I might as well say “they had a head, all regulation parts, and no facial scars or tattoos, and they were almost certainly NOT Bruce Campbell”.

    I am not going to give out info about me, or about my family, or about neighbors, but what do I owe this stranger’s safety? What’s going past “give a stranger a chance to be okay” and into “okay Rissa, now you are super weird” territory?

    1. I don’t exactly which article you read, but those traveling sales crews are real and they do really take advantage of their teenage/young adult work force. I think that’s why it’s often advised that you ask them if they’re ok, offer to call home, etc.There was a recent piece in The Atlantic about this:

      I’m not sure where the advice to take their picture came from or how helpful it would be, but IMO you are not violating anyone’s privacy if they have come to your property and you’re not going to be sharing or publishing their photo. Now, they don’t necessarily have any reason to believe you’re not going to do something with it, so I can also understand how they might be freaked out.

  43. Once the driver for the house cleaning company let himself in downstairs and came and knocked lightly. He tried to talk his way in while I was on the phone- and I think describing him and our interaction in real time to a friend was what saved me. He claimed the cleaning woman had lost an earring and he needed to get in to look. I think his original intention was burglary, but scarily enough he still wanted in. I held my foot against the door and made it obvious that I ID’d him and was saying no to my friend on the phone and hanging on till he left. When I called the cleaning company, they admitted they knew nothing about the earring. And claimed they fired him. I changed my locks and fired them quickly. A few months later, I saw he still worked there. I wish I’d gone to he cops, but they don’t do a thing till the crime happens. Ugh. So glad that they sold the business and he no longer had that job in a few months. Creepy as hell.

  44. On a related note, I never ever share Missing People posts on social media unless they link to a police report/news article. A friend of mine who works with domestic violence victims told me how a stalker ex managed to find his victim’s new home suburb/state by creating one of those and getting a tip from a well meaning member of the public.

    1. Oh my god, do you have a news story or something I can share on FB? Because that’s a pretty horrifying thought.

  45. I had this happen once when I worked on a campus with a lot of departments. A man called my department looking for someone who worked in one of the childcare centers. I was in marketing, so we got a lot of “how do I find this program” calls, but this man specifically said he was trying to get hold of his wife and didn’t have her phone number. Um, sir, you think I don’t know what a stalker ex-husband sounds like? If you and your wife are on good terms, why don’t you have her phone number, and if you know where she works and have the means to find *my* department, you certainly have the means to find *hers* and you are hoping I have a workaround.

    I told him I didn’t have any information for him (truth, but I would have lied here if I needed to) and directed him to human resources. Then I called HR and said THIS MAN IS CREEPY, DO NOT TELL HIM ANYTHING. I knew they didn’t have permission to do so anyway, but they’d be able to alert the woman to what was going on. I hope she avoided him.

  46. Thanks for posting this. I used to have one of those guys who would drive to my house and beat off outside the window. Being arrested didn’t stop him. Even moving a few doors down didn’t stop him. I had to move quite a ways away.

  47. Ugh, my neighborhood periodically gets waves of jerks (with clipboards!) wearing polo shirts with the insignia of a home security company on them. They give a very complicated spiel about how they’re not actually there to try to sell you something, blah blah blah, and why the hell would they be going door to door annoying people with absolutely no intention of making any money from it? I answered the door a couple weekends ago because I was expecting UPS, but it was a pseudo-home-security guy. I was wearing a bathrobe, with my hair up in a turban, talking to him from behind the storm door while restraining a loudly barking dog, and after three “I’m not interested”s, the last of which was met with a condescending “Well may I ask why?” I told him “Because I have to go” and closed (and locked) the door in his face. And it felt good.

  48. Unfortunately my stalker lived the floor above me in our college dorm, so there was no way to avoid him permanently. I also clearly remember him beating on the hallway door which was right next to my roommate’s room and the two of us literally trembling with fear because yeah, those fists make hella noise, we know you’re unfriendly and being threatening, and what could those fists do to me? I have no reason to believe he would have hit me, but isn’t that how it always starts with people like that? Even though he never did hit me, hearing what he could do with his fists didn’t make it hard for my imagination to make the leap.

    I didn’t alert authorities because I thought I could handle it and only years later did I realize how fucking dangerous the situation I was in actually was. Thankfully my stalker is engaged now and hasn’t bothered me in years, so I have no reason to believe he would suddenly emerge, but I am still big on personal safety (like lock the door, roommates, not hard to do and I know we have a dog, but I’d rather just prevent anything from happening, kthx).

  49. I’m running for office, so I might knock on your door, but if you don’t answer I will just leave my literature and go away in about 80 seconds. If you have a no soliciting sign up, I won’t even knock.

  50. When I used to live in an apartment, I had a man call me and ask me to contact one of my neighbors because “she was getting her apartment renovated and her phone wasn’t working.” I thought it was weird, so I told him that I didn’t have time. He then got insistent, so I hung up. I have no idea whether he was a stalker or not, but I didn’t want to take the risk. It seemed to me that if he really was a friend, he could wait for her to contact him.

  51. So once I was staying with my family in some holiday apartments, which overlooked a gated, locked courtyard on a nice street. Woke up one morning to find somebody had jumped the gate, come up five flights of stairs, taken the screen out of the open living room window, climbed in and helped himself.

  52. One of the best security lectures I ever got at work was around the usual “don’t let people come in behind you without scanning their badge” warning. He could tell people weren’t really paying attention, so he turned off the projector, walked to the front of the room, and said, “Look. We’ve had two thefts of purses from desks in the last year. Maybe that’s not a big deal to you. But there are a thousand people who work in this building. Odds are, at least one has a restraining order against someone, or a stalker who’s actively trying to find them, or someone in their lives who wants to do them harm. Do YOU want to be the person responsible for letting someone in who means to do harm? Because they usually don’t just hurt the person they’re after – they hurt everyone AROUND that person, too. So don’t let people skate in behind you, no matter what they say or how they look. It’s not worth feeling like shit because you let the person in who stabbed the nice person in Finance up on 8.” You could see the “oh, shit” looks on a lot of peoples’ faces, when it dawned on them that a lot more was at stake than the latest company plans being stolen.

  53. I used to work at a place that did the anti-smoking surveys with teenagers (well, 11-17-year-olds) that tobacco companies paid for. We’d call random residential numbers (picked by the “sample” department, not directly out of the phone book) and inevitably sometimes kids would answer the phone. When that happened, we were very, very, very careful to ask: “Is an adult available to speak with right now?” Because it sounds so incredibly sketchy to ask a kid “hey, are your parents home?” in case the answer is no.

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