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What to do when you notice things are ‘off’. Very often when talking to someone, hearing their story, or checking out a place or thing, you will notice things seem off. I’ve talked several times about ‘red flags’, or things that should pique your interest as you notice they don’t follow what you expect. As a refresher, here are some examples of red flags:

  1. A person is in or coming from an area where they don’t have an apparent need to be.
    • Suspicious Person / Place / Time
  2. A person is saying things that don’t align with what you see.
    • Liar, Liar
  3. A person has visible indicators that are incongruent with their story.
    • What’s that on your shirt?
  4. Things you observe fit a pattern that is consistent with previously experienced patterns and not with what you expect in this situation.
    • “This reminds of me of that one time…”

This isn’t an exhaustive list and isn’t meant to be but let’s go over these broad categories of examples. In the first example let’s say that you see an unknown person emerging from your work area. Is it possible that they had a need to be there? Sure, but if there is no apparent need to be there then this individual has some explaining to do. If you drove by a closed jewelry store in the middle of the night and saw someone inside with a flashlight, this might also need some explaining. When I was a police officer, we called that ‘suspicious persons in suspicious places at suspicious times’ and it was one of the lawful reasons to detain an individual. Stop reading for just a minute and think of a few examples from your life or from books / movies that match this example red flag. Seriously, do it. Learning to identify red flags is one of the primary things I’m trying to teach you.

In our second red flag example, we have the classic lie. This should be an obvious red flag. Someone says that they didn’t put their hand in the cookie jar but you just saw it, or maybe they still have their hand in the cookie jar. Some people get caught up in trying to figure out why a person is lying instead of just just accepting the fact that they lied. As humans, we want to understand the story behind this person’s lie and figure out their motivation. Motive matters for murder on TV but in the real world the jury doesn’t care. If we have you on video shooting someone, the gun on you, a full confession, et al; you’re not going to get off because the detective didn’t find out why you did it. One of the things it took me years to learn as a cop / detective was that at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter why a person lied or did something; they did it because they decided to.

In the third example, there are physical or visible indicators of something being wrong. This is very closely related to number two but is mostly a red flag about things not said but observed. Perhaps you told your kids not to play outside because it was raining, then when you get home you see mud on their shoes. Maybe you see an unknown individual coming out of a janitor’s closet at work claiming they were taking a phone call but you see insulation on their shirt.

In our final red flag for the day, you’re in a situation where you think to yourself “this reminds me of that time…” and things feel off. If you’ve ever had a surprise birthday party you might have felt this. Maybe there were too many cars parked nearby, the house was unusually quiet, or something else. An example of this that is not as obvious is when a person is telling you about an event that happened to them and in your experience it sounds like something they saw on TV or something they think this event should sound like, but it’s not at all how things usually work. Imagine you’re in IT and an unknown person tells you that they were just defragging the hard drives on your office computer so they could update Windows 95 manually with their flash drive. This would not fit the pattern of an actual IT worker but might fit the pattern of someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about trying to bluff you. Take the recent example of the woman who called police to say she saw a toddler in the highway and then disappeared. Hindsight is 20/20 but when I heard this story it immediately sounded suspicious to me. First, actual adult kidnappings do happen but they are very rare. When they do happen, it’s generally not done with the assistance of a toddler. It sounded to me like the person calling the police was creating a story that they thought would sound ‘right’ but that any experienced investigator would immediately find suspicious.

That’s enough for this week. Next week, I’ll go over the flip side of these flags. That is, how to go on the offense and minimize these flags.