5 Ways Predators Will Take Advantage Of Your Politeness

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Stranger striking up a conversation while traveling

Planning time away from home involves packing, preparation, and perception. Airports and other transportation centers are notorious criminal hot spots, capitalizing on distraction and travelers' lack of discernment.

I'll start with a caveat to which frequent travelers will attest: Most fellow travelers are harmless, helpful, gracious, and kind. Yet, this is precisely why we are tempted to extend the benefit of the doubt to those who are not.

There is a small percentage of dangerous people, and how to spot them. When away from home, be aware of people who take advantage of kindness and attempt to ingratiate themselves with you or your family.

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Here are 5 ways predators take advantage of your politeness:

1. They "force team" stranded strangers.

The concept of ”forced teaming” is described by author Gavin de Becker in the national bestseller The Gift of Fear as a manipulative method of establishing premature trust. A shared predicament often stimulates mutual support but may be exploited by advantage seekers on the prowl for a socially appropriate way to invade personal boundaries.

A canceled flight, train, or bus trip creates common ground among those stranded. A person who approaches you and asks, “How are we going to get home?” should be regarded with caution. You have not become part of a stranger's “we” through mutual misfortune.

While bonding over a common predicament can lead to cooperation, it does not automatically require you to collaborate or share travel plans — particularly with someone who makes you uncomfortable.

2. They use your good will against you

We are socialized to be gracious and kind. People can take advantage of this social custom, where politeness can also attract problems.

We are all used to the occasional “Excuse me, you don't know me, but I could use your help/advice/money.” We are socialized to attend to the needs of others within reason and to listen when a stranger politely speaks to us.

Yet, if you are alone, traveling with young children, or otherwise wary of engaging with someone who makes you feel uncomfortable, remember you are not obligated to talk to strangers who take advantage of kindness, much less help them do anything.

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3. They violate your boundaries.

Airports and train stations are crowded. Be cautious about an over-friendly stranger who invades your space by sitting too close to you or your children. Don't be afraid of appearing rude.

Many space invaders are harmless, but you cannot always spot a dangerous person by their appearance. If someone sits too close when other seats are available and then immediately strikes up a conversation, you should move.

4. They turn a friendly conversation into stalking.

Before the Internet, people experienced the “strangers on a train” phenomenon — feeling comfortable sharing intimate details with a stranger while traveling whom they never expected to see again. If you did this today, you would immediately pick up a new Facebook friend and Twitter follower and maybe have the selfie you took together tagged, flagged, and retweeted as soon as your conversation is over. And because all of the content posted by your new friend/fan/follower (stranger) will have your name and current location, make sure you were truthful about why you are out of the office.

Again, they are the exceptions to the rule. A significant number of stalking cases began with a friendly conversation between strangers. When striking up a casual conversation on public transport, be sure you know enough about your seatmate before you self-disclose.

Never feel bad about declining to give a curious stranger your name or personal information if you are uncomfortable with the request. Polite conversation is possible without oversharing.

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5. They lure you in by making themselves likable.

Be aware of strangers approaching suddenly to ask for help or directions, a notoriously transparent ploy to gain access to potential victims, and take advantage of kindness. Yet some are so polished and practiced in their craft that they can lower your defenses through likability — appealing to parents and children alike. Remember rapport building professions of similarity like, “My son is the same age as yours,” are not always true.

Although reminding your loved ones about danger and discussing assault prevention is never pleasant, knowledge is power. Awareness of how dangerous people think and behave will enhance your ability to spot red flags and proceed with caution.

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Wendy Patrick, JD, Ph.D., is a career prosecutor, author, and behavioral expert. She is the author of Red Flags: How to Spot Frenemies, Underminers, and Ruthless People and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller Reading People.

This article was originally published at Psychology Today. Reprinted with permission from the author.