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I’m a Mugger—Here’s How to Outsmart Me

Straight from the mugger's mouth, here's what you need to know to protect yourself and stay safe in any situation.

crowd of people with motion blurr.classen/Shutterstock

You’re always at risk, to some degree

Here’s the first thing you need to know: There’s a good chance that a mugger has checked you out at some point. It can happen to anyone, and if you haven’t been mugged, you’re either lucky or smart. That’s according to some real-life muggers who are currently doing time in the New York area and who are making amends by telling unsuspecting victims how they can protect themselves. If you’re doing any of the following things, you’re putting yourself at risk, so you’ll need to get street-smart ASAP. And while you’re at it, make sure your house isn’t vulnerable to robbers, either.

close up on blue police car light with blurred city lights in the backgroundJaromir Chalabala/Shutterstock

The scary facts about muggings

In 2017 alone, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, there were an estimated 319,356 robberies in the United States, and of those, more than 37 percent happened on a street or highway. Mugging is a form of robbery—the legal term for theft by way of threatened or actual force. It is distinguishable from other forms of robbery in that the perpetrator targets a person (as opposed to, say, a bank) and the attack occurs in public (as opposed to, say, a home invasion). Because muggers often brandish weapons of one kind or another, the safest way to “outsmart” one is to avoid getting mugged. Here’s how.

Back view of brunette woman walking near the road at the traffic time. Girl goes through the city late at night alone.KeyStock/Shutterstock

Don’t walk around alone

David Solano is serving a sentence of 25 years to life for robbery, which is the conviction muggers often receive. Having mugged at least 100 people, his favorite target was, as he puts it, “anyone alone.” In fact “being alone” was always Solano’s first criterion in selecting targets—before gender, before age, before physical build…before anything. Bear in mind, however, that being in a crowd can make you more vulnerable to pickpockets, which is just one of the 18 secrets pickpockets don’t want you to know.

dark empty alley with trash dumpsters. red glowing light.NODIYA ILYA/Shutterstock

Avoid desolate areas

Sometimes walking alone is unavoidable. When that’s the case, it’s better to do so in well-lit areas that have some pedestrian traffic. That would specifically exclude empty subway platforms, which, as Solano points out, are a preferred mugger venue. This goes double for the portion of the platform nearest to the entrance of the tunnel. Tunnels are common escape routes for muggers because they’re dark and you’re less likely to chase a mugger into a tunnel. When it comes to traveling safely, you might want to steer clear of these 12 most dangerous travel destinations.

New York, NY, USA - March 11, 2016: Inside of subway wagon: Colorful seats and inside of empty car: The NYC Subway is one of the oldest and most extensive public transportation systems in the world.Osugi/Shutterstock

Always plan your own escape route

Even more popular with muggers than an empty subway platform is an empty subway car, according to a survey of hundreds of convicted robbers in New York and New Jersey state prisons. Why? Because if a would-be mugger boards at the next stop, you’re stuck with no escape route, at least until the train stops again. If you find yourself alone on a subway car, consider moving to a more populated car or the conductor’s car, and think twice before getting on a train with only one other person on it, particularly if anything about that other person gives you pause.

park benches lit by a street lamp at nightwelcomia/Shutterstock

Know that nighttime is prime time

According to that same survey, the overwhelming majority of robbers strike at night—anywhere from 6 p.m. through midnight and beyond, as long as it’s dark. That means that areas with nightlife are actually more likely to attract muggers. However, you can improve your chances of not being targeted if you stay around others. On the flip side, this is the most common time for home break-ins.

MILAN - FEBRUARY 21: Woman with pink fur coat and sequin jacket looking at smartphone before Alberta Ferretti fashion show, Milan Fashion Week street style on February 21, 2018 in Milan.andersphoto/Shutterstock

Don’t look “flashy”

Solano points out that when he was looking for a target, he didn’t waste his time on people who didn’t look like they’d be carrying valuables on their person. For example, he avoided those who seemed to be on their way either to or from the gym; after all, people are less likely to carry valuables with them when working out. By contrast, well-dressed people in designer clothing are like catnip to muggers, especially when they’re well-dressed and alone and it’s dark out. Here are some more ways to be your own bodyguard that could save your life.

Rainy city street reflections: Legs of a young woman walking in the nightAlex Linch/Shutterstock

Don’t walk alone when you’re intoxicated

Drinking and mugging don’t mix. Well, actually, they do for the mugger, just not you. Intoxication can mark you as a potential victim, according to both Solano and Mayco Castro, who is serving a nine-year sentence at the Fishkill Correctional Facility in New York for mugging a man in the hallway of an apartment building. In fact, an undercover NYPD officer, Richard Buggy, who spent a portion of the 1970s posing as a would-be mugging victim, told the New York Times that his “intoxicated” persona was a mugger favorite. Once, he was even jumped by a mugger disguised as an old lady. Don’t miss these 45 things police officers wish you knew.

Black male silhouette over blurred neon lights background in night citylogoboom/Shutterstock

Be wary of strangers asking for the time

Muggers will often ask you for the time. This serves two purposes. One is to assess whether you’re a worthy target. For example, if you’re wearing a watch, is it valuable? A valuable watch suggests you may be carrying other valuables with you, including cash. The other purpose is to get you off your guard. At the moment you’re looking at your watch, you’re “at ease,” Solano says. In other words, the mere act of pausing to look at your watch makes you vulnerable. “I can grab your wrist, slide up behind you, and grab your wallet,” Solano explains.

Shadow of a person walking in a street in the cityPatty Chan/Shutterstock

Be wary of strangers asking for directions

Muggers will also often ask their targets for directions because giving directions, like giving the time, causes you to let down your guard. While you’re engaged in formulating directions (or sometimes even finding directions on your phone), you’re leaving yourself open to being grabbed. Go ahead and give directions, but do so “from a distance” without breaking your stride, Solano advises. How can you know if burglars are targeting your home? These are 13 sneaky signs your house is being watched.

Close-up of man's shoes walking upstairsPetia Ilieva/Shutterstock

Recognize your own vulnerability

It may seem surprising, but when muggers do target a victim, as opposed to choosing one randomly (as some of them, including Castro, have done), it’s more likely to be a male. While the average woman is less physically imposing than the average man, muggers are aware that women are more likely to make an attack more difficult by making noise—whether screaming, blowing into a whistle, or deploying an air horn or personal alarm.

A young woman pulls a can of tear gas or bottle of pepper spray out of her purse. Means of self-defense. Selective focus, close-up.Yevhen Prozhyrko/Shutterstock

Carry pepper spray

A can of pepper spray in your hand (not your purse, pocket, or backpack) is arguably the most effective tool you can use in the event that you become the target of a mugger. Solano, who actually found himself fleeing from targets who sprayed him with pepper spray, says that just seeing a can of pepper spray in the hand of a potential target can be an effective deterrent. If you have pepper spray, just a friendly reminder that it’s one of the things you aren’t allowed to take on a plane.

security camera on a wall at nightLjupco Smokovski/Shutterstock

Don’t rely on surveillance cameras

Surveillance cameras are everywhere, but they don’t necessarily deter crime. Moreover, convicted muggers indicate they’re not swayed by the sight of a surveillance camera and will often proceed with a mugging despite the camera’s presence. That said, things are a little different when it comes to protecting your home, and these are the best home security systems, according to experts.

close up on purse being pulled by woman and mugger/robber's handsDean Drobot/Shutterstock

If you’re mugged, comply

If you do become the victim of a mugging, do not fight back. Muggers are often “desperate” to the point where they’d choose violence over backing down. In Castro’s case, he could just as easily have been convicted for murder as robbery—except when he fired his gun, he missed. Solano points out that while mugging is motivated by greed, not violence, he and many others will resort to violence when it becomes a choice between the mugger’s well-being and the victim’s.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York–based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest and in a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction, and her first full-length manuscript, "The Trust Game," was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.