Before age 13, Gavin de Becker had suffered countless beatings, seen his younger sister subjected to the same abuse, and witnessed his heroin addicted mother shoot his father.
Instead of turning to violence himself as an adult, de Becker used his horrific childhood experiences to become one of the world’s foremost experts on how to predict, and potentially prevent, violent, criminal activity.
Though he’s written four books over the course of his successful career, de Becker is most famous for his first best-seller “The Gift of Fear,” wherein he describes seven tell-tale signs to watch out for when someone is trying to control you.
Whether it’s a con artist after your money or a violent criminal after something far worse, these signs are as true now as they were when de Becker first wrote them, and they can help you to identify a predator and protect yourself from becoming a victim.
1. Forced teaming
De Becker calls forced teaming one of the most sophisticated manipulations.
You can clearly identify it when a stranger conjures a shared experience with you where none exists by using the pronouns “we” and “us” in phrases like “Now we’ve done it” or “We’re some team.”
Criminals use it to get closer to their victims by creating the illusion that you’re both in the same boat. Moreover, most people are reluctant to deflect forced teaming because it’s difficult to do so without seeming rude. This only adds to the criminal’s advantage.
Typecasting is a technique con artists generally use to get someone’s full attention.
It always involves a slight insult, de Becker writes, that is easy to refute. For example, a man at a bar tells a woman that she’s probably too snobbish to talk to him.
She could easily prove him wrong by sparking a conversation, but the best defense against typecasting is to ignore the remark entirely because acknowledging it is exactly what the typecaster wants.
3. Charm and niceness
Charm is always a tool people use to attain a certain goal, according to de Becker.
Most charmers aren’t a threat, but many criminals will use charm to deceive you of their harmful intentions. A good defense, which helps you see around the charmer for who they really are, is to consciously tell yourself:
“‘This person is trying to charm me,'” as opposed to, ‘This person is charming,'” de Becker writes.