Author of Be Ready for Anything and The Prepper’s Workbook
What information are other people giving you? I’ve published multiple articles about what information you are giving others about you and how you’re unknowingly divulging it. (Here, here, and here are some examples.) But by understanding what you, yourself are giving away, you can get information from other people. I’m sure there’s a fancy prepper or military name for it. I just call it Reverse OpSec.
Why would you want personal information from others?
In a world that seems to be becoming ever more hostile, information can give you many advantages. Being able to deliberately elicit information is even more powerful.
Information can be used to help you assess other people and situations more quickly. Granted, this is more “educated guesswork” but you can often use small amounts of personal information to make some generalized assumptions about how a person may behave. Will they be an asset, a threat, or a burden? This can be helpful when you need to make rapid decisions. Brian Duff, at Mind4Survival, recommends making up little stories about the people you’re watching as a way to improve your observational skills.
For an extreme example, imagine you’re in the bank and it gets robbed, which then turns into a hostage situation. It would be helpful to have a general idea about who may be able to handle themselves, who may try to ingratiate themselves with the hostage-takers by snitching on your plan, and who may be sobbing in a corner. Keep in mind, this isn’t an exact science – you’re playing the odds and you’re making generalizations. But when you have to make decisions on the fly, that’s the only option.
First, be observant.
There’s tons of stuff you can learn about someone without ever speaking to them. When I went to take Selco’s urban survival course in Croatia, Toby spent time teaching us about how to do this. There’s tons of information there for the taking of an observant person.
Think about everything you might avoid to remain “gray” and uninteresting. Most people don’t do that stuff at all. So at a glance, here are some of the things you may be able to learn.
What blatant information is available?
Some things are obvious. Are they wearing a uniform, lanyard, or nametag from their workplace? In the airport, you can easily see a person’s name, address, and even their phone number on some luggage tags. (I always use the luggage tags that close over that information.) You can also see their passport sometimes – what country are they from? Do you speak that language if communication is important?
Are they wearing some kind of activist or political clothing like a MAGA hat; a t-shirt that announces animals are friends, not food; a religious icon; anything that links them to a cause or political party? You can often make general assumptions based on the things they choose to wear and advertise about their beliefs.
What’s on their keychain?
Lots of folks add things like membership cards to their keychains – gym memberships, grocery store discount programs, and various other things that can be easily scanned to grant them admission, discounts, and more. So, you can learn where they go to the gym, where they shop, etc. From that, you may be able to make assumptions about the general area in which they live (most people go to a gym and grocery store near home). This can tell you more about their socioeconomic status.
The additional items they choose can also tell you a bit about them. Do they have mace or pepper spray? Do they have a symbol of something, like a sports team, club, military branch, or political organization? These things can help you determine whether that person is likely to be helpful during a sudden emergency.
How do they carry themselves?
Another thing to which you should pay attention is their bearing. Are they meek? Assertive? Quietly observant themselves? Aggressive or agitated? Arrogant? Friendly? Overly friendly? Nervous?
These are things you can assess at a glance that may be useful to know.
How do they interact with others?
The way a person treats others can teach you a lot about them. Does the woman with the cart full of groceries let the guy with a gallon of milk go in line in front of her? Is the person you’re observing respectful of others and their personal space? Or do they intrude, getting uncomfortably close? Do they have a casual conversation with others in the line or are they pushy, forcing a conversation on someone who is clearly not interested? Are they angrily berating the store’s employees? Are they patient or irritated with the flustered mom whose toddler is screaming and throwing a whopper of a tantrum?
A person’s overall behavior can help you determine a bit about their personality.
Keep in mind, though, many dangerous people can mask their true intentions and thoughts and “fit in” or even seem exceptionally nice and non-threatening. Think Ted Bundy, a good-looking, charming psychopath who used his looks and personality to brutally attack and murder at least 30 women. He often used the ruse of an injury or handicap to gain sympathy and get help from his victims.
What can you learn from someone’s home or car?
There can be a great deal of information gleaned from some people’s homes and cars. Do they fly a flag at their home? Do they have any “witty” signs at their home about guns or dogs? How is their property maintained? A rundown property can indicate anything from financial problems, mental health issues (a depressed person may not really care about mowing the lawn), or physical disability. An immaculate, impeccably groomed property can show anything from pride of ownership to a love of gardening to the financial capacity to afford a landscaping service.
Cars are a goldmine of information, as we learned from this article. What bumper stickers are on the vehicle? Is their child an honor student at John Smith Elementary School? Is their stick figure family missing a parent or including a pet? Is the driver a veteran? Do they support Black Lives Matter or the Thin Blue Line? Are they promoting a business, a location, a university, or a politician?
What can you do with all this information?
Okay – you’ve done your recon and you feel you have some reasonable accurate opinions about the person. What now?
The information can be used in a wide variety of ways.
You can get a better idea of who is likely to be helpful and who is a potential threat. Someone who is former military is more likely to be able to handle himself or herself if something goes awry, but don’t write off the chick in the hippie skirt and faded concert t-shirt. (Hey, that’s me!) Some people are obviously meek and unlikely to be of assistance.
You may also notice people who behave inappropriately. I went out to eat with my 20-year-old daughter, who is lovely, the other day, and this creepy man was blatantly staring at her. Then while we were waiting for our order, he made excuses to brush up against her, like getting a drink refill and a packet of sugar. After the second time, it was clearly no coincidence and I physically put myself in between him and my daughter and glared at him. That was enough to make it clear that we knew what he was doing and we were willing to engage in a confrontation if necessary.
Any information you gather can also be used to help you elicit even more information.
Elicitation should be subtle and should not raise any flags to the average person that you’re seeking information.
Some “meaningless” little tidbit can open the door for a conversation. “I saw the Corgi sticker on your car,” you might say in the parking lot. “They’re the most adorable dogs ever.” Boom. You have a commonality and if the person is receptive you can move on to eliciting information.
It’s important when you are trying to elicit information that it isn’t apparent you’re doing so. It should come across as a friendly, casual conversation. I practice this regularly because one day it might be useful. If you notice you’re making someone uncomfortable while you’re practicing, stop. First, there’s no need to make others uncomfortable. Secondly, if you’re making them uncomfortable, you’re doing it wrong.
There are several tactics for discreetly eliciting information that are easy to use but before we get to those, here are the factors that make it fairly easy to get most folks talking.
As an intelligence technique, elicitation exploits several fundamental aspects of human nature:
- Most of us want to be polite and helpful, so we answer questions even from relative strangers.
- We want to appear well-informed about our professional specialty, so we may be tempted to say more than we should.
- We want to be appreciated, and to feel that we are doing something important and useful. As a result, we often talk more expansively in response to praise about the value or importance of our work.
- As open and honest people, we are often reluctant to withhold information, lie, or be suspicious of others’ motives. (source)
All of these factors can be used to strike up a conversation that may provide you with the information you’re seeking. Many of the following techniques are from the Center for Development of Security Excellence, a link provided to me by the brains behind Graywolf Survival, who was a former counterintelligence special agent. A handful are just things that have worked for me.
Quid Pro Quo
If you’ve gleaned some information visually from a person, you may be able to put that to work using Quid Pro Quo. What is it about them that you can relate to? Use that to start a conversation. If you recognize they’re Christian, a Bernie Sanders fan, a sports fan, or someone who suffers from a specific issue (or is sympathetic to that issue), you can share your own story that relates. If you notice something about them that you might have in common (or know enough about it to fake having it in common), you can start a conversation based on that. “You ride horses? So do I! I’m boarding my mare at Sunshine Horse Farm!” Oftentimes, they’ll reply with their own story.
This is an easy way to build rapport. After you’ve built a little bit of rapport, it’s fairly easy to slide into one of the other techniques.
Making a False Statement
If you say something wrong, most people will want to correct you, especially if you are trying to get information someone feels good about. “I heard that your son joined the National Guard,” you might say. “No, he actually joined the Army and is at Ranger School right now,” your neighbor will proudly correct you. “I hear that new guy runs a 7-minute mile. That’s the fastest in the group.” A person who is ego-driven, and actually faster will immediately correct you. “I run a 6-minute 30-second mile.”
There are all sorts of ways to use a false statement, but this technique works best on a person who is overly confident or proud.
As a woman, I’ve found this one works really well for me. Asking a man to explain something and asking wide-eyed clarification questions is a great way to get a lot of guys talking. I’m not saying this won’t work in other situations, but just that it has worked well for me. You’re making the other person feel smart and savvy, and people like that. Chances are they’ll divulge even more than you asked.
This one is pretty easy to use. “I’ve never seen a business with such good security before. I feel completely safe when I come here because of X.” Many people will be proud of X and give you more information about X.
This works well on a person who is trying to impress you. Express doubt about the thing you want more information about. “I am pretty sure the law doesn’t allow X to happen here.” The person will often go out of their way to explain why X actually IS allowed there, and they will do so in detail. Continue to seem doubtful and they may go even further, giving you a wealth of information.
Make a False Statement
Say something you know to be false with conviction. “I don’t believe for a second all these cameras work. They look like the cheap fake ones you buy on Amazon to make it look like surveillance is going on.” The person will most likely correct you enthusiastically. They may spill everything you wanted to know. You can take it a step further with the “prove it” technique.
The Instinct to Complain
Cash in on people’s instinct to complain about things by leading them straight to a conversation about something frustrating or unpleasant. For example, if the person appears visibly exhausted or frazzled you might say, “Gosh, it looks like you never get a break here. They’re working you to death!” If that’s the case, they’ll very often be happy to share their woes with you. You can ask leading questions and get more information as you keep them revved up.
You Already Know
Another technique not listed but often employed to get tidbits of information is to act like you already know. You might be trying to get information on a person’s friend, co-worker, or employer, for example, and act as though you already know the person you are trying to get information about. “Oh yes – her son joined – I can’t remember – the Army? The Navy?” Your goal is to make the target of your elicitation feel like you are already well-acquainted with the person about whom you want more information. It helps if you know enough about them to be able to fake a more intimate friendship than you actually have.
What if these techniques don’t work?
If these techniques don’t work, it’s likely you’re doing it wrong. If you’re obviously pushy people will be immediately resistant to continuing the conversation. Know when to back off. And for goodness sakes, don’t be creepy.
Most people love to talk about themselves, their children, their significant other, their home, etc. Once you get them talking, they can be a veritable fountain of information.
Why should you learn how to deliberately elicit information?
Knowing how to elicit information may not be extremely important in the world you live in right now, but there could come a day when it’s extremely important. And practice makes perfect. This is a harmless prepper/survival skill that you can practice in line at the grocery store, at a restaurant, at the park. It will help you improve your situational awareness and become better at making educated guesses if you’re in a situation that warrants rapid judgment calls.
I spent a lot of time practicing my Spanish and eliciting information from the guards at my condominium compound when I lived in Mexico. Not only did I pick up personal information that helped me build rapport (Jose has a 6-year-old daughter, Raul is going to college to study history and become a teacher), but I was also able to learn more about the way things worked at the compound. I found out where the guns were stored, how to get into certain equipment rooms, and managed to make copies of keys to the beach gate and the roof. I discovered multiple ways out of the compound and found out where the cameras were pointed (and also the blind spots.)
Was there any particular reason I did this? Not really. Just for the practice. But if things had gone sideways, I would have been really glad to have known how to get the heck out through the back way and have had the key to do it.
There’s another bonus when you know how to elicit information. Not only can you get more information from others, but you can recognize and deflect attempts by someone else to get information from you. This can do anything from dissuading overly diligent would-be suitors to helping you avoid becoming the victim of a crime.
Do you practice reverse OpSec?
Do you make it a practice to learn more about the strangers around you? Do you try to deliberately elicit information? Do you just think I’m super-nosy? Do you have any tips or strategies I didn’t mention here? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites. 1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2) The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3) PreppersDailyNews.com, an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.
Love these suggestions! Looks like I will have some fun homework from this article.
I already play a game with my kids over the years “how much can we glean” while driving. We compete to see who can glean the most information about the car in front of us or beside us, or from a house if we are driving in a residential area. My kids think it’s funny and sad how much information people freely give away.
Information gathering under the guise of surveys is also interesting to me. I don’t take them, nor do I answer “polls”. Even going to the doctors, I was shocked and taken aback by the depth of information they tried to solicit from me that was only remotely connected to health (or not connected at all to the issue). I simply refuse to answer most times. Or I ask “why do you ask?” That’s my go-to response for a lot of “questions” I am asked, and I am teaching my kids to ask the same. If people really thought about why someone would want to know, I think they would be a lot more protective of their information.
Great article! I’ve been practicing situation awareness for a long time and will add this to my regimen. I’ve also been careful to keep political statements on my clothing to minimum or none. No flag on my house though I do have an NRA sticker in one window.
One thing I’ve noticed over the years when talking with people: some will tell you what seem to be incredibly personal things in an effort to draw you out and use your stories against you. For example, I knew one woman at the range who would tell me how she’d been anorexic and abused by her ex-husband, and she’d suggest various pyschotherapy modalities to me (to deal with my problems) that she’d allegedly tried. The thing is: she’d do this on social media, not in private. At the range she barely spoke to me, and then only if I spoke to her first. Turns out that some stories were more true than others; she was really trying to get me to admit to something so she could point to it and tell everyone else that I was crazy. When it didn’t work she told everyone that I was untrusting and neurotic. My point is to be very careful what information you give, and in what venue! There are many people running around with an agenda, and they may not mean you any good.
For some reason people have always shared info with me. I feel like a therapist. Someone’s people will tell me, “I can’t believe I am telling you this but.., or ” I’ve never told anyone about this.” I am naturally curious and friendly but I suppose I come across as a “safe” person. I’ve always had people tell me their history etc.
I’ve always thought of myself as an empathy.
People tend to share – and overshare – with me. I can be standing in line at the grocery store, and by the time I check out, I’ll have someone’s life story.
This can be a good way to get information, but there are some potential problems, if overused.
Most of the people who will give up such info , have no real valuable info in the first place or at least none that you can not find out in other ways. Most people “in the know” are tight lipped and disciplined in not giving away a lot of info.
Secondly this can cause you to get a bad reputation, one which will prevent you from getting real info come SHTF. If overused, you will get labeled as a gossip, ( a security risk). So the very people who might give you good intel Post SHTF, will be excluding you.
Remember that while you are doing this to others, other people are also doing it to you.
So they might size you up as a security risk, or worse as a threat.
Most of the people who are security minded, will not be giving up info. Or they may give off false info to throw people off from getting the truth or to see where this false info ends up. By reversing these techniques you can learn a lot also.
Thirdly there is the chance of getting information overload,. In this case you will probably over look pertinent or important info because of the volumes of info you have been gathering.
This is a common problem in intelligence gathering operations.
Most of the Grey man and spy craft stuff will hide you from the general public. The problem is that those who know that stuff will instantly realize you are using that, because they are also.
Chances are you will not be as good at it as they are. Which makes you a person of interest or a potential threat to them. So now you are red flagged by them.
Which includes both street and undercover cops and some criminal gangs (who might mistake you for an undercover cop), so that might not be a good thing.
So it is advisable not to try to be to “grey”, at any one time. Leave that to the Professionals.
To know how to do this is good, to practice it a little bit is also good, but don’t do it to much. It is more than likely to come back and be used against you.
OMG Mic! I’m SO glad you shared your valuable knowledge and filled in all the gaps Daisy left! What WOULD we do without you!!! ***SARCASM
How can you be labeled a gossip, unless you gossip?
I am a citizen journalist and author of three world changing books. I know quite a lot of information, more than 99.9% of the public. Anybody who asks me anything gets that information. I put all of it in my books and newsletter for free. Educate and inform the masses, they are the only assurance of keeping our liberty. My information is at the edge of my sleeves, and good and righteous people like me are out there, willing to help humanity. I have been incarcerated and physically assaulted repeatedly for my work, yet continue on. I am not professionally trained, I am a self-educated and salty old lone wolf who is looking to save humanity. Stop trying to stifle Daisy and her helpful articles.
Matt in OK posted an article, “What a criminal sees on your car” that could apply to this topic as well: https://forum.theorganicprepper.com/topic/what-a-criminal-sees-on-your-car/
It is both a skill and a talent.
Those who can act, or BS on the fly and keep it believable/credible are better at it.
Confidence men/women are obvious experts.
There was a guy who moved into my old neighborhood.
I noted he tended to be outside his townhome whenever I came home. And he would do the same for two others.
Always tried to strike up a conversation, asked questions. Set off my “spidey” sense immediately. He was trying to get a “feel” where I grew up, stance on gun rights/control, education, work, some what I felt were if I was a prepper or not.
So I used my skills and treated him like a mushroom.
A few weeks and conversations later, one weekend I was loading up my car to goto the public shooting range. He was in his doorway watching as I loaded the gun bags in the trunk. I smiled and gave him a wave.
He then knew I knew what he was up to.
Never spoke to me again.
When you mentioned “situational awareness”, I always remember this great article that you wrote back in 2016…
It was my pinned tweet on Twitter, for the longest time.
Great work, Daisy, thank you.
This is really interesting!
There is something I’ve been struggling with: how would you recognize fellow preppers? Many preppers like to go grey, but what about a prepper that wants to wave their prepping flag without being too obvious about it? Especially considering that there are all sorts of preppers. How would you go about this?
I don’t look for preppers. I look for people with preparedness and survival skills. Meet others who do things like preserve food, camp, hike, build things, garden, raise chickens, sew, etc. They may not officially consider themselves preppers, but when things go sideways, they’re going to be good friends to have. Nine times out of ten, your survival community is the people who live closest to you, for better or for worse.
OK, you have just persuaded me to remove the smallish “Patrolled by **** *******” (dog breed) placard from our front window. No other sign or artwork clues give away the dispositions of we, the occupants.
When out in public, even though I’m not shy, I avoid unnecessary conversations. If spoken to, I’ll respond cordially, but without encouraging farther conversation. Won’t find out much about them. But then again, I’ll probably never see them again.
Where reverse opec could prove very useful is when trying to learn more about your neighborhood’s follow residents.
I have worked on this many years initially to be able to talk to anyone in any situation but once that was mastered it was to diffuse or “practice grey man in plain sight” socially. This taught me many demeanors and regional facades to easily put in place to make others “believe” they are easily categorizing me in a ready made archetype.
The ability to discern details in other in addition to portraying a type in the moment to meet a need is doubly successful in reaching whatever objective you have in a situation.
Another good article Daisy!
“Social engineering “
But not for nefarious purposes
Was just at the international SPY museum in DC
Some of those spies/sleepers were among us for years and integrated/infiltrated everyday lives- you really never know
I learned these tactics while growing up and observing the interactions my grandfather and Dad had with others. One was a banker and the other an attorney, who had a genuine interest and love for talking to people. It became a family joke, and we’d say that they were “interviewing” someone and could tell you that person’s life story after talking to them, without giving away personal information about themselves. Luckily, I inherited that trait, and was surprised to realize that I’ve been naturally doing all of the above without realizing what an asset that skill is. Thank you, Daisy, for the article and for broadening my perspective!
Lone wolf is a very unlikely way to survive serious SHTF or grid down. You need to know and work with your neighbors. How to get started?
I belonged to a club in Denver that was interviewed by the local newspaper reporter. He went up to somebody, announced is name and then said he was working on an article about us for the local paper. We understood that the article was likely to be friendly, a human-interest thing, and we happily answered his questions.
I have found it easier to make new friends since that experience. I announce my name to my new neighbors, and tell them where I live, which lets them know I belong here. I am looking to get to know my neighbors and my purpose is to help the whole neighborhood survive should any challenges occur. I also give them little presents such as packets of E.Mer.gen.C which contains powdered C, and minerals including zinc, which the body fights infections with. I have dramatic personal stories about it. My neighbors are a bit stronger when they know things like that, and already a tidbit more likely to survive.
In the famines the elites are working toward, Guv Goons will feel justified stealing rural food. Some will be shot, as they should be. My neighbors will know I belong here and while I may be needy, I am more than a gimmee gimmee hand out. I will give more than get if I can. I am more likely to survive.