You don’t know what your attacker looks like… and they camouflage.

Another stolen post from Greg Ellifritz‘s Facebook page.


A couple months ago I wrote about a woman I had arrested for identity theft. She had stolen another woman’s identity and was attempting to buy a couple new cell phones using the victim’s account. That particular criminal suspect was wearing surgical scrubs and a fake name badge (bearing the victim’s name) identifying her as a home healthcare nurse.

The point of that post was to clue folks in that uniforms and name badges are cheap and easy to obtain. Always look past “the uniform.” Uniforms are very easy to fake. Things may not be what they seem.

Last night our officers got dispatched to a shoplifting call. Store security staff recognized a known professional shoplifter (called a “booster” in the criminal vernacular) filling up a grocery cart with an obscene amount of expensive steaks and Tide Pod laundry detergent. They knew he was about to sprint out the door without paying for the groceries.

The loss prevention officers provided a very distinctive description of the suspect. He was wearing a ball cap with the word “security” written on it. What would you assume if you saw a person dressed in normal citizen clothes (no uniform) wearing a “security” hat? Would you honestly think “shoplifter” if you saw that hat? I’m willing to bet that most of you (myself included) would assume that a security guard isn’t a thief.

That’s why criminals use fake uniforms and disguises. People automatically assume someone will act in a certain role when that person is wearing a particular uniform.

It’s a dangerous (but completely normal) “thin slicing” phenomenon created by the brain in order to process information faster. Unfortunately, making assumptions about a person’s character based on the uniform they are wearing can occasionally lead to negative outcomes.

Recognize that fake uniforms are a very real thing. Try to avoid making assumptions when you see someone who might be wearing one. As I wrote earlier, things aren’t always what they seem.

I want to add one thing: Trust your gut. Believe it or not, your subconscious may know if something in the uniform is amiss and will let you know. Might it be equipment, body language or the clothing itself,  bad guys will miss something specially if the uniform is complicated. BUT… it is not a sure thing that you will get that warning alarm. Just don’t lower your guard and be careful.

7 Replies to “You don’t know what your attacker looks like… and they camouflage.”

  1. I like to make eye contact with as many people I encounter throughout my day. I recommend it to everyone. While the person you’re looking out for might be an expert thug or thief, they probably aren’t an expert actor.

    Chances are their acting will be as thin as their disguise, and they are talking advantage of people being in condition white, and not taking a critical eye.

    Also by scanning crowds and people who approach you, you might trigger something in THEIR gut that you aren’t the mark they’re looking for.

    My house has a security system (and armed occupants) but that isn’t my first line of defense, instead the window sticker that informs that we have a security system is the big #1. Criminals are going to commit crimes no matter what, my goal is for it to always be somebody else.

  2. Left of Bang
    by Patrick Van Horne

    Increase your situational awareness. Use the Marine Corps Combat Hunter techniques that have saved hundreds of our soldiers lives overseas.

  3. I’m reminded of an excellent short training guide about situational awareness training, by Susan Callaway (“Mama Liberty”).

    Closely related but slightly different: it’s worth reading about “social engineering”.

  4. We had a real odd character get all the way back to the physicians’ desk one night in the ER. Past the receptionist, past the staff, and all the way to the doctor. He began asking odd questions about a lift chair prescription for his mother and referencing the years of education he had at medical school. Had a spacey affect the whole time. Then he left out the ambulance bay.

    His disguise? A Littmann stethoscope and dress casual clothing. He followed someone in when the security door in the waiting room was buzzed. We had a major sit-down with the reception staff after that one.

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