Stranger Danger: How to Protect Yourself

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Seventeen-year-old Lily Burk thought she was doing the right thing when a man abducted her in a Los Angeles parking lot in July, forcing her into her Volvo and then driving her to an ATM: She obeyed his commands and called her parents to ask how to withdraw cash using a credit card. No doubt she thought that if she didn't fight back, she'd go free. Instead, her abductor slashed her neck and left her dead in her car. We asked expert Robin Sax, a former Los Angeles County deputy district attorney and author of Predators and Child Molesters, what you should know.

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FIGHT BACK. If someone tries to force you into a car, always try to escape, even if the guy is armed. "Hit him with your elbow; gouge his eyes with your keys. You're trying to buy yourself a minute to run away," says Sax. Car abductions are different than typical holdups on the sidewalk, when it's better to hand over your wallet without a fuss. Why? Once you get in a car, says Sax, chances are you won't come back alive.

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ESCAPE BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. If you do get shoved into a car, flail your arms to tip off other drivers, or say you know your way around and offer to drive, then head to the police station. "Even jumping out of a moving car is better than going with the guy," says Sax.

SET UP AN EMERGENCY TEXT MESSAGE. Your cell phone has a feature called "autotext" that allows you to type in a message right now that you can send in the future. For instance: "I'm in danger — call the police." Include your name, phone number, and date of birth. Once you send the note, officers can pinpoint your location via cell towers or GPS.

CREATE A CODE WORD. Tell your friends and family that if you say the word, it means to dial 911. Steer clear of terms that could tip off an attacker, such as pancakes. Words like ATM are a good bet, since they're less likely to raise suspicion, especially if you're at an actual ATM.

HIT "SEND." If you push the Send button on your cell, it automatically dials the last person you called. Say to the abductor, "Don't hurt me," so the person on the other end knows you need help. Even if you reach voice mail, police can track the call.

BE READY TO DIAL. When walking to your car in a garage or parking lot, hold your phone in case you urgently need it, but don't text or talk on it. By keeping an eye on your surroundings, Sax says, "You'll spot a strange guy from 30 feet away, instead of three feet."

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