We live in a crime-ridden country and we read horror stories on many newspaper front pages daily. We read of guard dogs that are poisoned, or people lured away from home by means of some elaborate scheme, or people attacked while they were sleeping.
Sometimes there is just nothing you can do to prevent being the target of a crime, but usually there is quite a bit you can do in order not to attract the attention of the casual opportunistic criminal.
To people living in the big cities, many of the following tips are already second nature. Just see it as a refresher course. You only need to read the paper to see there are still people who break these rules. You need to slip up just once to become a target. Be on your guard.
Be ATM-wise. Don't draw large sums of cash in view of strangers. You would be astonished to see that there are people who still do this. Don't get involved in conversations with anyone at ATMs – a request for assistance is often a prelude to being robbed. Avoid deserted ATMs at night (not least because of the bombing risks) and try not to go alone to an ATM machine. Never count money in the street. It might be worth your while to drive around until you find one where there is a security guard on duty. ATMs inside bank buildings or in shops or at garages are much safer than ones on the streets. If you don't already do all these things, count yourself lucky if you haven't been robbed.
Hide your briefcase. Driving around with a wallet or a briefcase on the passenger seat is inviting a smash-and-grab incident. Put it out of sight, either in the boot or under the seat, while you are driving. The same goes for handbags, laptops or shopping bags. Don't leave these things in the boot - a recent TV programme showed it takes only 8 seconds for a professional thief to get into a locked boot.
Always lock your car. Whether you're in it or not, it is a good idea always to keep the doors locked and windows closed. Most city dwellers do this automatically, but if you're visiting from out of town, you might not realise how crucial this is. It has been known to happen that strangers get into cars at traffic lights or nab things out of unlocked cars - even if you have only stopped for two minutes to post a letter. Leave nothing in your car, empty the cubbyhole and leave it open so that prospective robbers can see there's nothing in there. It is also not safe to leave things under the seat, even if they are out of sight.
Invest in armed response. A sign in front of your house naming your alarm company and armed response company will put off many a prospective burglar. There are those who are expert enough to circumvent any security system, but this usually does not include the chancers wandering around the neighbourhood. Test your alarm regularly and make sure that the telephone or radio connection to the security company is working properly.
Know where your kids are. You must be able to reach them or know where they are at all times. Teach them not to go anywhere else without telling you first. Also drill them in not accepting lifts or sweets from strangers and to be home before dark. They need to know they can phone you in any crisis. If they have cellphones, drill it into them that these should never be switched off.
Don't employ anyone off the street. OK, your gardener's been on leave for three weeks and the place is a jungle, so no wonder you're tempted by the jobseeker at the gate. Just don't do it. Only take people who have come through personal recommendation or who have contactable references. It's hard on honest people who are really just trying to make a living, but you simply cannot take the chance. Not even in small towns. Even in 2012 one reads of people who still do this and pay a very high price for it.
Beware of parking garages. Yes, they are safer than open air parking lots or street parking, but there are also opportunities for hijackers, rapists or bagsnatchers to lurk behind pillars or down stairwells. Especially late at night, parking garages can be frightening places. Try never to go there alone. Ask the security guard to accompany you if there is one.
Be aware of your surroundings. Get into the habit of checking who is in your vicinity when you are walking in the street. Or when you get home at night. If there are unknown people lurking in your street, drive past, but don't open your gates while they are still there. Wait until the street is clear, and then go into your home. Be aware of strangers in the vicinity. And don't talk on your cellphone in the street if at all possible. If you have a security company, get them to escort you to your door - that's what you pay for. Use it.
Things that go bump in the night. If you hear a noise in the house at night, for heaven's sake don't investigate on your own. Get out if you can and summon help. A cellphone next to your bed is always a good idea, especially if you predial the emergency number. Have a portable panic button at hand. Security gates on your bedroom door may also be an idea, especially if you live in a high-crime area, or on a farm or smallholding. Call for help - don't try and be brave.
All that glitters. Avoid wearing expensive jewellery when in public places such as shopping centres. Expensive watches or cellphones, it will make you a target of muggers. In short, hide the bling. Really fancy cars can also attract unwanted attention.
Use your security devices. There's no point in having security gates or fancy doors and not locking them. Or having perimeter alarms and not switching them on. Once you have these things, use them. Many a burglar simply wanders in through an open kitchen door. Just because the door is not visible from the street, doesn't mean it's safe to leave it open.
(Picture: Masked man with gun from Shutterstock)
(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated February 2012)