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You’ve Gotten a Scary Email Alert, Now What?

The other day, I, along with 25 of my female colleagues and friends received a terrifying “warning” email. It sent something like this: two women went out for dinner at a well-known and liked Houston hotspot. During the course of their time out, they were allegedly drugged, taken from the restaurant and sexually assaulted. They woke up the next morning separated and unaware of where they were or who had taken them. Not only was the thought nerve-wracking, it was the second email warning involving popular Houston restaurants that I had received in the last few months.

I bet you’ve received one too or something similar.

That said, as I read responses from other women – which ranged from absolute fear and forwarding to everyone they knew to frustration because the incident obviously seemed false – it got me thinking: Is it wrong to be public-safety minded? Does it automatically equate to being paranoid? What’s the best way to vet these stories when you find them in your inbox? And, at the end of the day, what, if any, are the real dangers when you and a friend are out and about town?

Prepared or Paranoid?

Personally, I live a very public-safety minded life. I think this way, I act this way and I plan this way. But guess what – I also do everything I want to do. Being prepared, thinking about safety, is not a negative in my book. It doesn’t make me paranoid or unrealistic, it doesn’t mean I think the worst of my neighbor, it just means I’m aware of what’s going on, I’m careful in what I do and I’m prepared, as much as possible, for what could happen. In these changing times, I think more of us women need to be thinking this way. I also think we need to be raising our children to do the same. Never afraid but always aware and prepared.

The Vetting Process

But I also think it’s critical to stick to the facts and make judgement calls based on real assessments of information. That’s hard in today’s world. Let’s face it, there’s no getting around the fact that we are inundated with news – whether coming from news outlets, social media feeds, alerts, emails, etc. In this time of instant access, we can no longer take things on face value. So what do you do?

  • Be aware. Understand the threat being communicated and the real risks or dangers that are possible. Not all alerts are  hoaxes; we have seen incredible things take place but not all threats are real.
  • Do your own research. Start with a simple Google search to try to corroborate the threat. There are also “truth finding” platforms like Snopes.comThoughtCo.com(specifically “urban legends in the news). Many of these deal with national news but then again, outrageous local claims that gain traction in email chains can find themselves being debunked within the pages of these larger sites. The “women being attacked at a local restaurant” has been addressed by Snopes.com. The point is, do some homework.
  • Common sense still makes sense. In our rush to protect each other – which is wonderful – we sometimes don’t stop to question our own actions or thoughts. But we can cause more harm by perpetuating a false story. Don’t hesitate to call you local law enforcement agency to get their thoughts or the establishment where the threat presumably took place.

Safety in Numbers.

When all is said and done, what are the chances that something is ever going to happen to you anyway? Well, it depends on factors such as your location, what time it is, who you are with and what you are doing. That said, in Houston, according to AreaVibes.com:

  • The overall crime rate in Houston is 88 percent higher than the national average. In general, you have a 1 in 19 chance of becoming a victim of any crime.
  • In downtown Houston, you have a 1 in 29 chance of becoming a victim of any crime.
  • In the Galleria-Uptown area, you have a 1 in 47 chance of becoming a victim of any crime.

At the end of the day, you can be in the safest part of Houston and be targeted if you are not prepared. Similarly, you can be in the most unsafe part of our city and be just fine if you are 100 percent prepared. Education, awareness and preparedness are powerful!

Be Aware of the Damage a False Claim Will Have on a Local Business.

In the case of the email I received this last week, within one day of receiving the original email, the actual establishment contacted me and everyone else on the list to say that the incident did not happen and that we had a duty to send a retraction. We have to be careful when dealing with people or corporate images – what you put out there has a lasting impact.

But What If It’s True?

I know from experience that the incidents and types of crime are something all of us must be considerate of. I see it every single day. Where you know an incident has happened (you’ve verified the incident, know a police report was filed, have seen corroborating information from local news agencies, etc.) – it’s okay to share. Actually, please share what you’ve discovered. Great places to share are across your social media platforms, via email distribution lists or on platforms like Nextdoor.

At the end of the day, we all just want to protect ourselves and each other. We want to go out and do everything. We want to make sure our children have every opportunity, but we want to do it all, safely. I think that’s a wonderful thing and one of the reasons Houston is so unique. A community built on friends who look out for each other is a community that will and does thrive. We have that… and I’m personally very thankful for it.

Posted by Rania Mankarious, on 8 Jul 2018

About the author

Executive Director of Crime Stoppers of Houston