How to Actually Survive an Armed Robbery

Armed robbery is an ancient crime that persists even today. Call it whatever you want: a hold up, a mugging, a stick up, daylight robbery, a shakedown, the outcome is the same. If you don’t part with what the crook wants, it may cost you your life, or if you’re lucky, just some flesh and blood.

Armed robbery is one of the first “serious” crimes that a young criminal may commit in his career, and can happen anywhere, from small-town rural communities to the largest of metropolises.

armed burglar

It is a simple puzzle, this one, a fat purse or wallet, and precious jewelry means easy money and that makes robberies the literal bread-and-butter of most criminals.

You may never simply assume that you won’t be the target of a robbery. It takes genuine skills and heightened awareness to keep yourself or your loved ones from being targeted for robbery, or stopping it once it is already in progress.

Now, if you listen to the vast majority of so-called self-defense experts, you’ll find a dozen or so purportedly easy ways to get yourself out of a robbery attempt without losing your wallet or your life. Some of these methods have merit, but most are just going to get you killed or severely maimed.

The truth is this: there is no failure proof technique or strategy that will get you out of a robbery every time, no matter what. Extricating yourself from a robbery attempt alive is no easy trick, and you shouldn’t think it is.

But if you can keep your wits about you, think quickly and act decisively you stand a chance. You cannot count on anything else. In this article I’ll give you some advice to show you how to do just that.

Not All Victims are Created Equal

Robberies usually happen for a reason. This is to say that most criminals aren’t out committing robbery for fun and games. True, they may do it as part of some initiation or blooding exercise, as it were, but typically you’ll see a robbery occur when a criminal needs to make a payday.

Robbery is very literally part of their profession. They are doing it for sustainment, to get what they need to survive, or just some money to get what they want. This is an important insight into a criminal’s mindset.

If you’re doing this for a reason, and not just to prove how tough you are, or how ruthless, that means you’re looking for a certain kind of person to rob. You’re looking for the right kind of victim.

What is the right kind of victim? The right kind of victim is a person, first, who has the things you want, i.e. valuables, and second is a person who is easy to rob.

What kind of person is easy to rob? Simple! A person that is easy to rob is someone who is not likely to fight, is not likely to create a lot of chaos and draw attention to the event, and is someone who is easy to approach, to make contact with.

Putting it another way, it is someone who is not paying attention to who and what is around them.

There is no nice way to say this:  criminals who commit robbery professionally, serially, are predators. The predators’ modus operandi in nature, and civilization, is to make a score without substantial risk of injury.

For predators, getting injured is bad. Get injured and you can’t hunt. If you can’t hunt, you can’t eat, and if you can’t eat then you die.

Applying that logic to our criminal in question, our robber, injury may be literal in the case of a would-be victim who puts up a fight or creates enough ruckus call assistant to them, perhaps police who will beat up the robber, arrest them and drag them to jail.

This victim selection criterion informs us what a good victim looks like, but also what a bad victim looks like. A bad victim is someone who is physically fit, looks like they can handle themselves, and most importantly is alert to ambush.

If you were a robber, why would you go after the jacked-up male bodybuilder who is paying attention to his environment, when you can wait for the meek, mousey, nervous-looking woman getting a huge wad of cash out of an ATM? 

Exactly. If you were smart robber, and I hope you’re not, you would go for the latter every time, and not the former.

Let this deduction inform your own behavior and countermeasures: you don’t want to look like a good victim! I’ll give you a checklist later on it will help you do exactly that.

Knowing Where to Hunt Counts for a Lot

Continuing our predator analogy, choosing the right prey is the first step to getting a meal. The second step is knowing where to find the prey.

For robbers stalking the settlements of men, good hunting grounds could be a place where people are typically distracted, or not paying attention.

Even better if it’s a place they are going to have a lot of valuables and money already on them. The ATM I just mentioned is one such example where prey fits both criteria, distracted and flush with cash.

Other such places include any place where you are distracted by a task at hand, say getting in or out of your vehicle, or are forced to go through a narrow space or confined area. Apartment building stairwells are notorious for this as are buildings that have vestibules with blind corners.

An increasing number of people get robbed preparing to enter their own home or apartment.

Fishing for your key ring and then fiddling with your keys while you’re thinking about making dinner, doing the laundry or firing up the old video game console is a perfect distraction for some robber to sweep up to you and put a gun in your ribs.

Another good example is any out-of-the-way, hidden or semi-hidden place where intervention is unlikely to come, and attention is unlikely to be drawn to the situation transpiring.

The classic and somewhat clichéd dark alleyway mugging is a very real thing. It could also be a place with a lot of sound cover, say behind a noisy bar or restaurant.

The more likely it is that a robber can bushwhack you without anyone seeing it, without anyone coming to your aid, the better. People who witness robberies, in most decent places anyway, are very likely to call the police, and if you are a robber, police invariably mean trouble. 

And, while rare, a robber should not discount the presence or intervention of a Good Samaritan who would beat, stab or more likely shoot them for their nefarious act.

The more isolated or cut off from other people you are, the better the odds you’ll start to look like food to a predator. 

The Ideal Victim for an Armed Robber

Do you think profiling is wrong? Well, prepare to have your feelings hurt and your jimmies rustled because the ideal robbery victim does indeed fit a profile.

The ideal victim for an armed robber is someone who is infirm or weak, and furthermore someone who does not appear confident, looks lost, or nervous. Basically someone who is not a hard target in the classical meaning of the term.

An ideal victim is distracted or otherwise in a transitional space that confines them or occupies their attention, allowing the robber to close in undetected until it is too late. This video is illustrates this perfectly:

Victim Keeps His Cool During an Armed Robbery

Suddenly appearing in the victim’s personal space, the robber will then often make a soft pass to gauge the victim’s attitude and determination.

Someone who is quick to tell someone else to back off, or that they cannot help them is usually not a good candidate for a robbery. Note, this does not mean you will not be robbed if you behave in this way, only that it may deter a more conservative robber.

A soft pass is an innocent question or request for help. Common passes are things like asking for a light for a cigarette, asking for directions, asking for charity- for an empty gas tank, for a meal, etc.

If a robber is unsure of the target, or gauging his chances, the way in which the victim handles this part of the “interview” is crucial to determining if the robber will proceed.

At any rate, at this point the would-be robber is already way too close to his victim, and has a high chance of corralling them or impeding their escape.

The Least Ideal Victim for an Armed Robber

So now you know what an ideal victim looks like, so what does the least ideal victim look like?

The world’s worst robbery candidate is someone who is the polar opposite of the above. This person is confident, observant and knows where they are going, or at least looks like they do. They move it a reasonable pace, they do not rush, nor do they tip toe.

They’re aware of who is around them and what is going on around them. They acknowledged the presence of those people around them by looking them in the eye, not with challenge, but merely as a notification that they see them.

When someone makes eye contact with them, they do not flinch and look away in fear or nervousness.

The least ideal victim appears fit and strong, equally able to run away or fight back. This is not a guarantee they will not be robbed, but for a robber an easier mark is just around the next bend.

Unless they have a serious chip on their shoulder they will not risk a serious confrontation with a hard case when, with just a little patience, they can have a pushover.

Most of all, a poor choice of victim is careful to avoid dangerous ground, evading the choke points and distractions the good victims fall into. If they are forced into such a place they set themselves up, and move through them defensively.

One note of nuance: if there is anything criminals can smell on the wind, it is false confidence. Swaggering bravado or acting like a tough guy when you aren’t won’t fool anyone but the most junior crook.

Confidence is one thing, playing at being someone you’re not is another, and will be seen through immediately. If you cannot appear truly confident, at least try to appear in control of yourself and your emotions. Think the appearance of coolness.

Pre-Attack Indicators 

Do you ever take note of stories about robbery on the news, or on the Internet? Doesn’t it seem strange to you how often they all start the same way? The hepless victim always says that the robber appeared out of nowhere, or they never saw him coming. “No kidding, there he was!”

There’s a reason these stories all start the same way: the victims were either distracted and did not see, or were ignorant of the pre-attack indicators that often signal a robbery is imminent.

Once you know what they are and have a little experience spotting them, they will stick out like a neon sign.

The trick, if you want to call it a trick, is that you have to actually be looking for them! You won’t see them if you’re playing around on your phone, watching dust motes float on a sunbeam, or are daydreaming about your weekend plans, however boring they might be.

Spotting these pre-attack indicators doesn’t take a degree in criminal justice, experience as a cop or any other stereotypically criminal-centric professional experience. All it takes is a little self-study, understanding of human psychology and basic observation.

The only subtle part is staying alert to the context. Context is everything dealing with pre-attack indicators, and what you might take as an indicator could be plain and innocent nervousness.

One of the biggest and most urgent pre-attack indicators is the one I mentioned just above, the soft pass.

You must be cautious of anyone entering your space and asking you for anything the fixes you in place, even if for a moment, say to check your watch or offer the time.

Closing on the victim is an essential, mandatory part of executing a robbery. You cannot be robbed from across the parking lot, or even across the street in most instances. You’ll simply have too much opportunity to evade the robber.

While telling people off who ask for simple favors may strike you wrong, especially if you were a social, kind, decent person, you should do it if you value your safety.

I know what you’re thinking, “what kind of monster is that rude to their fellow man, especially over such small things!?” I’ll tell you plainly: smart people do it, when your reward for being wrong is being robbed, wounded, and possibly crippled or killed.

The correct answer is always, “I cannot help you,” right before you move away. Anyone who tries to remain in your space at that point is likely up to no good and you should escalate your force appropriate to their actions.

You might be thinking right now,  “Tim, there is no way I can keep everyone out of my personal space out in public. I have a life! I need to do things, run errands!” You’ll get no argument from me, you are quite right.

Unless you live your life on Red Alert status you cannot get through the average civilian life, at least most people’s lifestyles, without having people close to you. Let’s face it; people are all around us all the time. 

What you should do though is screen people that are in your space. What does that mean? Think of it this way, does anyone near you have an excuse, or a reason, for being near you? If they don’t, you need to be buying distance, and fast.

Here’s an easy one: Say you were standing in line to get a cheeseburger and milkshake at your favorite fast food joint. Chances are you have people well inside your personal space boundaries the entire time you’re inside the restaurant.

Those people have an excuse for being there: you’re all waiting in a line together. Note, don’t take this out of context, of course you still need to be paying attention to those people are, but chances are they are no threat.

An obviously disturbed or aggressive person does not get a pass just because they have the “right” to in line, too.

Here’s another easy one in the opposite direction: Let’s say you’re walking down the street to meet some friends at a local bar, when you notice a man on the opposite side of the street, walking the opposite direction, take notice of you, glance around and you then turn around, reverse course, and start moving briskly towards you from across the street. In a word, danger, danger, danger!

Always, always, always remember: anyone who’s asking you for something and/or trying to close in could be trying to fix you in place in order to come to grips with you, control your movement and inflict their will upon you.

They may be working as part of a team, who is right now sneaking up behind you or taking your flank. Don’t let that happen!

Below you find a list of other pre-attack indicators. The more pre-attack indicators you see in a single situation, the higher the chances are that it is actually an attack about to take place.

Most people under stress, like say the stress of preparing to commit a felony crime that can get them imprisoned for decades or potentially killed will be nervous and will show this nervousness through a variety of behaviors.

On the other hand, some people have the nerves of snakes, real cool customers like, and will show very few or even none at all:

  • Trembling. A common reaction to serious anxiety. This is especially common pre-attack indicator for new or nervous criminals. Hardened bad guys and ex-cons are less likely to show fear this way.
  • Serious sweating. A common companion to trembling. If you notice someone who seems very sweaty, for no reason, check them out. Sure, maybe they have hyperhidrosis or just sprinted here before you arrived, but probably not. What’s bothering them?
  • Wringing hands. A common grooming or self-soothing behavior. People who start working, massaging, or cracking their hands may be making ready to use them.
  • Rubbing or stroking the face neck or scalp. This is another tic in the grooming complex. This is notably very present in males preparing to engage in violence.
  • Shifting, glancing eyes. Another nervous tic, and also practical. A bad guy might do this to check for accomplices, police, witnesses or companions for their potential victim.
  • “Big arms” motions. Large, expansive, theatrical looking movements with the arms are common precursor to striking. Think of this as sort of a mental dry run to delivering a blow. Take care when your arms start moving around above the waist.
  • Shifting, adjusting, patting. Hands that jump to a location on a person’s body seemingly to adjust a little something, fidgeting, picking and similar movements might be doing so to secure a weapon or just to reassure the carrier that the weapon is indeed still there.
  • Cannot see hands. This is a major warning sign without cover for it. It is always someone’s hands that will kill you, not their eyes, not their words, not their attitude. Their hands. Anyone, and I mean anyone, who approaches you with a hand or hands that you cannot see must be escalated to implausible or even probable threat. Hands in pockets, behind their hips, under their arms, or even inside a bag or other piece of luggage might be holding presently or accessing a weapon. Be prepared to act instantly!

Struck First, Struck Hard, With No Mercy

As I said above, if you have a life and things to do they’re always going to be times where your attention is on something else.

Many robbers will use this as an opportunity to close in on you, and shake you down. Sadly, there are some who will simply use it as an opportunity to tee off on you. 

Your first clue that you are being robbed, or rather attacked, might come only when you are physically wounded.

Certain yellow-bellied monsters may seize the initiative by stabbing you, shooting you beating you right out of the gate, no warning, no asking, and no chance to comply. Some of them may even try to kill you right off the bat so they can take what they want right off your body. 

It sucks to say, but victims of such brutal and cold blooded attacks are often chastised by Monday morning quarterbacking self-defense gurus.

They admonish these poor people that if they would have just paid a little more attention, been a little more aware of their surroundings that that wouldn’t have happened or they never would have been in that situation. This is just not the case.

Sometimes, your number just comes up. Your opportunity to react is zero. Sometimes you just get targeted by a scumbag so slick and so good you really never saw him coming, even when you’re looking for him.

This doesn’t mean you’re out of the fight! If you aren’t dead, there’s always a chance. You may have to prepare to fight like the Devil himself, but fight you should and fight you must

Extricate Yourself from a Robbery 

Despite your best efforts and strict situational awareness, you find yourself at barrel’s end, or at knifepoint. Perhaps you have a hard-bitten sort in your space and asking for a favor in no uncertain terms.

Whatever the case, you are getting robbed. Yes, it is happening to you. Time to get yourself out of the situation, and away to safety.

Checklist for Robbery Survival

Use the simple list to help you remember the most important elements for robbery avoidance and survival.

  • Know the robbery hotspots: Isolated areas, high crime areas, commercial shopping districts, ATMs, parking lots, parking garages.
  • Mind your personal space: Anyone approaching you with a request may be innocent, or they might be planning to whack you. Don’t take chances with any stranger approaching you.
  • Don’t look like a good victim: Be confident, stand up straight, walk with purpose at a steady pace, be aware of who’s around you and what they’re doing.
  • Watch for pre-attack indicators:  Consult the list above. Look for nervousness, furtive movements, hidden hands, and large motions of the arms.
  • Always stay alert:  Be mindful of the environment. Be mindful of who is at. Pay attention to who other people are paying attention to.
  • Have a plan to get out of a robbery:  Fight, run or cooperate. Whatever you choose, have a plan, and execute it as well as you can.

No matter what happened, no matter how you got here, it turns out you are, in fact, being robbed. So now what? It’s time to do something, I’ll tell you that much. Precisely what you should do depends on your assessment of the situation.

Let’s start with the most fundamental scenario: you have a lone dirt bag in your personal space pulling some kind of weapon, let’s say it’s a knife or a gun.

Now is the time to stay cool, rapidly assess the situation, and act. Because we have a robber here who decided not to blast you and then take what he wants from your body, you are in fact dealing with a sort of social interaction, as sick as it sounds.

In this instance, your robber wants something from you in return for not putting holes in your body. This alone means that you will have time, even if it is only a few seconds to formulate and execute a plan. Generally, you have three plans to choose from:

  • Fight – Attack the attacker. If you neutralize or at least stun him, you’ll buy yourself a window of opportunity to escape.
  • Run – No shame in it. Put enough distance between you and the attacker quickly enough and you’ll reduce your chances of being wounded.
  • Cooperate – There’s always a chance that giving the robber what they want well in the robbery, and see you get away unharmed. One possible spin on this strategy is feigning cooperation long enough to enact another plan, namely running away or fighting back.

Do keep in mind your strategy may change, and rapidly. You might cooperate initially until you see an opening to strike back, potentially disabling your attacker and allowing escape.

You might try to escape straight away, hitting the afterburners and making tracks, but if your attacker pursues you and catches you, you then might have to fight back immediately.

You might sincerely cooperate, using your valuables like your wallet or some jewelry as a sort of decoy, tossing it at the robber before immediately running away. 

We’ll break down each potential strategy just below.


Fighting is statistically a good option for getting out of a robbery alive, but you must keep in mind that if you do not disable the attacker immediately there’s a high likelihood of getting seriously wounded or even killed. Another sobering thing to consider is that you will very likely be facing two or even three robbers.

Again, that’s a statistical average. No matter if you have a weapon or not, ask yourself honestly: do you have the chops to take on multiple attackers and win before they can seriously injure you? If the answer is no, it’s time to try a different plan.

And don’t get too cocky if you get held up by a robber who does not have a weapon in his hands.

You might have a concealed ready for a quick draw, or have an accomplice nearby who is providing cover for him so as to better not draw attention to himself and his nefarious act.

You must also remember that most of these people, and I’m talking about criminals in general, are much more comfortable inflicting and receiving violence than you’ll be.

This means they will benefit from more experience in such matters. Many of them will beat you for no reason at all; just imagine what they’ll do to you if you fight back unsuccessfully.

That being said, have your red line moment in mind. Your red line moment is a thing you absolutely, positively will not tolerate and will in turn respond to with force.

What might a red line moment be? It could be a robbery turning into a kidnapping. It might be a threat towards your significant other or your child. Everyone has a different line in the sand. Just make sure you know what yours is ahead of time.

Moment mexican 'cowboy' stopped armed robbery - BBC News

No matter how you arrived at a decision to fight when it is time to fight, fight like the Devil himself. You must strike brutally, repeatedly and rapidly.

If you have weapons, use them, assuming you can access them in time. You cannot stop until you have disabled your attacker. Down for the count, breathing or not, get away at best possible speed.


If you have any real opportunity to get away from a robbery, take it. The trouble you usually run into attempting such a strategy is choosing the wrong time to attempt it.

If you think you’re going to get away from someone who has the drop on you with a weapon, especially a gun, without losing a pound of flesh you’ve got another thing coming.

Remember that robbers who use knives often latch onto their victims with their free hands to, you got it, control them. This makes running away extremely difficult as you might imagine.

But let’s say they don’t latch onto you. Do you presume to tell me that you can, starting flat-footed, turn 180 degrees and get away from an attacker who is statistically younger, fitter and faster than you are?

You mean to say that you will be able to run at full speed long enough to get away from him?

If you can, that’s great. Running away is an option for you. If you’re someone who is neither fast nor fit, perhaps you are someone old, infirm or injured then running away is not an option until you first completely disable your attacker.

When I say completely disabled, I mean incapable of even pulling a trigger, to say nothing of pursuing you. You have to know your own limitations. You can only bring with you into a fight what you already have. 


While it goes against most macho conceptions of self defense there are times where compliance is the right call in a robbery situation.

Compliance is generally a valid strategy during any type of “social” robbery where your attacker is at least giving you a chance to comply with his demands. In such a situation, compliance will usually see you get away with your life.

But even with the statistical likelihood that’s such a strategy will end with a positive outcome, it is still not guaranteed. Your attacker may decide to wound you for kicks and grins at the end of the interaction or kill you outright.

He might have been planning to kill you all are, how did it get rid of witnesses or just for good sport.

There are some truly monstrous, evil people out here; no matter how your attacker is acting you can ever make the mistake of assuming you know where their limits are.

Do not forget that cooperation, or fake cooperation, can be used to set up an escape attempt or a counterattack.


It is always best to avoid getting robbed if you can, but if it’s not, take heart that it is possible, entirely possible, to get out of a robbery with your life and even your valuables intact.

But you must have a plan to do that, and the only way to apply the right plan is to keep your wits, assess the situation and your attacker, and then act decisively.

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2 thoughts on “How to Actually Survive an Armed Robbery”

  1. Another beautiful article! I love this site. Armed robbers are sometimes seasoned professionals, I have been robbed twice by them. Very fast, very safe for a robbery. They just want your money. The most dangerous kind are junkies. They are unpredictable and desperate. If you are going to get killed or hurt, they will do it. They are also the robbers most likely to be killed by their victims. A friend used to keep a roll of $1 bills in his front pocket for them when he lived in Chicago. He would pull them out and throw them in the air so he could walk away. He always said that the most dangerous thing in the world is a sick junkie holding a screwdriver.


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