Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent the past six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.

One year ago last week, I was sitting in a classroom learning how to interact with victims of sexual assault. Getting glimpses of the dark underbelly of humanity, I remember shaking my head and thinking, “can it really be that bad out there?”

Yes, it absolutely can be that bad, which is why real estate agents — and everyone, in general — should avoid letting their guard down so easily.

The dark side of the world

After intensive training, I , along with other volunteer responders, were allowed to start taking chats (always within virtual shouting distance of a qualified supervisor), assisting victims of rape, human trafficking, incest and more — and it didn’t take long to realize that there are some truly evil people walking among us.

I’m talking dark, disturbing, evil. Predators who think nothing of mentally and physically destroying lives. Some survivors have endured decades of torment, for others it has only been moments. They tell you everything in hopes of finding help, hope and answers. There’s an overwhelming need to know they aren’t alone, that someone understands.

Sadly, the users of this chatline are hardly alone. Every time I logged in, there were people — sometimes a dozen or more — waiting to chat every single time. And despite being staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the chatline queue was always full.

Predators pretty much everywhere

Fast-forward to this past weekend, when I came across an article on Medium written by a 37-year-old mother who posed as an 11-year-old girl on the internet. The disturbing details of her encounters with online predators is difficult to read. They are true evil personified.

The author works for a company that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help alert parents and schools when children are being targeted by sexual predators or experiencing issues like cyberbullying, depression or violent threats. She poses online as a young girl to help gather data, and she found that in just one week, more than 52 male predators contacted an 11-year-old girl.

This is what exists in our society today. Depressing, isn’t it?

Tying it all together for your safety

So why am I rambling on about all this in an Inman column? It’s simple: agent safety. Yes, I’m going to keep pounding the agent safety message over and over until the end of time. It’s important. You are important!

The good thing is that there is far more awareness of agent and lone worker safety than ever before. Part of that is due to the amazing work of organizations like the Beverly Carter Foundation (disclosure: I’m on the board of the Beverly Carter Foundation). Sadly, awareness has increased because of continuing tragedies involving agents and industry workers.

We are constantly bombarded with news and stories of crime — there’s no shortage of bad stories on the internet. With today’s 24-hour, always-on news cycle, I think we’ve become numb to it all. It’s easy to gloss over and to say, “that won’t happen here,” or to even ignore the carnage altogether.

People need to understand that evil exists. The child predators don’t factor directly into our industry, but criminals who prey on women, lone workers, the perceived wealthy and the “convenient” targets most certainly do apply to us. And they are out there in droves.

Don’t live in constant paranoia and fear, but realize that evil exists, and that you need to take some fundamental actions to reduce your risk.

How to reduce your risk of being a target

Here are five some simple things you can do to reduce your risk and exposure to those wanting to do bad:

1. Never work alone / always meet in a public place. Always meet new clients in your office when you know other people will be around. If not your office, decide on another public place where you know you won’t be alone. Avoid situations where you are alone with strangers. We teach this to three-year olds, and seem to forget it at some point.

2. Confirm identification (ID). Brokers should implement a policy requiring ID check for new clients, no exceptions.

3. Don’t be too eager. Stop being a “pop tart agent” who eagerly drives to the boonies to show anyone and everyone a home. No transaction is worth dying for.

4. Download a safety appForewarn, Homesnap Pro and SafeTrek are just a few safety apps to chose from. With all the options, it should be easy to find the best one out there for you.

5. Practice situational awarenessI can’t stress enough how important it is to shift your mindset so that you’re always aware of your surroundings.

Just being aware of the potential of harm, using your instincts and trusting that gut feeling can go a long way toward ensuring your safety. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were no tragic stories of agent assault, attack or murder in the upcoming year?

By keeping safety awareness front and center and top of mind, we can all work together to enjoy a prosperous and safe new year.

Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree in Seattle, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty. “Retired but not dead,” Jay speaks around the world on many things real estate.

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