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Are you 'Street Smart?'

To be healthy, you need to be safe--and wherever you live, street crime can threaten your safety.

The U.S. Department of Justice says violent crime decreased throughout the latter half of the 1990s. Still almost 2 million people a year are victims of violent crime.

What can you do to protect yourself? Plenty, say experts. Try this test to assess your own "street smarts:"

Q. You're walking down the street and a man asks for directions. Should you help?

A. No, says retired police detective J.J. Bittenbinder, who makes 200 appearances across the country each year to preach crime prevention. Usually, he says, "men don't ask for directions, so you know it's probably a scam." Say no, and walk the other direction.

Q. How should you carry yourself on the street?

A. "Always walk in a straight line with your head up; walk with a purpose," says John Bordenet of the AARP. "Project confidence and walk closer to the curb so you can see and be seen." Walk with someone else when possible.

Q. How should you carry your purse?

A. Use a fanny pack, keeping the pouch in front, Detective Bittenbinder suggests. Another good choice: Carry your purse on a shoulder strap you wear across your body, tucking the purse under your coat. "Never carry a purse on one shoulder, dangling behind you."

Q. Should you fight with someone who is tugging at your purse?

A. No, says Bordenet. You never know if the person is armed. Instead, yell that you're being robbed, or blow a whistle. A tip from Mr. Bordenet: Remove your credit cards from your wallet and carry them in another pocket. "When the creep wants your wallet, toss it far in one direction, then you immediately move fast in the opposite direction. He'll get your money, but you'll have your credit cards and, more important, your safety."

Q. How can you protect yourself when loading your car trunk at a shopping area?

A. First, always park in a well-lighted section of a parking lot and don't make it obvious which car is yours when you're walking down an aisle. A favorite trick of Detective Bittenbinder: Buy a small mirror with a sticky back at an auto supply store and place it on the inside of your car's trunk lid. "When you put packages in your trunk you'll always be able to tell if someone is behind you."

Q. What's the most important rule of the street?

A. "Never, and I mean never, let anyone take you anywhere," says Detective Bittenbinder. 

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