We’ve all been in those situations that seem a little sketchy. Maybe we’re meeting a Trading Assistant client (or maybe you’re the client meeting a new TA) or maybe it’s just a craigslist sale that makes us a little wary. When your big tough looking friend is available to go with you to the meeting, great! But when you have to go alone… it can become an uncomfortable situation at best and a dangerous situation at worst. If only there was someone who could check up on you throughout the visit and, at the first sign of trouble, call your friends and family and alert them that you’re in trouble!
Well, now there is. CheckInOn.Me is the new service from Debbie Levitt of AsWas and she was kind enough to stop by for an extended interview. As an added bonus, you can also get an extra 25 free check ins using the special code at the end of this post.
Whine Seller: Debbie, I’ve been following the info on this new venture of yours with interest since you first started talking about it. I started my eBay Trading Assistant business in my late teens and even into my twenties it used to give my parents a heart attack every time I went to a client’s house to pick up items to sell. For a business standpoint, you want to come off as professional in front of the client and having Mommy and Daddy along really sort of kills that image. But, in the flip side, it’s never a good idea for a young anyone but especially a woman to go into a situation where they are at the mercy of a stranger.
While sometimes it’s possible to arrange a meeting in a public place, Trading Assistants especially end up doing a lot of house calls and there’s something uncomfortable about being alone in a stranger’s house even if your client is the sweetest little old lady.
When I first heard you talk about this, it sounded like the perfect solution. Do you mind outlining exactly how this service would work? Say 19 year old me has to go meet a Trading Assistant client at their house alone. I’ve signed up with CheckInOn.me… how would this service check in on me throughout my visit?
Debbie Levitt: Well, it’s really for anybody of any age! CheckInOn.Me is an automated personal safety system that will check in on you as much as you want, whenever you want. It’s all done with text messaging, so you don’t have to have a smartphone or deal with installing apps (or crashing apps!). When you register for our system, you give us an “I’m OK” code word (let’s say it’s “sandwich”) and an “I’m NOT OK” code word (let’s say it’s “fishy”). You also confirm the email addresses and mobile phones of any friends or family you’d want contacted if our system thinks you’re in trouble. Then you’re ready to start using the system!
You can use it two ways. One is to set up an event, which might be like meeting a TA client at his house on a certain date at a certain time. There is room in our event details form to include the address where you’re going, what you know about this person, what time you expect to be home, and what times you want us to check on you. You can also choose if you want us to track your location every 10 minutes. We plan to expand this to any phone even without GPS, but as of when I’m writing this (Sept 2011), it’s only smartphone GPS via Google Latitude.
The other way is to start us checking right from text messaging. For example, text us “start 20 sandwich,” and we’ll check on you every 20 minutes with the “I’m OK” code word “sandwich.” We’ll check on you at your requested interval until you text us to stop!
When we check on you, those come in as text messages that are designed to look like a friend just saying hi. So we suggest that people put the CheckInOn.Me phone number in their phones with a fake friend name, and maybe even a fake friend picture. That way, if a really bad person grabbed your phone, it might look like you’re texting a friend rather than a safety system. So once we text, we’re waiting to get ANY response with your code word. You can write “sandwich,” or if you want to keep up the guise of texting with a friend, you could write back. “Hungry! Feel like a sandwich.” And we know you’re OK.
WS: Now let’s say I miss one of these check ins? What happens then?
DL: If you miss our check, we wait three minutes and try again. If you don’t respond to that one either, or we get your “I’m not OK” code word, we trigger emergency notifications to the friends or family you have confirmed in our system. They get a text message saying we think you might be in trouble, and to check their email for more details. The email will contain anything we know about what you’re doing, like what you put into that event detail form, and if we are grabbing GPS points for you, we’ll give those to your friends. We also show them everything you’ve texted into us during that session in case anything you wrote gives anybody a clue about what’s going on with you.
We also trigger the emergency notification if your response to our check doesn’t contain either code word. Say a bad person has taken your phone from you, and we check in. Bad person texts back, “I’m fine.” We’ll respond with, “Say what?” since we didn’t get either word, and we’re trying to look like a silly friend. If we STILL don’t get either code word, the emergency will be triggered. So you can see how even if you can’t get to your phone, we can still be trying to get you some help.
WS: But what if nothing’s wrong. Say I was just chatting about the items with the client and forgot that my phone was in the car or something? Is there a way to sort of say, “Abort!” if you realize you just missed a check-in?
DL: I have set off the emergency by singing a long song at karaoke! So yes, we know not all emergencies are real ones. That’s why when it’s set off, we suggest to your friends that the first thing they do is to try calling you. Maybe you’re fine, and just missed the texts. Your contacted friends can then text SAFE into our system, and ALL friends will be told that you are OK.
Or, if you put in your code word, albeit a bit late, texts will go out to your contacted friends saying, “Hillary just checked in, and she’s OK. Crisis averted!” We suggest that anybody expecting Checks from us should have his or her phone charged up and handy!
By the way, we also have an SOS feature. Let’s say you need to get out of a situation… a bad meeting with a TA client, a bad date, who knows what. Text us SOS. Our system waits a few minutes, and then calls. There’s nobody on the other end of the line, but you can then make up any story you want to explain your exit!
WS: That’s a great idea! Now, I realize this is blasphemy, but I’m not much of a text messager. When I do have to type out a message I… type… really… slow… Would I accidentally trigger it by not being quick enough on the draw or does it take that into account?
DL: You DO get three minutes to respond each time. And we suggest that a code word be just that: a WORD. Some people have tried putting in whole sentences, but those are hard to remember and long to type. We suggest some sort of food or common word that you can work into sentences. But for really slow typers, or people who don’t have smartphones, just typing in your code word alone is FINE. You just might want to clear your text history often so if anybody grabbed your phone, they didn’t see “sandwich” typed 17 times to the same number!
WS: Do you need a fancy smartphone/blackberry iWhatsit to be able to use this service?
DL: Not at all. That’s one of the many advantages about this system being text messaging and NOT a phone app. With phone apps, you have to hope they make them for your phone… then download, install, install updates, hope they don’t crash… that’s VERY nerve wracking when you feel unsafe! Any phone that can send and receive text messages can use this. Now, if you’re not on an unlimited SMS plan, your carrier may charge you per message, so just be careful there!
WS: Where did you first get the idea for CheckInOn.me?
DL: In 2005, I put my bike on Craigslist, and some guy called to make an appointment to see it. I told him I wouldn’t be home, but my (then) boyfriend would be around to show him the bike. The guy just hung up. I knew I wasn’t safe. Years later, when I adopted a cat off Craigslist, and they were bringing the cat to my apartment, I had a friend texting me every half hour or so. If I didn’t give her the code word, she’d know I wasn’t OK. Unfortunately, we live in a world where an ad for a cat for adoption may turn out to be a guy at your door with no cat, and who would know if I weren’t OK!
I’ve been living alone a lot the last few years. I’ve been single and using online dating. If I didn’t come home safely from a date, who would know? So in the old days, I used to have friends texting me every so often when I went out on dates to make sure I was OK. I had to text back the code word so they’d know it was me. I eventually wondered if this could be automated… and then I realised it would also be great for so many other people and uses!
I was using it for dating and Craiglist, but now that CheckInOn.Me is live, I use it for late night trains or walks around dark parking lots. I use it for first meetings with potential clients, especially in home offices. I know it’s great for people who meet a lot of strangers or end up in a lot of new places such as realtors, taxi drivers, social workers, stay at home caretakers (where every contractor or knock on the door is scary), college girls, flight attendants, or anybody who is travelling. I remember last year, I took a business trip to Chicago, and walked around alone a lot. I had NO idea where I was going. I was single, living alone, and if something happened to me in Chicago, who would have known and when? I would certainly have used it then.
I know that the more people use CheckInOn.Me, the most uses they will find for it! Check it out for yourself as http://CheckInOn.Me. Each account starts with 25 free Checks so you can see how much you’ll love it!
Want to try this service? In addition to the 25 free checks everyone gets just for signing up, use the code “hillary” for another 25 free checks as a thanks for checking out this article!