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It's almost an afterthought for most people- recording a message for their answering machine in order to catch phone calls while they are away from home or otherwise occupied. Some may try to be humorous or clever with their messages, while others say as little as necessary to indicate the use of an answering machine. But to someone with evil intentions, like a stalker or burglar, your answering machine message may be sending out the personal information they seek, and you may never even know it. Here's some tips on what to say and what NOT to say when recording an answering machine message.

1. Never say "I" on your message, especially if you are a single woman. If you are a single woman and a stalker or potential stalker has targeted you, he will eventually call your home phone number. If he hears a message in your voice saying "Hi, this is Susie. I can't come to the phone right now, but...", he will know instantly that you are indeed single, and in all likelihood living by yourself. Use "we", even if it sounds unworkable at first. "Hi, you've reached the Smith residence. Sorry WE can't come to the phone right now, but..." If you were a stalker, would you feel confident about your chances of finding your victim living alone with a message like that? If you really want assurance, find a willing male voice to record your message for you.

2. You may want to forget leaving a name at all on your message and only repeat your phone number. "Hi, you've reached Debby and Susie's place. Please leave a message..." sounds much more inviting to a stalker or predator than "You've reached 555-5789, please leave a message...". This has the added benefit of reducing the number of wrong numbers, but it does keep personal information out of the equation.

3. Never advertise the fact that you are "out of the house." Always imply that you are temporarily unable to answer the phone, but avoid throwing in the details that would let a burglar know you're on vacation in Florida until Friday. Such information is probably already common knowledge among your closest friends and co-workers, so it's not necessary to share this with everyone who calls. Burglars live for opportunities like this, so don't give them any encouragement with such a personal message.

4. Humorous messages can be great, but don't overdo it. Potential employers may call your number to arrange an interview, so that slightly off-color message you put on your machine to be clever may not be such a good idea. This is not a life-threatening gesture by any means, but keep in mind that your answering machine message is a reflection of yourself. Single women should especially be careful with humorous or suggestive messages, even if clearly intended as a joke. Stalkers and predators are not always rational thinkers, and may be quite literal in their approaches to 'joke' messages. What you think may sound a bit flitatious or light-hearted could come across as an honest invitation to a potential suitor with a troubled mind. It's always a good idea to keep humor to a minimum with answering machines anyway, but especially if you're not sure how your message might sound to those who don't know you.