What is Cyberstalking?
Cyberstalking is when someone stalks you online, and it’s a serious crime. Stalking is defined as “the act or crime of willfully and repeatedly following or harassing another person in circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to fear injury or death especially because of express or implied threats.” Cyberstalking is when the stalking takes place online through chat, forums, email, social media, or other online venues. Usually, cyberstalking takes place over a long period of time.
The internet has made it easy for predators to easily stalk someone online and form inappropriate connections with adults and children while still remaining anonymous. Often these scammers pretend to be someone else (catfishing) or misrepresent their age, nationality, location, and gender.
In real life, stalking would be defined as the unwanted attention of someone. It might include phone calls, showing up at your home or work uninvited, following you, secret surveillance, texting, or posting on social media.
Online stalking may be even more pervasive because stalkers can remain anonymous and carry out so much online. Most people share way too much information online through social media, chat, forums, email, etc. It’s become a stalker’s playground with so many victims to choose from.
The goal of any stalker physically or online is to defraud, intimidate, harass, threaten, embarrass, or hurt their victims. Some online stalker’s motives are even darker, looking to groom children for sexual exploits, lure victims for theft or fraud, and even worse.
Some Examples of Cyberstalking
You may join a dating app and start up a conversation with someone. When they start to make odd comments, it might be a little annoying until they continue and become more aggressive until you actually become fearful.
If you have a social media presence and post content and repeatedly receive offensive or negative comments, this too can be considered cyberstalking. Generally, the offenders start small but escalate and sometimes even send harassing and threatening messages a few times a day.
Sometimes school-age bullies use social media to terrorize other kids in their grade. That is also an example of cyberstalking.
Alarmingly, it’s the cyberstalkers that you never hear from that are the most dangerous. Because so much of our personal information is available online, someone may take an interest in you and become obsessed, following all your social media channels and poking into public records and other online sources to find out all they can about you. Using this information, they could contact you through phishing campaigns to perpetrate fraud or use the details they gathered for identity theft.
Common Cyberstalking Signs
- Tracking someone’s GPS for their physical location.
- Use spyware to listen in on conversations, read texts, or email.
- Cyberstalking them on social media, reading everything, and downloading pictures and videos from the victim and their connections.
- They may send you threatening messages through email, text messages and even hack your email account and send embarrassing messages to your friends and family.
- They may post embarrassing photos or videos of you or fake media to portray you incorrectly.
- You may receive threatening messages from a cyberstalker.
- They may also post rumors about you or make false accusations to humiliate you.
- They could use Google Maps to watch your home locations and visit you virtually.
- Some even use spyware on computers or security webcams to watch you in the privacy of your own home.
- They may pretend to be someone else through catfishing and get you to trust them.
- If you have geolocation turned on in social media, they could follow your whereabouts as you get together with friends and family.
Some cyberstalkers are merely using you for identity theft. If you post a lot online and have been the victim of a data breach, they could have enough information to take over some of your accounts or open new ones in your name.
Who is a Cyberstalker?
Experts warn that most cyber stalkers are someone that you already know. Even though it might be a casual acquaintance or co-worker, more often, it is not a total stranger but someone you know who has feelings of jealousy, resentment, or anger towards you.
Often cyberstalkers turn out to be your ex-partner. Jilted lovers often have a hard time moving on and will stalk their ex online. It may start off innocent enough, but they may take it up a notch or two to get your attention. Many celebrities have cyberstalkers who are simply fans that want to be noticed by the object of their obsession.
Sometimes cyberstalkers turn out to be someone with mental health or substance abuse issues with impulse control disorders. It is still illegal, but they may not be able to control themselves.
Catfishers (someone who pretends to be someone else online) may also become involved in cyberstalking. Unfortunately, the crime is often hard to prosecute because of the anonymity of online usernames.
How to Protect Yourself Against Cyberstalking
Although cyberstalking is unpleasant and can make life difficult, there are some ways you can protect yourself from becoming a victim.
- Limit Personal Information- We store a lot of personal information online, especially on social media. Go through all your online profiles and limit the amount of information you put out there. Make yourself a less attractive target for those interested in waging a cyberstalking campaign.
- Consider a VPN - Look into VPN products to mask your IP address and hide your online activities from cybercriminals and potential stalkers. You might also consider visiting the dark web using the Tor browser to keep all your online activities private and secure.
- Keep a Lock on Your Passwords - Always use long, strong passwords. Never reuse passwords on multiple websites and never share them with anyone. Change your important passwords often.
- Update - Keep all your devices updated with the latest security patches.
- Protection - Install and run deep scans using good antivirus/anti-malware software often.
- Check Your Privacy Settings - Log onto all your social media accounts and update your privacy settings so that only your friends can see personal details.
- Turn ontwo-factor authentication for all your accounts.
- Never share personal information, especially logins, with anyone you don’t know. Keep a close eye on your home address, social security number, phone number, email address, and passwords.
- Be careful when posting images or videos that have anything in them of value to a stalker such as your driver’s license sitting on the table next to you.
- Perform a complete background check on yourselfto see what comes up. If you know what information is out there, then you can clean it up. Start with a Google search or use InfoTracer to pull a complete background check from all public records, forums, the dark web, and even social media.
- Turn off geolocation for images and video.
- Never click a link in an email or text message.
- Be sure to educate your children on the dangers of cyberstalking and what to look out for them online.
- Contact public records officesto be sure your phone number and home address are not shared.
Some Other Tips Include
- Never give out personal or sensitive information to anyone who asks for it unsolicited.
- Never connect to public Wi-Fi without a VPN.
- Turn off location data on photos.
- If you break up with someone, change your passwords, and unfriend them to keep you safe.
- Monitor access to your physical devices like your phone and iPads.
- Secure access to any public calendars. You do not want a cyberstalker to show up somewhere they know you will be.
- Always log out of your computer when you are done using it.
If you are the victim of cyberstalking, report it to the police immediately. These crimes are taken very seriously by law enforcement. Do not destroy any evidence; show it to the police.
What to Do if You are a Victim of a Cyberstalker?
Cyberstalking can be very scary and disturbing. If you are a victim, don’t wait; take the steps below immediately:
- Contact the police to report it. Keep everything; the police will need documentation and proof.
- If social media is used, report the stalking to the platform. You may also need to provide them with proof and details.
- Block your stalker by phone number, email, or social media profile.