Cyberstalking, in simple terms, is stalking that takes place online. It has been defined as the use of technology, almost always over the internet, to harass someone using monitoring, threats, identity theft, defamation, data destruction, and/or manipulation. A cyberstalker may use social media, email, instant messages, text messages, and other forms of communication to stalk his or her target. Cyberstalking can take the form of sexual harassment, inappropriate contact, or simply demonstrating an advanced knowledge of the victim.
Cyberstalking differs from cyberharassment, which typically focuses on humiliating or embarrassing the victim. Cyberharassment is often carried out in text messages or emails, or on social media or other websites. A common example is the “revenge site,” on which a jilted lover might post unflattering or revealing photos, videos, or information about the victim.
While cyberstalking is considered a criminal offense under American anti-stalking, slander, and harassment laws, law enforcement can be extremely slow or limited in the action they can take. The anonymity involved with cyberstalking is a huge barrier to police involvement. Additionally, there’s often not enough reason for law enforcement to take action. For example, a cyberstalker may make his or her victim feel threatened, but that’s not enough for police to take action.
For law enforcement to get involved, a police report generally must include one of the following:
- A child in danger (this can include child pornography)
- The theft or loss of $1,000 or more in property (including intellectual property)
- A credible, specific threat (for example, “I’m going to kill you tomorrow,” but not something vague like “You should watch your back.”)
Because in most cases, law enforcement may not get involved at all, it is important to protect yourself from cyberstalking in the first place. Here are a few ways to keep yourself safe from a cyberstalking attack:
Password protect all your accounts using two-factor authentication. This includes cell phones, email accounts, banking and credit cards, social media sites, etc. Change your passwords every year, and don’t use the same password for multiple sites. Additionally, make sure the answers to any password-retrieval questions aren’t easy to guess.
Google yourself. Be aware of what’s on the internet under your name and phone number. You can also set up a Google alert to be notified when anything related to your name gets posted online.
If you receive any unfamiliar emails, phone calls, texts, or other messages, be suspicious. It’s easy for a cyberstalker to pose as a financial institution or utility company to obtain your private information. Hang up if you feel that the communication is not legitimate, and call the institution directly instead. NEVER give out your social security number unless you’re completely sure it’s legitimate.
Check your credit report at least twice a year. You can request a free copy once per year from the top credit bureaus. If you obtain your copy directly from the credit bureaus, you won’t damage your credit rating.
Never reveal your home address. If you need to list an address for some reason, you can use a business address or rent a PO box.
If you’re leaving a relationship, reset every password on all of your accounts. This is especially important if the person you’re leaving is abusive, troubled, or difficult. Inform your bank and credit card companies that the person isn’t authorized to make any changes to your accounts, even if he or she was allowed to do so previously. It’s a good idea to get a new cell phone and credit card.
If you think you have a cyberstalker, act quickly to protect yourself, and get the support you need to handle the cyberstalking and the aftermath. Contact us for a free consultation today.