Cyberstalking is a technological attack on a person due to revenge, anger, control, or for no reason at all. It can take many forms, including embarrassment, harassment, or humiliation of the victim. The cyberstalker may attempt to gain control over the victim’s life by emptying out the person’s bank account or ruining their credit score. They may also harass the victim’s friends, family or employers for means of isolation. They may employ scare tactics to instill fear and to keep the victim on edge. Just because cyberstalking doesn’t involve physical altercations, does not mean that it is not frightening or threatening towards the victim – much like any crime. Victims involved in cyberstalking may experience emotional and physical reactions or psychological trauma as a result of their victimization. Some effects for the victim could include changes in their eating or sleeping patterns, nightmares, anxiety, hypervigilance, fear for safety, helplessness, and disbelief and shock. While cyberstalking may seem less intimidating and severe as physical stalking, the consequences for the victim can be just as devastating.
More than 3.4 million people in the United States over the age of 18 are stalked each year. Cyberstalking is a relatively new form of electronic crime that can affect people of any race, age, background, or location. Many characteristics of cyberstalking are similar to those of offline stalking. Most stalkers – both online and offline – are motivated to control their victims by any means possible. While the majority of cyberstalking victims are women, some are also men, and there have also been reports of same-sex cyberstalking. There are many similarities, as well as differences, between online and offline stalking. Both in offline and online stalking, the majority of cases involve stalking by former intimate partners. In both cyberspace and physical stalking, the majority of stalkers are men and the victims, women. The differences in offline and online stalking generally revolve around the technology aspect. While offline stalking usually requires the stalker and the victim to be located in the same geographic area, cyberstalkers can be located anywhere in the world. Technological communications have also made it much easier for cyberstalkers to encourage third parties to assist them in harassing or threatening the victim. For example, the cyberstalker may post messages to bulletin boards or in chat rooms, impersonating the victim. A cyberstalker may post an enticing or controversial message, or the victim’s personal information, such as their e-mail address, phone number, or home address.
A cyberstalker may be someone that you know or could be someone you have never met. Most stalkers have been involved with the person that they are stalking in some way. In reported cases, two-thirds of stalkers pursue their victims at least once per week, sometimes more. More than 78 percent of stalkers use more than one means of approach. There are several things that you can do to help protect yourself and your family from cyberstaking. These tips include:
- Password protect all of your accounts, including land-line phones, cell phones, banking and credit card accounts, and e-mails.
- Never reveal your home address, especially if you are a business professional or highly visible on the web.
- Be cautious when receiving telephone calls, text messages, or e-mails asking for identifying information.
- Conduct an online search for your name and phone number to ensure that there is no web page or blog with your identifying information.
- Never give out your social security number unless you are completely sure that it is for a legitimate purpose, such as for schooling or work.
- Hire a professional to check your PC immediately after any cyberstalking incidents to ensure there is no illegal spy software.
- Save all evidence, documents, communication logs, and screenshots of any online activity that the cyberstalker is involved in.
- Check your credit report on a regular basis and look for any unusual changes or purchases.
- Reset all of your passwords for your offline and online accounts after leaving a boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse – especially if the relationship ended badly.
- If you think that you have a cyberstalker, move fast and report any incidents to the police and block their ability to harass you.
- Use a private post office box to keep your residential address confidential and use this address online if needed.
- Sign up for the confidentiality program if offered in your state, as more than 28 states have set up this program to protect a victim’s confidentiality.
- Obtain an unlisted and unlicensed phone number and do not give the number out to anyone besides family and close friends.
- Understand how the privacy settings of your social network sites work and customize these privacy settings to block strangers from obtaining personal information.
- Only accept friend requests on social media sites from people that you actually know in real life to keep a tight rein on the number of people accessing your personal information.
- Keep your anti-virus and anti-malware software up-to-date to fight against worms, Trojans, e-mail viruses, and cyberstalking.
- Use e-mail addresses that do not include your real name and use a different e-mail address for every social media network that you belong to.
- Ignore non-threatening comments or messages and do not reply back to their e-mails and eventually the cyberstalker may give up.
- Never use aggression or threats in response to a cyberstalker as these do not work and will provide the stalker with a sense of victory for controlling your emotions.
- Consider changing your screen names or in some cases, abandoning your social media networks or other online sites to keep away from the troublesome sites.
Many people know the basics of cyberstalking but do not understand the effects it can have on its victims. There have been many cases of cyberstalking over the last decade. Amy Lynn Boyer was found by a cyberstalker using the Internet. Her stalker was able to obtain Boyer’s SSN and place of employment just by paying an online credit agency a mere $154.00. Her stalker, Liam Youens, proceeded to go to Amy Boyer’s workplace to shoot and murder her. If you think that you are being cyberstalked, it’s important to contact the authorities and follow the tips mentioned above.
Use the following resources to learn more about cyberstalking, how to prevent being cyberstalked, and tips for victims.
- Are You Being Stalked?: Guide to stalking including information on who is affected, cyberstalking, federal laws against stalkers, and tips for stalking victims.
- Cyberstalking: Overview of cyberstalking with information on cyberstalking laws, potential effects of cyberstalking, and what you should do if you become a victim.
- Stalking and Cyber Stalking: Statistics on cyberstalking, dynamics of stalking, and what you can do to address stalking or cyberstalking.
- What is Cyberstalking?: Article discussing what cyberstalking is and what you should do if you become a victim of online stalking.
- Cyberstalking Statistics: List of cumulative statistics for stalking during the years of 2000 to 2011.
- Stalking: Learn what technology-based stalking is, signs that you may be being stalked, and tips on what to do if you are being stalked.
- Identifying Cyberstalking: Information on how to identify cyberstalking, when to characterize a true stalking situation, and types of cyberstalkers.
- Cyberstalking Investigation and Prevention: Guide to cyberstalking investigation and prevention tips.
- Research Report – Cyberstalking: General overview of what cyberstalking entails and data on federal reports and laws regarding cyberstalking.
- How Cyberstalking Can Happen: Learn how cyberstalking can occur and information for victims.
- Cyberbullying/Stalking & Harassment: Tips on how to respond effectively to stalking and harassment.
- Fight Cyberstalking: Safety tips for preventing cyberstalking and information on reporting a cyberstalker.
- Cyberstalking Project: Guide to protecting yourself against cyberstalking and what to do if you are a victim.
- Offline Vs. Online Stalking: Learn the difference between offline and online stalking and how to investigate cyberstalking cases.
- Cyberstalking and Safety: Information on cyberstalking, online harassment and threats, and cyberstalking laws.
- Internet Safety for Children: Statistics about children and the Internet, information on online predators and cyberstalkers, and tips for parents on Internet safety.
- Cyber Stalking: List of common stalking situations, why people stalk, tips for staying safe online and advice for people who believe they are being stalked.
- Cyberstalking – Options and Effects: Definition of cyberstalking, options for victims, psychological effects, and resources for cyberstalking victims.
- Stalking and Cyberstalking: List of stalking and cyberstalking statistics from the National College Women Sexual Victimization Survey.
- Cyber Safety Issues: Page of cybersafety issues for parents, including information on cyberbullying, stalking, sexting, unwanted sexual content, and inappropriate content.