This is ninth in a series of articles on women and cyberstalking written for About.com by cyberstalking expert Alexis A. Moore, founder of the national advocacy group Survivors in Action.If the idea of cyberstalking scares you, that’s good. That discomfort is a reminder that you need to be alert and aware on the internet. Staying vigilant offline is important too. Your cell phone, Blackberry, your home call display — all of these things can be manipulated by technology.
Awareness is one step; action is another.
Here are 12 tips that can prevent you from becoming a victim of cyberstalking. They may take a few hours to implement, but the payoff is protection from the hundreds of hours it takes to undo the damage of a cyberstalker.
- Never reveal your home address. This rule is especially important for women who are business professionals and very visible. You can use your work address or a rent a private mailbox. Just don’t have your home address readily available.
- Password protect all accounts including cell phones, land lines, e-mails, banking and credit cards with a secure password that would be difficult for anyone to guess. Change it every year. Your secret questions should not be easily answered either. Former VP candidate Sarah Palin’s secret “reminder” questions were so easy to answer that a cyberstalker was easily able to gain access to her email accounts.
Conduct an internet search using your name and phone number – be sure that there is nothing out there that you are not aware of. A cyberstalker may have created a craigslist account, web page or blog about you. Only you can stay on top of how your name is being used online.
Be suspicious of any incoming emails, telephone calls or texts that ask you for your identifying information. The “Caller ID Spoof” can mimic your bank’s caller ID. It is very easy for a cyberstalker posing as a banking representative, utility, credit card representative or your cell phone provider to obtain your personal private information. If you are suspicious hang up and call the institution directly to be sure that you were not a target of a cyberstalker.
Never give out your Social Security Number unless you are absolutely sure of who is asking for it and why. With your “social” as they call it in the business, a cyberstalker now has access to every part of your life.
Utilize stat counters or other free registry counters that will record all incoming traffic to your blogs and web sites. With a stat counter you can identify who is viewing your site or blog easily because the registry records the IP address, date, time, city, state and internet service provider. It is useful for marketing and it also provides a very valuable safeguard in the event that your web site or blog is targeted.
Check your credit report status regularly, especially if you’re a business professional or individual who is in the public eye. Do this at least two times per year, especially if you feel that you may have a reason to be concerned. You can request a free copy of your credit once a year directly from the credit bureaus. It is worth the additional cost to pay for it the second time. Go directly to each bureau; you will not damage your credit rating if you obtain a copy directly from the bureaus. Avoid paying third parties to obtain copies of the report because often the third parties charge more than what the credit bureaus charge and you’ll end up on another mailing list.
If you are leaving a partner, spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend – especially if they are abusive, troubled, angry or difficult – reset every single password on all of your accounts to something they cannot guess. Inform your bank and credit companies that this person is not allowed to make any changes to your accounts no matter what the reason. Even if you are reasonably certain that your former partner is “okay,” this is a good practice for moving forward on your own. It is also a good idea to get a new cell phone and credit card that the ex doesn’t know about. Make these changes before you leave if you can.
If you encounter something suspicious – a weird phone call or an emptied account that can’t be explained by your bank – it could be a cyberstalker so act accordingly. Change all your accounts, and ideally change banks. Check your credit report. Note anything else that appears strange. If you have more than one or two “strange” incidents per month, it’s possible you are a target.
If you think you’re a target, have your PC checked by a professional. If you are already experiencing cyberstalking incidents, your computer may already be compromised. Have someone in the know check it for spyware and other viruses.
If you think you have a cyberstalker, move fast. Lots of people don’t take action because they think they’re “crazy” or imagining things. Record incidents – time, place, event. Victims of repeated attacks tend to become paralyzed with fear. Meanwhile, cyberstalkers often get such a rush off the first “attack” that it encourages them to keep going. The faster you take action and block their ability to hurt or harass you, the sooner they lose interest in their project.
Get lots of emotional support to handle the cyberstalking period and to deal with the aftermath. It is normal to feel high levels of distrust and paranoia after a cyberstalking encounter. A lot of people will not want to deal with someone with a cyberstalker; it puts them at risk. You may feel isolated and alone. The best thing I did was learn to keep reaching out until I found the brave people who helped me put my life back together. Having support was what got me through but I had to fight for every bit of it.
It may seem backwards that we can’t do more to protect ourselves from cyberstalkers. Lawmakers in the US need to grasp the urgency of the situation and pick up the pace if we’re ever going fight cybercrime with real legislative tools. While we work toward getting laws caught up with the speed of technology, for now, you are a pioneer. Like the Wild West, it’s every man, woman and child for themselves when it comes to cyberstalking.
So take care of yourselves out there.
Read other articles in this series on Cyberstalking