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Friday, September 11, 2009

Cyberstalking, Something to Think About

It has never been easier to keep in touch with people online – including those with whom you would rather not.

According to the National Association for Victim Assistance (NOVA), growing numbers of people report being pursued by stalkers via cell phones, Internet services, GPS systems, wireless video cameras, and other technologies. With technology, stalkers have more tools to use against their victims than ever.

A recent Department of Justice report indicated that of the 3.4 million Americans who reported being stalked between 2005 and 2006, 27% reported cyberstalking. Half of these victims indicated that there was at least one unwanted contact per month and 11% said they had been stalked for five or more years.

Stalking is action directed at a person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. In the study, people were classified as stalking victims if they reported at least one of seven types of stalking behaviors on two or more occasions.

The most common type of stalking behavior was unwanted phone calls from the offender (66%) followed by unsolicited letters or email (31%) and the spread of malicious rumors (36%). One-third of victims stated that offenders were likely to show up at places they frequent for no reason. Nearly 75% of victims knew their offender in some capacity, while 10% of victims were stalked by a stranger. Stalkers include former spouses, lovers, friends, roommates and neighbors.

Victims experience a range of emotions. The most common was not knowing what would happen next (46%) and being afraid the behavior would never stop (29%); nearly 10% of stalking victims reported that their worst fear was death. About 130,000 victims had been fired or asked to leave their jobs because of stalking and 12% lost time from work because of fear for their safety or to pursue activities such as getting a restraining order or testifying in court.

One of the ways that victims experience stalking is identity theft; 6% said stalkers stole their identities to open or close financial accounts in their names, steal funds from their existing accounts, or make unauthorized charges to their credit cards.

High-tech stalking comes in many forms:

Caller ID. Caller ID systems on many phones reveal callers’ names and locations. Using an online phone directory to conduct a reverse lookup of the callers number, stalkers can pinpoint a victim’s place of residence.

Cell phones. When cell phones are in analogue mode, radio scanners can intercept conversations.

GPS services. If a stalker has access to a victim’s car, global positioning devices can be installed that pinpoint the car’s exact location. Telephone-based instant-messenger services and some cell phones’ location services are also potential tracking tools.

Spyware. If the stalker has access to the victim’s computer, spyware can be installed to send them notifications listing all websites visited and the contents of every email sent or received. Stalkers can also use keystroke loggers, which record every key typed and thus disclose passwords, PINs, websites, and emails.

Cameras. Cameras today are more powerful, less expensive, smaller, and easier than ever to secretly place inside a wall.

Public databases. A surprising amount of information about individuals is public record. Some counties even publish the names and addresses of individuals who obtain protective orders.

Another type of public database is a job board. Those of you who are clients of my writing services will note that I have left the exact street address off of your resume and cover letter documents.

E-mail and instant messages. Stalkers can impersonate their victims by sending out messages in the victims’ names. One abuser changed his wife’s email password and sent threatening messages to himself from her account. Then, he took the messages to the police and convinced them to arrest her.

The Justice Department report offers some advice for keeping safe from stalkers:
Know who calls you. Use per call (*67) when you get an unknown call, and make sure your phone has caller ID.

Keep your contact information private. Clear your name from any database that might be published or sold from one company to another.

Routinely check your computer for viruses and intruder programs. According to PC World and, Spybot-S&D ( is the best privacy software available.

My next blog will provide specific information on how to protect your identity while using business and social networking websites such as LinkedIn and Facebook.

Did you know?
Bad guys can see all the things you post. You may be revealing personal information that is extremely valuable. Even seemingly innocent information posted on profile pages can sometimes provide opportunities for criminals. For example, names of grandparents or pets in posted pictures can tip hackers off to answers for typical challenge questions asked before providing information about “forgotten passwords” to online accounts. (

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