When Clients are changing their phone numbers, and email addresses every three or four weeks, you know something is not right. This is what Blake found herself doing, for security, including taking the battery out of her phone, while in session with me. Safety seeking, she feared her husband might be stalking her. He knew private, personal information that had not been told to him. Her phone would flicker, and unusual sites would show up, when he would be stalking. Below is some helpful information and tips you might want to look into, if you have reason to believe this may be going on. It's real, and for Blake its been another level of trauma as she tries to put her life back together following the discovery of her husbands sexual addiction.
Cyberstalking, simply put, is online stalking. It has been defined as the use of technology, particularly the Internet, to harass someone. Common characteristics include false accusations, monitoring, threats, identity theft, and data destruction or manipulation. Cyberstalking also includes exploitation of minors, be it sexual or otherwise.
The harassment can take on many forms, but the common denominator is that it's unwanted, often obsessive, and usually illegal. Cyberstalkers use email, instant messages, phone calls, and other communication devices to stalk, whether it takes the form of sexual harassment, inappropriate contact, or just plain annoying attention to your life and your family's activities.
Kids use the term "stalking" to describe following someone's activities via their social network. My own children accuse me of being their "stalker" for keeping tabs on their digital lives. It's important that we not devalue the serious nature of the crime of cyberstalking by using the term incorrectly. A recent television commercial for a major cellular provider depicts a young woman spying on her crush through his bedroom window while she monitors his online activities on her cell phone. While it's meant to be a humorous ad, it's extremely unsettling when stalking occurs in the real world.
Interestingly, this same ad points to an important fact about cyberstalking; it is often perpetrated not by strangers, but by someone you know. It could be an ex, a former friend, or just someone who wants to bother you and your family in an inappropriate way.
How Cyberstalking Harms
Cyberstalking can be terribly frightening. It can destroy friendships, credit, careers, self-image, and confidence. Ultimately it can lead the victim into far greater physical danger when combined with real-world stalking. Yes, we're talking serious stuff here. Victims of domestic violence are often cyberstalking victims. They, like everybody else, need to be aware that technology can make cyberstalking easy. Spyware software can be used to monitor everything happening on your computer or cell phone, giving tremendous power and information to cyberstalkers.
Here are a few important pointers to help you thwart cyberstalking, whether it's directed at you, your PC, or your family:
- Maintain vigilance over physical access to your computer and other Web-enabled devices like cell phones. Cyberstalkers use software and hardware devices (sometimes attached to the back of your PC without you even knowing) to monitor their victims.
- Be sure you always log out of your computer programs when you step away from the computer and use a screensaver with a password. The same goes for passwords on cell phones. Your kids and your spouse should develop the same good habits.
- Make sure to practice good password management and security. Never share your passwords with others. And be sure to change your passwords frequently! This is very important.
- Do an online search for your name or your family members' now and then to see what's available about you and your kids online. Don't be shy about searching social networks (including your friends' and colleagues'), and be sure to remove anything private or inappropriate.
- Delete or make private any online calendars or itineraries--even on your social network--where you list events you plan to attend. They could let a stalker know where you're planning to be and when.
- Use the privacy settings in all your online accounts to limit your online sharing with those outside your trusted circle. You can use these settings to opt out of having your profile appear when someone searches for your name. You can block people from seeing your posts and photos, too.
- If you suspect that someone is using spyware software to track your everyday activities, and you feel as if you're in danger, only use public computers or telephones to seek help. Otherwise, your efforts to get help will be known to your cyberstalker and this may leave you in even greater danger.
- As always, use good, updated security software to prevent someone from getting spyware onto your computer via a phishing attack or an infected Web page. Check the app store for your mobile devices to see what security software is available. Or visit the Norton Mobile page to see what programs are available for your device's platform. Security software could allow you to detect spyware on your device and decrease your chances of being stalked.
You might sound like a broken record, but keep on telling your kids they should never provide any personal information about themselves online, no matter how safe they think it might be. Tell them never to indicate their real name, school, address, or even the city where they live. Phone numbers are not to be distributed online, and if a stranger contacts them via any method, they need to let you know right away. Encourage your kids to tell you if they're being cyberstalked. As parents, you should report cyberstalking to a teacher or school administrator and, if it seems serious, the police.