Defense Against Crime

13/01/2010

You’ve Got Mail

 

January is Stalking Awareness Month 

A decade ago, a stalker was someone who repeatedly followed another person around town, pranked called your home or even peeked in your bedroom window. Now with the use of modern easy to use technology, a new form of stalking has risen called Cyber -stalking.  This is the second and final article in our stalking series

 Anyone who has dealt with a cyber stalker knows how serious it can be and how stressful it can be. According to research most of these stalkers are the same as their non technology counterparts. These can be a crazy “ex” boy-friend, girl-friend, or spouse, a co-worker, a student from a class, a distant friend or even a stranger. 

 What is CYBERSTALKING 

Cyber stalking is the use of the Internet or other electronic means to stalk someone. It has been defined as the use of information and communications technology, particularly the Internet, by an individual or group of individuals, to harass another individual, group of individuals, or organization. The behavior can include and of the following: 

  • False accusations
  • Hacking and/or monitoring a victim’s computer and internet activity
  • Installing snoopware  and monitoring a victim’s cell phone
  • Dending threatening or obscene mail
  • Identity theft or assuming a person’s identity online
  • Damage to data or equipment
  • The solicitation of minors for sexual purposes
  • Gathering information for harassment purposes
  • Sending viruses(spyware)
  • Harassing victims in chat rooms including flaming (online verbal abuse).
  • Harassment through unwanted texting
  • Creating a website an in “honor” of a victim that includes lost of recent photos, and details about the person.

 The harassment must be such that a reasonable person, in possession of the same information, would regard it as sufficient to cause another reasonable person distress. You may not be sure of the “objective” of the stalker but you should still report incidents that concern you.  Situations which do not meet the legal standard still could be documented and reported to other agencies. 

 While cyber stalking is a specific kind of stalking, the possible severity of its emotional and physical threat is similar to the terror caused by regular stalking, with the same potential consequences. As a result of their victimization, many victims have physical and emotional reactions such as: Changes in sleeping and/or eating patterns, Experiencing nightmares, Feeling stressed, anxious or helpless, fearing for one’s safety and security. 

 With the miniaturization of electronics in the past few decades, this has enabled these devices to be extremely small and well hidden. The mass production of these devices have made them so affordable that spy electronics available to anyone, from concerned parents using a nanny cam, or a jealous ex-boyfriend, a suspecting spouse,  or a stranger who wants to stalk you. The only remaining challenge is placement: If anyone wants to capture the juicy tidbits of your life, they’ve got to have a microphone or camera in the right place at the right time. While you never know about that hotel room your in, what about your home, or your cell phone.  Like offline stalking, cyber stalking is a form of personal terrorism. Similarly, cyber stalking may precede offline stalking, sexual assault, physical violence, or even murder. 

 Cyberstalking Laws 

There are forty-six states that have laws that explicitly include electronic forms of communication within stalking or harassment laws. The states that currently do not are the District of Columbia, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey,  and New Mexico, 

 How to Prevent Cyberstalking  

The best protection against becoming the prey of stalking is not to reveal anything personal that you might have in common with the potential stalker. Stalkers may display selfishness, malice, sadism, and be very cunning and arrogant. Then again, many can also come across as well-educated, “smooth talking,” and charming. However, most of these individuals are antisocial, or in other words, they’re “control freaks” who enjoy manipulating others.  Experts have suggested some simple ways to safeguard your personal information from predators: 

  • Do not share personal information in public spaces anywhere online. This includes the name of your school, teams you may play for, the color of your hair, your age.
  • Check websites that provide information about people to see what information is available about you such as 411.com or WhoWhere.com.  You could also try searching major search engines such as Google or Dogpile.  I remember years ago looking up an elderly person from my old neighborhood, who never used a computer a day in her life. Not only did I find her, but got a map to her house.
  • Do not use your real name or nickname as your screen name or user ID. Pick a name that is gender- and age-neutral. I suggest fictional characters such as PoohBear or Gorgon, any mythical character, your father’s middle name and his age.
  • Use a “nonsense” password that has no relation to you as a person; use a combination of numbers, symbols, and letters and make sure it is at least 6 characters long. Also, try to change your password frequently (I suggest when the clocks change or on your birthday) and avoid using the same password for multiple accounts.  I like using Bible verses since there are 31,103 of them and in addition I substitute certain numbers or characters for letters. Some people substitute zero for the letter O or the number three for the letter E and using characters like “#” or ~ in the password.
  • Do not post personal information as part of any user profiles (i.e. Facebook, Myspace, Twitter). 
  • Be VERY cautious about meeting online acquaintances in person. If you choose to meet, do so in a public place and take along a friend or some type of personal protection product.
  • Make sure that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) network have an acceptable user policy that prohibits cyberstalking.
  • If a situation online becomes hostile you should log off or go some place else elsewhere.
  • Treat your passwords like your Debit or Credit card, do not give your passwords to email or social networking sites with friends or acquaintances.
  • Activate password protection on cell phones and never let anyone ‘borrow your cell phone’ See Cell Phone Stalking
  • If a situation places you in fear, contact a local law enforcement agency.

What to do if you are the victim of a cyberstalker. 

 If you identify yourself as a victim of cyberstalking, you may want to follow these steps: 

  • If you are receiving persistent unwanted contact, make clear to that person that you would like him or her not to contact you EVER again.
  • Save or log all communications with the harasser and any documentation of contacts with Internet system administrators and law enforcement officials for evidence. Do not edit or alter them in any way
  • Consider blocking or filtering messages from the harasser. Although formats differ, a common chat room command to block someone would be to type:  /ignore.  However, in some circumstances (such as threats of violence), it may be more appropriate to save the information and contact law enforcement authorities.
  • Visit SpamCop, a free service that will analyze abusive emails and determine their point of origin.  They then generate a report that is sent to the appropriate system administrator.
  • File a complaint with the harasser’s ISP or the administrator of the online community.

If harassment continues after you have asked the person to stop, contact the local police enforcement (with all the details) and visit CyberSnitch to report internet abuse and have a report send to the appropriate law enforcement agency.  In addition, contact the harasser’s Internet Service Provider (ISP). Often, an ISP can try to stop the conduct by direct contact with the stalker or by closing their account. If you receive abusive e-mails, identify the domain (after the “@” sign) and contact that ISP. Most ISP’s have an e-mail address such as abuse@ or postmaster@ that can be used for complaints. If the ISP has a website, visit the site for information on how to file a complaint  

What to do if you are the victim of a cyberstalker. 

 If you identify yourself as a victim of cyberstalking, you may want to follow these steps: 

  • If you are receiving persistent unwanted contact, make clear to that person that you would like him or her not to contact you EVER again.
  • Save or log all communications with the harasser and any documentation of contacts with Internet system administrators and law enforcement officials for evidence. Do not edit or alter them in any way
  • Consider blocking or filtering messages from the harasser. Although formats differ, a common chat room command to block someone would be to type:  /ignore.  However, in some circumstances (such as threats of violence), it may be more appropriate to save the information and contact law enforcement authorities.
  • Visit SpamCop, a free service that will analyze abusive emails and determine their point of origin.  They then generate a report that is sent to the appropriate system administrator.
  • File a complaint with the harasser’s ISP or the administrator of the online community.

If harassment continues after you have asked the person to stop, contact the local police enforcement (with all the details) and visit CyberSnitch to report internet abuse and have a report send to the appropriate law enforcement agency.  In addition, contact the harasser’s Internet Service Provider (ISP). Often, an ISP can try to stop the conduct by direct contact with the stalker or by closing their account. If you receive abusive e-mails, identify the domain (after the “@” sign) and contact that ISP. Most ISP’s have an e-mail address such as abuse@ or postmaster@ that can be used for complaints. If the ISP has a website, visit the site for information on how to file a complaint 

About 10 percent of women and more than 2 percent of men will report being stalked by a current or former spouse, cohabiting partner, or date at some time during in their life. (The National Center for Victims of Crime, Stalking Resource Center — October 2005) 

 ADDITIONAL RESOURCES 

To obtain more information on how to report an Internet crime such as stalking, harassment, or exploitation, visit any of the following sites 

  

By Victor Swindell, owner of PepperEyes.com, a division of Swindell Enterprises. PepperEyes.com is dedicated to assist those people who are unwilling to become a victim and are taking personal responsibility to protect themselves, and their families with our pepper spray, stun guns, and other personal security products. In today’s society being equipped mentally and physically is no longer an option.

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