Cyberstalking's definition is quite simply, “the use of the internet, or other electronic means, to harass and intimidate a selected victim”.
Common characteristics include (but aren't limited to) classic 'stalking' behavior — tracking someone's location and monitoring their online and real-world activities. Cyberstalkers have been known to fit GPS devices to their victims' cars, use geolocation spyware on their phones, and obsessively track their victims' whereabouts through social media.
Cyberstalking can include other behavior that's intended to intimidate victims or make their lives unbearable. For instance, cyberstalkers might target their victims on social media, trolling and sending threatening messages; they might hack emails, to communicate with the victim’s contacts, including friends and even employers. Social media stalking can include faking photos or sending threatening private messages. Often, cyberstalkers will spread malicious rumors and make false accusations, or even create and publish revenge porn. They might also engage in identity theft and create fake social media profiles or blogs about their victim.
So, we know what cyberstalking is. But who are its victims? You might be surprised. While most cyberstalking victims are women, 20 to 40 percent of victims are actually men.
Cyberstalking goes a lot further than just following someone on a social network. It's the intent to intimidate, which is the defining characteristic of cyberstalking.
One good exercise you should carry out now is to Google yourself and find out just what information a potential cyberstalker could find online. You may be shocked by how easy it is to track you down. Not to mention, find your home address, phone number, and other personal details.
And if that's bad, you might want to check how much data someone could compile on you if they had access to your friends' and family's social media, too. For instance, they might find out which bar you were in, with which friends, or where you'll next be going on holiday and when.
You might even find stuff purporting to be from you that someone else has uploaded: a fake blog, or a Craigslist account putting your phone number and home address out there.
This is how cyberstalkers get started - Googling their victims and finding out everything they can. That means you’ll certainly want to make that information as hard to obtain as possible.
Start off with your own data. Take a good look at your social media accounts and if you haven't done already, enable strong privacy settings.
If other personal data is up on the web outside your social media accounts, start removing it. In the case of your SSN being displayed, Google will help you remove that. You may need to contact third party websites to get some of the data taken down. If you need a postal address for business, or for registering your web domain, use a post box address or office address (like your accountant's, for instance), not that of your home.
If you are using an online dating service, don't provide your full ID on the site or over email. Only give out your phone number to someone you've actually met and wouldn't mind seeing again. The best security advice is to not even give your full name online, only your first.
Be cautious of any incoming phone calls or emails which ask you to give personal information, however reasonable the purported request. If a bank or credit card company phones, get off the phone, and use another phone (for instance, if they rang your landline, use your cellphone) to ring back to verify, using the HQ or branch phone number that's on your paperwork — not the one you've just been given. And never, never, never give out your SSN.
Securing your data won't help you if your smartphone or PC is hacked. To prevent being stalked online you should build basic security into your online life.
Catfishing is a form of fraud or abuse where someone creates a fake online identity to target a particular victim. Catfishers may lure their victims into providing intimate photos or videos, then blackmail them, or may develop a relationship and then ask for money for a sudden emergency.
Catfishers can be very convincing, but you can discover their scam in several ways.
If you're being stalked online don't wait and hope the problem will go away — act immediately.
Save copies of any communications involved, including your own, police reports, and emails from the networks. Back up the evidence on a USB stick or external drive.
Cyberstalking is subject to general laws on harassment, such as the Violence Against Women Act 1994 in the US, and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 in the UK. California created the first state-level law specifically addressing cyberstalking as an offense in 1999, and other states have followed suit.
It's good that cyberstalking is now being recognized as the serious crime that it is: cyberstalking can wreck people's lives, but it doesn’t have to wreck yours.