Stalking in any form is insidious and menacing. However, cyberstalking takes this kind of threatening behaviour to frightening new levels.

The internet has evolved to become the place in which we communicate effectively and quickly. For the vast majority of us, it is a safe and pleasant place to inhibit. But for others, it can cause untold terror and misery. So what exactly is cyberstalking?

What Is Cyberstalking?

It is any kind of unwanted attention, such as harassment or abuse, which takes place online. This can be via email, text messages, social media, even GPS tracking devices. It is basically stalking in the cyberworld.

This type of abuse can be directed at an individual, group or business. It tends to be prolonged, intimidating, and sustained over a long period of time. The problem with this type of stalking is that you cannot escape from it. It follows you everywhere. We all have smartphones, access to the internet. And we can’t just switch off.

Examples of Cyberstalking

  • Hacking into a person’s social media account to find personal information.
  • Creating a fake social media account to keep in touch with an ex-partner.
  • Sending hundreds of unwanted text messages or emails.
  • Posting explicit pictures of an ex-partner online.
  • Threatening to post nude pictures of an ex-partner online or to friends and family.
  • Hacking the person’s social media account and posting rude messages as that person.
  • Using your social media account to post malicious rumours about a person.
  • Sending spiteful or discrediting emails to a victim’s place of work to damage their reputation.
  • Hacking into a victim’s computer looking for explicit material to exploit to family and work.

Unfortunately, modern technology has made it extremely easy for stalkers to progress to online stalking. The other problem is that, particularly in view of identity fraud, many people lay their lives wide open on social media. Some people think nothing of posting the most intimate details of their lives online for the whole world to see.

For example, when we go away on holiday, we take steps to ensure our mail is not piling up when strangers can easily see it. We stop milk deliveries. In addition, we set up lights to come on and off at certain times of the day and night. However, we think nothing of posting holiday pictures on Instagram while we are away.

So we have seen examples of cyberstalking, but what tactics do cyberstalkers use to harass their victims?

Tactics a Cyberstalker Will Use

Social engineering

This is a method of manipulation. The cyberstalker will trick the victim into giving up private information. Also known as phishing; this could be by means of planting a virus via email. Another method is cold calling and asking for the victim’s date of birth, etc.

Bad acting

Here the cyberstalker will impersonate someone the victim already knows. Or they will create a fake identity to befriend the victim or the victim’s family. The reason to do this is to exhort money, embarrass, harass or distance the victim from friends and family.

Doxing

Many cyberstalkers will take advantage of the mass of intelligence you can glean online. There are various sources, including Open Source Intelligence (OSINT). This is known as Doxing. As such, there is a mine of readily available public records, databases and search engines for anyone to find online.

Skilled Hackers

The cyberstalker can use a skilled hacker or learn the techniques themselves. Skilled hackers have a multitude of means to gain access to your devices. One simple way is to plant a GPS tracker in your car. This then pings a message to your phone whenever it moves. In actual fact, more skilled hackers can access your computer’s webcam and microphone. As a result, they’ll then monitor your movements and conversations.

Likewise, smartphones are hacked in the same way. The cyberstalker can not only track where your phone is but also clone it. In addition, they can also spoof a phone that is known to you and use it to extract information.

Examples of Victims

Reasons for cyberstalking can vary depending on the perpetrator. A jealous partner can cyberstalk their ex to intimidate them into returning to the relationship. Or to stop them from moving on with their lives.

Jealous ex-partners

One woman living in Glendale, California had noticed she kept accidentally ‘bumping’ into her ex-boyfriend in the most unexpected places. These places ranged from coffee shops, the airport, even the cemetery. She was suspicious and then saw him underneath her car early one morning. He had planted a GPS tracking device in her car which sent signals to his phone. This allowed him to track her every move. When she spotted him, he was in the process of changing the battery.

A second woman was murdered after her stalker was able to find her by using online technology. The man paid an online investigations firm just $154 to find out this woman’s place of work. He went there and shot her. No one at the agency asked why he wanted the information.

Another woman went to the police after several men began contacting her from a local dating site. All the men were looking for casual hookups. All of her personal information was readily available on the online dating site.

Identity fraud

When we think about identity fraud, we automatically assume it is all about money. That the fraudsters want to gather information about their victims in order to scam them into parting with savings. Of course, in many cases, this is true. However, some identity fraud cases are much more complicated.

A journalist writing for Wired.com recounts how her stalker turned to the internet after repeated attempts failed to connect them in the real world. This cyberstalker spoofed her email accounts.

This allowed him to impersonate her online. He sent her hundreds of texts, called her relentlessly, all without her responding. She blocked him on all her social media. However, he ramped up the stalking by attacking her professional career. The police were unable to help as it was not deemed to be a serious threat to her life.

So are there any statistics on the victims of cyberstalking?

Statistics on Cyberstalking

As cyberstalking is a relatively new crime, statistics are rare and not easy to come by. But a national advocacy group has found the following:

  • 50% of all victims were ex-partners of the stalker
  • More than 50% of cyberstalkers are male
  • The majority of victims are Caucasian
  • Most of the victims are aged between 18 and 29 years old
  • Over 30% of cyberstalking starts on social media

How to Protect Yourself Against Cyberstalking

Thankfully, cyberstalking is now regarded as a serious crime. So if you think you are being stalked online, go to the police and report it. In the meantime, here are some tips and guidelines to protect yourself now and in the future.

  1. Use good security protection software to prevent infections from viruses or attacks from infected websites.
  2. Never allow someone physical access to your computer or smartphone.
  3. Create strong passwords for each and every one of your accounts and change them on a regular basis. Don’t share them with anyone. Moreover, don’t use pet names or names that are easily guessable from your social media profiles.
  4. Log out from your computer programs every time you step away from the screen on your PC, laptop and smartphone. Don’t just close the page down.
  5. Use the privacy settings on your social media account properly. This ensures that no one knows your date of birth, where you live, your email address or your phone number.
  6. Don’t tag photographs with your location. Hackers can tell a lot more than just the location from the metadata attached to the picture.
  7. Try Googling yourself using different name combinations to see what information is readily available. If you find that sensitive information is online, contact the website and have it removed.
  8. If a relationship ends, change the passwords on everything you have online. This includes social media accounts and bank accounts.
  9. Don’t be provocative with people you don’t know online. For instance, you wouldn’t go into a pub and start an argument with strangers. Don’t assume it is safe to do so online.

Final thoughts

A lot of advice regarding cyberstalking is common-sense. Use the same safety measures in real life that you would online. For more complicated cases, get the police involved.

References:

  1. www.bbc.co.uk
  2. sapac.umich.edu
Janey Davies, B.A. (Hons)

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