I am a great fan of technology and all the ways it enhances our lives and businesses, however it gives rise to a particularly 21st Century phenomenon, Cyber-stalking. Cyber-stalking is defined as non-consensual communication that causes fear and alarm, where some people use the internet as a weapon to threaten and harass others. According to recent reports, it has now become more frequent than physical stalking to the point where agencies have been set up to combat this trend and to protect the vulnerable and the naive. Most of you reading this article will undoubtedly be users of Social Media, as well as owners of electronic equipment, such as a computer or smart phone. These are the means used to cyber-stalk, either for harassment, bullying or threatening purpose.[video_player type=”youtube” youtube_remove_logo=”Y” youtube_show_title_bar=”Y” width=”560″ height=”315″ align=”center” margin_top=”0″ margin_bottom=”20″]aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cueW91dHViZS5jb20vd2F0Y2g/dj13aXVnaDFnUjY5aw==[/video_player]
Recent studies show that 60% of victims are single, white, females aged between 18-40, and most of their stalkers were Exs, casual dates or acquaintances. According to the Metropolitan Police in the UK, 40% of those victims of Domestic Violence who were subsequently murdered had been stalked.
Did you know that you have a Digital Footprint? All of us who regularly use a computer have IP addresses, send Email, buy from Amazon, EBay, iTunes etc., use Online Banking, and Social Media. In doing so, we create a Digital Footprint which can be picked up and followed by others. Most websites we visit leaves “cookies” on our computer, which hold small amounts of information about our surfing preferences. However a determined stalker can use these as a means of building up information about their victims. Digital Footprints once created are difficult to remove, so it is useful to know how to remove cookies from your computer, or at least to become a more conscious computer user, especially if you have any concerns that someone may want to track you.
You may well be wondering what the point of cyber-stalking may be, well, mostly it is to cause harassment to the victims, such as spreading malicious information about them at work, damaging their reputation, or making threats to harm them or family members. Where the “Social Engineering” comes in; the cyber-stalker will often contact the victim’s online contacts, friends or children, in a bid to elicit information from them about their victim. Perhaps saying they are an old school friend or an EBay seller needing contact information such as mobile number or address.
They will often connect with the victim’s friends or family members on Facebook or other social media, building up a picture of your day to day life and activities, so it is important to educate your friends and family members to never give out any of your personal information without checking with you first.
Mobile phones are really like little computers, and make it easy to track people because of the geolocation devices they have. They are enhanced as a tracking and stalking device particularly now that people have their social media apps on the phone, but also travel and hotel booking apps. Another thing to be aware of is that it is easy for someone to install spyware onto your mobile phone remotely. The good news is that it can be detected and removed by restoring the phone back to factory settings. (Back up first!)
As I mentioned in relation to your digital footprint, be aware that pretty well most websites you visit will leave “cookies” on your computer and of course unless you make a point of clearing it, all your history will also be stored. As with mobile phones, spyware can also be installed remotely, or by stealth. Sending an email, and inviting you to click a link achieve this. As soon as you do, the spyware is installed on your computer enabling access to your emails, passwords and chat rooms etc. The stalker can then go online and pretend to be you. It is well worth having some anti-spyware installed on your computer.
Victims of domestic abuse often use social networks as a means of support and as part of their safety resources, so it is very important to impress upon friends to be very careful about what they share with and about them. Of course it is very important for victims of domestic abuse or cyber stalking to familiarize themselves with privacy settings on all social networking sites. Be aware also that on social media sites such as Facebook, it is possible to block specific people.
WHAT TO DO
If you suspect that you may be a victim of cyber stalking, and particularly if you have been a victim of domestic abuse, here are a few things you must do;
- Clean your computer. Have it checked for spyware and have some anti-spyware installed
- Close your existing email account and set up a new one.
- Change all your passwords and contrary to common advice do not have the same password for all your accounts.
- Change all your Usernames.
- Change all your pin numbers
- Avoid using public forums
- Delete or suspend any accounts which you do not need
- Tighten up all your privacy settings
- Share very cautiously on social network
- Educate your friends and family about the risks involved
- Set your mobile to hide caller ID.
Keep safe and keep loving,