On the digital frontier, stalkers have updated their weaponry and they are gunning for the unprepared. Cyber stalking is a criminal behavior which occurs when an individual uses the Internet to harass, humiliate, damage, or threaten someone. Most states have included electronic forms of communication as part of stalking or harassment laws. Cyber stalking crimes are classified as misdemeanor or felony offenses depending on aggravating factors which may include: possession of a deadly weapon, violation of a court order or condition of probation or parole, victim under 16 years, or repeatedly victimizing the same person. Based on specific circumstances, these offenses are subject to punishment ranging from probation to ten years in prison.
Forms of Cyber Stalking
Cyber stalking takes on many forms which may include sending victims harassing or threatening emails and text messages and/or posting personal, false or humiliating information on social media. In some cases these perpetrators may send viruses, spam attacks, and harmful programs via e-mail to compromise or destroy the victim’s computer. Even more ominous are cyber stalkers who intend to locate and confront their victim by obtaining personal information such as home and work addresses and phone numbers.
Scope of the Problem
The Department of Justice reports that 6.6 million people are victims of stalking in the United States. More than 25% of stalking victims, report that they were harassed on the internet during their lifetime. Most of these victims experienced significant anxiety or fear and believed that they or someone close to them could be harmed or killed. Most victims know the person stalking them. However, some stalkers fantasize or harbor grudges against public figures or celebrities they have never personally met.
Types of Cyber Stalkers
Cyber stalkers present mental health problems that vary from irrational anger to psychosis. They range from people who are angry ex-partners who feel unfairly rejected to more seriously disturbed individuals who are compulsive, vengeful, or delusional. The motivation for these crimes is to control, intimidate or influence the victim. The harmful effects of cyber stalking most commonly include severe emotional distress and damage to one’s reputation. In serious cases physical, sexual, and fatal assaults have been reported.
The following security guidelines are designed to help you prevent cyber stalking by closely protecting your personal information.
- Keep antivirus software updated.
- Use strong passwords.
- Never put personal photos, account profiles or email addresses online.
- Do not download unknown e-mail attachments.
- Don’t sign into accounts when using public Wi-Fi networks.
- Never reveal your home address.
- Privatize any online calendars or itineraries.
- Delete or password the details of any events you plan to attend.
Managing Cyber Stalking
In the event you become a victim of cyber stalking, here are some initial recommendations to follow.
- Inform the person that further contact unwanted will be reported to police.
- After this first warning, stop all responding to that individual.
- Record the time, place, and details of all unwanted contacts or incidents.
- Scan and clean your computer thoroughly for malicious software.
- Change all passwords.
- Block unwanted calls/ internet contacts.
- Change phone numbers and e-mail addresses.
- Inform family, close friends, and employers.
- File complaints with the stalker’s ISP and websites.
- File a police report with documented details of the cyber stalking.
Cyber stalking is a criminal behavior which occurs when an individual uses the Internet to harass, humiliate, damage, or threaten someone. Preventing cyber stalking emphasizes online security and safeguarding your personal information. Managing incidents of cyber stalking includes severing all contact, recording all incidents, and making formal complaints to both internet providers and law enforcement.