Sooner or later, we all get that email that we don’t want, or receive something posted on our social network page that we wish we never got, and whether the message is from a company, an overzealous salesperson or from a personal acquaintance, they can be annoying and even upsetting at times.
But at what point do these unwanted messages go from being just annoying to becoming full-on harassment?
The month of January is Annual Stalking Awareness Month, and according to the Stalking Resource Center of the National Center for Victims of Crime, stalking someone online has a lot to do with repeated attempts of harassment and a certain level of deliberateness, which isn’t always the case with someone occasionally sending you a message that you don’t want.
Michael Kaiser who is the executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) says cyber-stalking is nothing that consumers should take lightly, and as soon as you notice a pattern or receive just one threatening message, you should contact your local police department as soon as possible.
“In order to effectively combat unwanted contact, it is important to know the signs of stalking and how to deal with such related incidents,” said Kaiser in a statement.
“Aggressive outreach such as persistent emails, harassing posts or text messages are not acceptable forms of online communication and NCSA encourages affected individuals to contact local law enforcement or victim service agencies to report such activities and get help.”
Experts say if you ever find yourself a victim of cyber-stalking you should immediately suspend your account whether it’s your email or social network page, and consumers should always make sure all of their contact pages have the correct privacy settings, so it’s difficult for cyber-stalkers to locate you in the first place.
Experts also say that Internet stalkers and other online criminals will more than likely pass up the person who makes it more difficult for them to commit their wrongdoings, and even though it can be tempting at times, people should keep the sharing of their personal information to a minimum, like announcing you’ll be out of town for the next two weeks.
Safety experts also stress for people to create usernames that aren’t gender specific, and be sure not to publicize any information that may give a cyber-stalker an idea where you live.
So posting that photo of you standing next to your new car in the driveway, that also happens to show a street sign or a familiar landmark in the background is a great big no-no, say experts.
Go Google yourself
Anupama Srinivasan, who is a program director for a non-profit organization that deals with violence against women, says that people should Google themselves just to get an idea of what personal information is already out there.
And just because you may see your name and address online, doesn’t mean that you have to accept it being there, because obviously the more personal information you’re able to remove from cyber space, the harder it will be for someone to stalk or harass you.
“If you locate personal information like address, phone numbers or pictures or information you don’t want to be out there, speak to the people involved and get it deleted,” said Srinivasan in a published interview.
“Write to the website that lists your phone number without your permission and get it removed. Use your full name and/or the name you go by generally to Google yourself, and be sure to add ‘plus photographs’ in your Google search.”
According to the NCSA one in five people in the U.S. have experienced cyber based crimes that include the stealing of personal information, stealing of identities, bullying and of course cyber-stalking, and over 29 percent of consumers said they know someone who was a victim of an Internet crime.
In all 50 states in the U.S. cyber-stalking is a crime, but some say it doesn’t get the same amount of attention that other Internet crimes do, like identity theft or pilfering money, and for this very reason experts say that consumers need to be even more vigilante when it comes to sharing too much information online and “friending” people they may not know.
The NCSA also says that removing old Internet posts or entries is a smart idea, and just like any other kind of stalker, cyber-stalkers will look under every stone until they can piece together your whereabouts or the necessary information to harass you or even locate where you are.
Also, consumers should not be posting their whereabouts online, as it’s now commonplace for people to let everyone know which restaurant they’re eating at or which movie they're attending, and for someone willing to sit by a computer to learn all of your daily movements, you’ll just be making it that much more easier for them to accomplish whatever bad deed they’re intending to commit.
Experts also say as parents use some of these safety measures in their own Internet use, they should also continually remind their children of what to do in order to diminish the chances of them getting stalked or bullied online.
“Adults are not the only ones at risk when it comes to cyber-stalkers,” said Gary Davis in a statement, who is the vice president of global consumer marketing at the software security company McAfee.
“Parents need to communicate with their children about such Internet dangers and promote Internet safety. Be sure to secure your devices with strong passwords and frequent updates, connect only with people you know, and be careful not to share contact information or your location,” he said.