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How To Protect Yourself From Cyberstalkers

October is National Cyber Security Awareness month. Cyberstalking is a serious crime. Learn how to keep your personal information private on the Internet. This is part 5 in a series of blog posts we will be publishing on various topics aimed at educating you on how to stay protected on today’s Internet landscape.

Technology opens our lives up in ways that weren't possible less than a decade ago. Today you can chat with someone whether they're in the next room or in another country with ease via a variety of technologies. It's all fast and amazing- we now have instant access to most of the world’s information at our fingertips within a matter of seconds.

On the flip side of that good fortune is that the same technology that has provided us lightning fast communication has also provided a way for certain people to do bad things.

Cyberstalking Defined

Cyberstalking, simply put, is online stalking. It has been defined as the use of technology, particularly the Internet, to harass someone. Common characteristics include false accusations, monitoring, threats, identity theft, and data destruction or manipulation.

Cyberstalkers use email, instant messages, phone calls, and other communication devices to stalk, whether it takes the form of sexual harassment, inappropriate contact, or just plain annoying attention to your life and to your family's activities.

Social Media Stalking Is Not The Same as Cyberstalking

Some people use the term "stalking" to describe following someone's activities via their social network. It's important that we not devalue the serious nature of the crime of cyberstalking by using the term incorrectly.

Catfishing is a relatively new method of online stalking. It’s where the user poses as someone else, using social media sites. They tend to use fake names, photos, and locations. They will often approach the victim as a love interest or a mutual friend. Oftentimes, they will copy the profiles of an existing user as a way to verify their identity of a real person.

Luckily, there are ways to spot a fake profile:

  • Do a reverse Google image search of the user’s profile picture. If they’re a fake, it will lead to you to multiple profiles or to a website that the catfisher pulled the image from.
  • Check how many friends the user’s profile has. An average Facebook profile has about 130 friends. Catfishing profiles will have significantly less.
  • Examine the user’s photos carefully. A real person will have photos of themselves with friends and family or at public events. Catfishers generally have selfies or modeling shots. Also, check to see if the other people in their photos are tagged, verifying that they are friends with the people in the photos.
  • If you suspect you’re being catfished, ask the user to Skype via webcam to verify their identity. If they make up excuses, that is an indication of a red flag.

Anti-Stalking Tips

Here are a few important pointers to help you thwart cyberstalking, whether it's directed at you, your PC, or your family:

  • Maintain vigilance over physical access to your computer and other Web-enabled devices like cell phones. Cyberstalkers use software and hardware devices (sometimes attached to the back of your PC without you even knowing) to monitor their victims.
  • Be sure you always log out of your computer programs when you step away from the computer and use a screensaver with a password. The same goes for passwords on cell phones. Your kids and your spouse should develop the same good habits.
  • Make sure to practice good password management (link to password article) and security. Never share your passwords with others. And be sure to change your passwords frequently! This is very important.
  • Delete or make private any online calendars or itineraries--even on your social network--where you list events you plan to attend. They could let a stalker know where you're planning to be and when.
  • A lot of personal information is displayed on social networks, such as your name, date of birth, where you work and where you live. Use the privacy settings in all your online accounts to limit your online sharing with those outside your trusted circle. You can use these settings to opt out of having your profile appear when someone searches for your name. You can block people from seeing your posts and photos, too.
  • If you post photos online via social networks or other methods, be sure to turn off the metadata in the photo. The metadata reveals a lot of information about the photo, where and when it was taken, what device it was taken on and other private information. Mostly, metadata comes from photos taken on a mobile phone, You can turn this off, usually a feature called geotagging, in your phone’s settings.
  • As always, use a security software program such as Norton Security to prevent spyware from being installed onto your computer via a phishing attack or an infected Web page. Security software could allow you to detect spyware on your device and decrease your chances of being stalked.
  • If you break up with someone that you were in a relationship with, be sure to change all of your online passwords. Even if you think that your ex-partner may not know them, you never really can be sure.

Educate Yourself

Never provide any personal information about yourself online, no matter how safe you think it might be. Never indicate your real name, address, phone number or even the city where you live to someone you don’t know personally.

Be aware of your own online presence.

Check your “Googleability.” How much information can be found out about you online? Have you ever Googled yourself? If not, you should, just so you can be aware of what personal information is out there about you. Try different combinations- start with just your full name. Then try your name plus your phone number, your name plus your home address and your name and your birthdate.  You can also use a Google image search with the above information to see what sites may be hosting information about you. Don't be shy about searching for yourself on social networks as well. Additionally, you can also search for your family members to see what is available about you through their profiles.

If you happen to find that that there is sensitive personal information easily available, there are a few ways you can get it removed from the Internet:

  • In most cases, if it is a photo, or a website has information such as your address, telephone number or date of birth, you will have to contact the website and ask them to remove the data.
  • If it is sensitive personal information such as your Social Security number, bank account or credit card number, you can contact Google and they will remove it.

Report It

If you encounter someone that exhibits stalker behaviors and it seems serious, or you begin to receive threats, you should report it to the police. If you're being cyberstalked, remember to keep a copy of any message or online image that could serve as proof. Use the "print screen" or other keyboard functions to save screenshots. Many police departments have cybercrime units, and cyberstalking is a crime. If you suspect that someone is using spyware software to track your everyday activities, and you feel as if you're in danger, only use public computers or telephones to seek help. Otherwise, your efforts to get help will be known to your cyberstalker and this may leave you in even greater danger.

This is part 5 of a series of blogs for National Cyber Security Awareness Month.

For more information on various topics, check out:

Week 1
5 Ways You Didn't Know You Could Get a Virus, Malware, or Your Social Account Hacked
How To Choose a Secure Password
How To Avoid Identity Theft Online
How To Protect Yourself From Phishing Scams

Week 2
Mobile Scams: How-to Identify Them and Protect Yourself
Exactly How Free Is That Free App?
BYOD And Protecting Your Mobile Workforce
Cyber Security Concerns and Smartphones

Week 3
Keeping Your Mobile Fitness Data Secure
Security Concerns and the Connected Car
The Connected Home- Just How Safe Is Convenience?

Week 4
Securing Employee Technology, Step by Step
Are Your Vendors Putting Your Company’s Data at Risk?
Four Mobile Threats that May Surprise You
Theft-Proof Your Mobile Data
Traveling? Don’t Let Your Mobile Data Stray

Week 5
How Do Cybercriminals Get Caught?