No one should have to live in fear online.
Yet that’s what happens when people become targets of cyberstalking. Cyberstalkers use the internet and social media to make their victims extremely anxious, uncomfortable and fearful — and sometimes worse.
According to the FBI, cyberstalking is intentional. It involves using “any interactive computer or electronic communication service to conduct activity that places a person in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury or that causes or could cause substantial emotional distress.”
How do you recognize cyberstalking?
The Office on Women’s Health, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, offers a few examples. To recognize cyberstalking, ask yourself:
- Do you think you are being followed by someone using GPS or another system to track your location?
- Are you receiving unwanted, frightening or obscene emails or text messages?
- Have you discovered someone is using computer spyware, cameras or listening devices to monitor you?
- Is someone harassing or threatening you on the internet, social media or your phone?
- Is someone intentionally making social media posts or spreading rumors to embarrass you?
- Is someone tracking your use of the internet and computer?
The cyberstalker may be someone you know, such as a former spouse or partner, or someone you don’t know. Usually, the victim is a woman, but many men are targets of cyberstalking as well.
How to protect yourself from a cyberstalker
If someone is using technology to stalk you, there are a few steps you can take to protect yourself.
- Block all messages from the stalker.
- Change your email address or screen name.
- Don’t post online profiles or messages with details about your age, sex, address, workplace, phone number, school or other places you frequent. (A cyberstalker can use these details to locate you.)
- Record each cyberstalking incident, including dates and times of day, as evidence.
- Print copies of emails or save screenshots from your phone or computer as evidence.
- Report the incident to the service or site the cyberstalker uses, such as Facebook or TikTok.
- Send the person one clear, written warning not to contact you again. After this, do not send or respond to any other messages.
How to report cyberstalking and get help
Cyberstalking is a federal crime. If convicted, the cyberstalker may be punished with up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. If the stalking results in the victim’s death, the penalty may be a life sentence.
If you feel threatened or in danger, report cyberstalking immediately.
The VictimConnect Resource Center offers these tips:
- Call the police and make a report. Explain why cyberstalking is causing you fear.
- Give the police your records of each threatening message from the cyberstalker. Include copies and screenshots of emails, texts, postings and pictures.
- Document and keep track of any reports you make to the police.
For emotional support and advice, call a local domestic violence shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800–799–7233. You can also contact the VictimConnect Resource Center by phone at 855-484-2846 or online via VictimConnect.
According to crime experts, no two cyberstalking situations are alike. So trust your instincts and seek help as needed.