In the United States, it is estimated that around 1.5 million people fall victim to online stalking every year. Victims are usually females aged 18 to 29, and 56% of perpetrators are adult males.
There is no question that cyberstalking is a serious problem. Fortunately, the US government has enacted countrywide legislation to combat the issue. However, you still need to need to take your own steps to avoid becoming the victim of online stalking. If you’re unsure of what to do, here are some things that you need to consider if you want to avoid cyberstalking.
What is cyberstalking?
Firstly, let’s define cyberstalking. Basically, cyberstalking is online stalking. This could take place via email, phone calls, messages, social media, and many other channels. This stalking could be in the form of sexual harassment, threats against you or your family, or basically anything else that you deem as a concern for your safety.
So how can you protect yourself?
1. Limit the information you share online
According to reports, 22% of cyberstalking cases originate on Facebook. This is not surprising, as around 63% of all profiles on the popular social networking site are visible to the public, making it easier for online stalkers to get information on their intended victims—and pose as real people on Facebook to approach these people.
This technique is called catfishing. Cyberstalkers steal the profile picture, name, and other personal details from someone who is lax about their privacy settings and use their fake profile to gain trust with their victim. You should adjust your personal profile settings so that only your friends can view what you post, and don’t provide too many personal details. Avoid sharing information like your phone number, your home address, or place of work.
If you’re suspicious of a potential catfisher, there are a few things you can do to check:
- Take a close look at their profile. Catfishers generally have selfies of themselves, where real accounts will have varied images of friends and family.
- Conduct a reverse Google image search. This will take you to where the cyberstalker stole the image from, if indeed they did.
- Check how many friends they have. The average person has 130; cyberstalkers generally have significantly less.
- Ask them to Facetime or Skype. If they make up weird excuses, that is an immediate red flag.
2. Do not share your location
Whether on vacation or just visiting a local café, people love to take pictures and then share their current location on social media. This allows online stalkers to track you down. By spending just a few minutes scrolling through your social feeds, a cyberstalker might be able to piece together a scarily accurate picture of your activities.
You don’t have to stop posting pictures of yourself altogether. What you need to do is avoid sharing your location and take pictures in a way that your surroundings don’t easily give it away.
Also, check your fitness apps. Many popular health apps will post your workouts for everyone to see. While you might be happy to brag about the 5k PR you just ran, a cyberstalker could use the map to determine where you started and stopped your run and use that data to figure out where you live. Make your account private.
3. Take advantage of a VPN
VPNs (or Virtual Private Networks) are software designed to encrypt your data traffic over a network, which makes them ideal to avoid cyberstalking. When you use a VPN while connected to the internet, all your data is kept private and secure, meaning cyberstalkers will not have the chance to hack your system and steal your information.
Don’t have a VPN installed on your device yet? You should download a trusted VPN now for both mobile and desktop.
4. Report it to the authorities
If cyberstalking has reached the point where you feel unsafe, then you should report it to law enforcement immediately. Cyberstalking is now considered a serious crime and police departments usually have a cybercrime unit that monitors these kinds of activities.
If you have the money, you can also hire a private investigator to help you identify who the stalker might be. Your investigator can forward their findings to the authorities to help apprehend your stalker.
With our online data being increasingly vulnerable, the threat of cyberstalking is an issue we can’t ignore. Make sure you remain proactive in protecting your online privacy.