Cyberstalking takes on many forms. No, regularly checking out your favorite people’s social media profiles does not fit the description. Cyberstalking refers to a range of behaviors where a person uses the internet to badger another person to the point of making that individual feel unsafe.
Based on the definition above, you should know if you have a cyberstalker. So how can you avoid being a victim of cyberstalking? How do you handle stalkers when they become physical?
6 Things to Do if You Have a Cyberstalker
Stalking is pretty common—the Bureau of Justice estimates that over 3.8 million Americans over 16 years have had to deal with a stalker. While cyberstalking seems less threatening than having a physical stalker, it is just as bad and stressful.
These tips should help you deal with active cyberstalkers but are just as helpful in avoiding future cases of cyberstalking.
1. Block Your Stalker Online
All social media platforms let users block other users from seeing their account activities. For example, Instagram has settings you can use to restrict or block other users. Dealing with trolls and blocking people on TikTok is also easy.
Blocking your stalker prevents them from reaching you. However, this measure may be ineffective because they can go ahead and create as many burner accounts as they want. So, you will need to adjust your account privacy settings too…
2. Adjust Your Account Privacy Settings
Social media platforms make user accounts open to the public by default. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, that’s the point: to connect with people, and share and consume content online. However, cyberstalkers also exploit this default setting to reach their victims. The best thing to do here will be to adjust your account privacy settings so that only people you approve can reach you.
For instance, you can hide your online status on WhatsApp; but there are ways you can go private on all social media platforms.
Restricting your account may seem like a drastic measure, especially if you’re someone who doesn’t consider your activity worth hiding. However, the mental peace you will get from protecting your privacy is worth it.
3. Block Their Calls and Emails
According to the DOJ report on stalking, 67 percent of cyberstalking victims get unwanted calls, voice messages, texts, or emails. You’re not helpless here either. Most smartphones let you block contacts and even unsaved numbers quite easily.
Doing this will prevent your stalker from contacting you with that specific number. However, as with an online account, getting a burner phone number is easy. So, you’ll have to screen calls and texts. Some apps, like Truecaller, do this automatically; you may also use reverse phone lookup sites to find out who called you.
Meanwhile, general tips for blocking emails in Gmail also work for other email service providers. But blocking can only go so far, and screening tons of messages is tiring. You need more permanent options.
4. Change Your Number and Email
This one is tricky, especially if you use your number and emails for multi-factor authentication. However, changing your phone number and email is worth the respite you’ll get from persistent cyberstalkers.
You can share your new contact details with close family members and friends. Warn them not to share the details with other people without your permission.
That said, you don’t have to destroy your old number or delete your email account for now. You can still keep your number and email while you port your multi-factor authentications to new ones. A good privacy option for emails is to have a private address and create disposable emails.
5. Report Your Stalker to Law Enforcement
Cyberstalking is a federal crime under the Violence Against Women Act. Your stalker may be liable to criminal and civil penalties, including up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 if convicted, according to the FBI.
Report cyberstalking to your local law enforcement agency by calling their non-emergency line. You may also report the crime to the FBI. Collected evidence can aid officers in their investigation, as reported by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), but it doesn’t matter if you’ve not collated a lot. What matters is making that first complaint to set a precedent for if things escalate.
6. Get a Restraining Order
You should get a restraining order after making a police report. For one, this order is evidence you can submit later if investigators decide to prosecute. Also, the order may stop your stalker from contacting you, especially if they understand the legal implications of the court order.
The process of getting a restraining order will depend on where you live. You can use the resources on WomensLaw.org to learn how to file a restraining order in your state. All victims of cyberstalking can use this resource, regardless of gender identity.
When Stalking Leaves the Internet and Becomes Physical
Those tips will limit your stalker’s ability to reach you. Some stalkers will see the futility and eventually stay away, especially when you get a restraining order and report to the police.
However, some stalkers become aggravated when they see you’ve successfully blocked them online. These stalkers may start stalking you in real life, especially if you both live in the same area.
Here are some ways to deal with a stalker if it becomes physical:
- Carry a self-protection device like pepper sprays, stun rings, mace, or a personal alarm. You don’t need special permits to carry these devices in most states. However, depending on where you live, you may need a permit for protection devices like a stun gun, baton, or taser.
- Move around in well-lit areas, especially places with video cameras. Your stalker is less likely to confront you there as they will leave damning evidence against them.
- Install security devices in your home. Consider some of the best DIY indoor and outdoor security systems to keep you safe.
- Resist sharing pictures or posts about your current activity or posts on social media. You can post about them later in the day, but after you have left that place.
- Tell family, friends, and employers that you have a stalker and encourage them to keep your location private, especially when a stranger comes calling.
Your Safety Comes First
There is no one-size-fits-all guide to handling cyberstalkers. You can start with the above tips and adjust based on your needs. Ultimately, what matters is that you are safe online and offline.
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