What is Cyberstalking and How to Protect Yourself from Cyberstalkers

  • By Dawna M. Roberts
  • Apr 14, 2022

What is cyberstalking

What is Cyberstalking?

Cyberstalking is a crime where someone stalks a person using digital platforms such as text messages, email, social media, phone calls, forums, and other online technologies. Often cyberstalkers use fake profiles to remain anonymous. This practice is called “catfishing.” Cyberstalkers often do this to harass, embarrass, slander, dox, blackmail, cyberbully, threaten, or harm someone.

Types of Cyberstalking

Although the cyberstalking definition indicates that any type of stalking is a negative interaction that happens over a long period of time, there are only two types of cyberstalking. The first is direct, where the cyberstalker emails, texts, or interacts directly with their victim. With indirect cyberstalking, the offender may damage the person’s device, hack into it, install ransomware, blackmail them, or monitor their activities from afar without the victim knowing it. Sometimes these indirect stalkers simply post misinformation or sensitive and personal details about the person to embarrass them or damage their reputation. 

Cyberstalking Laws

States with cyberstalking laws

Currently, cyberstalking laws vary significantly from country to country and even within the United States. California was the first state to adopt legislation making cyberstalking a crime with severe punishment. Other states that also have cyberstalking laws include:

  • Alabama
  • New York
  • Illinois
  • Hawaii
  • Arizona
  • Texas
  • Florida

The Damage of Cyberstalking

Damage of cyberstalking

Victims of cyberstalking may experience fear, anxiety, and other types of physical distress. Cyberstalking is stressful and may lead to depression, suicide, anxiety, loss of sleep, trouble eating, difficulty concentrating, along with other mental health issues and physical symptoms. 

Often the perpetrators are someone you know, like an ex or even a family member or friend. 

How to Spot Cyberstalking

Cyberstalkers may use a variety of techniques to harass and humiliate their victims. Some cyberstalking signs to watch out for include:

  • Someone who makes excessive comments on your social media posts.
  • A person sends you threatening or sexually explicit texts, emails, photos, or other harmful types of content.
  • Someone is impersonating you on social media and making embarrassing comments.
  • Tagging you in posts without your consent.
  • Account takeover where the cyberstalker uses your accounts to post offensive or embarrassing content. 
  • Receiving a barrage of messages from an attacker.

Cyberstalkers often research their target extensively before waging an attack. Therefore, it’s essential to know how to protect yourself against this heinous crime. 

How to Prevent Cyberstalking

Cyberstalking is a serious crime and can be very stressful and damaging to the victim. It’s important to learn how to stop cyberstalking or prevent it from happening in the first place. The best way to do this is to protect all your information online. Other ways to avoid cyberstalking include:

  • Keep a low-profile online. Try to stay as anonymous as possible and safeguard your private information vehemently.
  • Try to use nicknames or gender-neutral names so you won’t become an easy target looking for specific types.
  • Do not post your email address, phone number, or home address anywhere publicly online. Be careful about posting work details also.
  • Use a temporary email address to link to all your social media accounts and a private one to communicate with close friends and family. That way, if you need to delete the temporary account, you won’t have to start over with close connections.
  • Turn on spam-filtering on all your email accounts.
  • Keep all your software and hardware updated with the latest security patches.
  • Use a password manager to keep track of all your account passwords and make them long and strong. 
  • Clean up your profiles on social media and remove any personal details.
  • Turn on two-factor authentication with all your online accounts.
  • Use biometrics and PINs for all your devices to protect them.
  • Use a VPN (a virtual private network) to mask your IP and online activities.
  • Configure all your social media privacy settings to maximum.
  • Do not use a free or public Wi-Fi connection without a VPN.
  • Send private information via text only to trusted connections, do not post it on forums or online in social media.
  • Never leave mobile devices unattended.
  • Turn off geolocation (GPS) when not in use so you cannot be tracked. This is especially important when you upload images to social media.
  • Install antivirus/anti-malware software on all your computers and devices.
  • Log out of accounts rather than just shutting the browser page.
  • Never install or download anything from an untrusted source.
  • Change all your passwords for online accounts.
  • Limit social media sharing to just friends and unfriend anyone you don’t know.

What to Do if You Are Being Cyberstalked

If you think someone is cyberstalking you, you should take quick action to put an end to it.

  • Use Google’s reverse image search to see if their picture on social media is fake.
  • Report the offender to social media platforms or their ISP if you know who they use.
  • Block the person on all platforms and report their behavior to federal authorities. It’s important to note that each social media channel has a way to file a report for unacceptable behavior.
  • Contact local law enforcement if you have been threatened or feel unsafe.
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