The Today Show recently featured a story about a man sentenced to 26 years for stalking a woman for 17 years. In this article, Intersections’ Consumer Security Adviser Neal O’Farrell writes about a new report that indicates that as many as 1 in 5 Americans may be victims of online stalking, Read on to learn how you can prevent yourself from becoming one of those victims!
1 in 5 Americans may be victim of online stalking
A new study recently released by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and McAfee found that one in five Americans have come in contact with someone online who made them feel uncomfortable through stalking, persistent emails, and other aggressive outreach attempts.
The report was published to coincide with January’s National Stalking Awareness Month and revealed a number of troubling statistics.
• The National Center for Victims of Crime estimated that stalking affects 3.4 million victims every year
• One in four victims report that the stalker uses a variety of technologies, such as computers, global positioning system (GPS) devices, or hidden cameras, to track the victim’s daily activities.
• Just less than 40% of those victims reported the incident while 61% chose not to.
“The Internet is an amazing tool for sharing and connecting with people. Unfortunately, there are some people who will use it to track, harass or make unwanted contact. Stalking can be dangerous and should be taken seriously,” said Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance. “We encourage anyone who believes they are being victimized online to report the crime and seek help, if needed, from law enforcement or a victim service provider.”
The authors of the report offered the following tips to help you avoid stalking and deal with stalkers:
1) Clean up your online profiles – Don’t include your address or phone number in an online profile. If you must use a professional networking site such as LinkedIn for work, include your company’s corporate address instead of your actual office to prevent someone from knowing where you work. Think about each piece of information you include on your profile and whether it would be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands.
2) Lock down your privacy settings – If you are a social networking user, make sure to set all of your privacy settings to “private” or “friends only” to keep people outside of your network from accessing your information. It’s also important to regularly check the settings to make sure there haven’t been any changes that leave your data exposed.
3) Be careful whom you connect with – When using social networking sites, only connect with people who you know in real life. A stranger who tries to “friend” you could become trouble later on. Also, pay attention to the people your friends are connected with to prevent your information from being shared with someone suspicious.
4) Search yourself to see what’s out there about you – You might be surprised at what you find when you search for yourself. Old website profiles, online forum posts, and pictures of you posted by other people could all be unearthed in a quick search. If you find information about yourself that you want removed, contact the website or person hosting the content.
5) Don’t use an email address that is easy to identify – Stay under the radar by selecting online handles that don’t include your name, date of birth, or other details about you that a stalker might easily recognize. Once you have an anonymous address, guard it as you would your credit card or Social Security number.
6) If you have a personal website, don’t post your email address – These days many of us have blogs and personal websites, but it’s a bad idea to post your email address. Instead, use a contact form so that people can reach you without having your personal address.
7) Be careful when posting photos online – You never know where photos can end up when you post them online. Someone could find them in an image search, post them to a website or downloaded them to their computer. And if the photo contains information about where you live or work, you could wind up giving a stalker all the information they need to locate and harass you.
8. Create strong passwords – Make it difficult for someone to guess your passwords by using a mix of letters, numbers and characters and make sure that they don’t spell anything. Passwords that include the name of your pet or some other personal detail could easily be guessed, allowing an attacker to gain access your account. The same goes for security question answers. Choose hard-to-guess answers to prevent someone from using the password retriever function to obtain your password.
9) Avoid using location-based services – “Checking-in” to restaurants and other locations can be fun, but it can also be dangerous if someone is stalking you. If you must use location-based services, choose a unique username or alias that is not associated with any of your other accounts to make it more difficult for people to identify you.
10) Delete old posts or entries – If you have a stalker, they will scour the Internet for any tidbit of news about you so it’s a good idea to delete any old forum posts, Tweets or status messages that include any personal details or information that could allow them to find you both online and off.
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