Cyberstalking: Know the signs and protect yourself
July 25, 2023 3 min read
With our social lives increasingly moving more online, an unfortunate reality is that real-world crimes are going digital, too. That includes stalking—cyberstalking that is. Follow this guide to learn how to avoid becoming a victim and use a cybersecurity tool like Norton 360 Deluxe to help protect your digital life.
Cyberstalking is when someone uses electronic communication, social media, and other technology to commit crimes. It is defined as the use of email, direct messaging, or other electronic means to harass, scare, or threaten someone with physical harm. And it can come in various forms, such as bullying, sexual harassment, or other unwelcome attention around your life and activities.
While each cyberstalking case is different, a look at recent cases reveals that cyberstalkers commonly engage in identity theft and other criminal behaviors. That’s because many cyberstalkers use a blend of online and physical harassment and intimidation, such as:
Tracking someone’s online activity or physical location.
Making death threats or other overt threats of violence.
Blackmailing a victim using personal information or photos.
Making false accusations about a victim online.
"Doxxing" a victim by publishing their private information online.
Posting derogatory statements about a victim publicly.
Posing as a victim online to cause harm to their life or career.
Sending threatening doctored photos or deepfakes of the victim or their family.
Some cyberstalkers use technology to get information such as a physical address and mail threatening physical items to a victim or even show up at their home.
Learning the definition of cyberstalking is one thing, but specific examples may help you understand it even better. Let’s review some recent, real-world incidents.
Cyberstalking example #1: eBay exec targets newsletter publishers A former eBay executive pleaded guilty to a number of crimes related to harassing a Massachusetts couple to try to get them to stop publishing a newsletter related to eBay sales. The cyberstalking campaign included public tweets, threatening direct messages on Twitter, and going to the couple's home to put a GPS tracker on their car.
The cyberstalkers also sent disturbing items to the victims' address, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. These deliveries included a funeral wreath, a book on surviving the death of a spouse, and a bloody pig mask.
Cyberstalking example #2: Man cyberstalks woman after date refusal After a "love interest" turned him down for a romantic relationship, a Texas man cyberstalked her using more than 100 social media accounts, sending threatening messages to her and to another victim he "saw as a romantic rival," according to the DOJ.
The cyberstalking campaign—lasting over six months—included using social media accounts to send death threats to the victim and publishing her name, address, and other private information online, known as "doxxing." He also messaged her threatening photos.
Cyberstalking is illegal in the United States, but there aren’t many federal protections. The few that do exist include:
Title 18: An anti-stalking law prohibiting various forms of stalking, including using electronics to cause physical harm or emotional distress.
Most laws protecting citizens from cyberstalking are created on the state level, so contact your local law enforcement agency if you’re unsure of your rights.
How to report cyberstalking
If you encounter someone engaging in cyberstalking behaviors and it seems serious, or if you begin to receive threats, you should report it to the police. Remember, many police departments have cybercrime units, and cyberstalking is a crime.
Here are the steps to take:
Keep copies of any messages or images that would prove the harassment.
Log the dates and times you receive messages, along with any screenshots that can prove harassment.
Report your case to the police if you fear for your safety or if the cyberstalking escalates.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also runs the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). In addition to contacting your local police, you can file a complaint online to report cyberstalking and other cybercrimes to the FBI.
FYI: If your cyberstalker seems to know more than they should, and you suspect they have access to your texts, calls, or emails, then they may be using spyware. If this happens to you, seek help via a public computer or phone to keep your cyberstalker in the dark and help prevent them from blocking your efforts.
How to help protect yourself against cyberstalking
Cyberstalking is a serious crime, and no one wants to become a victim. Shield yourself and your family from cyberstalkers by following these important tips to help protect your privacy online:
Conduct a scan for your information: Do an online search for your name and those of your spouse and kids to see what information is available about you online. If you find personal information you wouldn't want a cyberstalker to get, you may need to contact the website to remove the data.
Use strong passwords: Safeguard your accounts with good password security habits. Consider using a password manager like Norton Password Manager to make it easy to keep track of all your strong passwords securely.
Don’t share locations: Be careful about publicly sharing information that would let a cyberstalker know your physical whereabouts, such as "checking in" at a place on social media or publicly announcing that you plan to attend a certain event.
Scan your device for intruders: Cyberstalkers who get their hands on a device can quickly and easily install software or hardware, sometimes known as "stalkerware," to monitor a victim's every online move or track their physical location.
Set social media to private: Use privacy settings on social media so you’re only sharing posts to close friends, relatives, and others in your trusted circle. Consider using privacy settings to prevent your profile from appearing in search results when others look online for your name.
Never share private information: Don’t share your full name, address, phone number, full date of birth, email address, or the city where you live with someone you don’t know personally.
Use security software: Updated security software like Norton 360 Deluxe monitors your activity to alert you of threats like phishing attacks and scans your device to let you know when it’s been compromised. While it’s not a guarantee against cyberstalking, it’s one step that helps keep you and your family safer.
Stop cyberstalkers in their tracks
People are becoming more tech-savvy—including cyberstalkers. Help protect yourself against potential threats and get help taking action if they occur with Norton™ 360 Deluxe. It comes with built-in protection against viruses and other malware that cyberstalkers might use against you, so you can be better protected and keep your personal information private.
Looking for more information about cyberstalking? Here are our answers to some of your lingering questions.
Is it cyberstalking to "stalk" someone on social media?
Many people use the phrase “stalking” to describe following someone’s activities via their social networks. But checking in on an ex-partner or scrolling through your friend’s likes isn’t a crime.
Those actions usually don’t involve harassment or other criminal activity. In contrast, cyberstalking can be a serious crime with legal implications that may even result in prison time.
Why is cyberstalking a crime?
Just like harassing or threatening an individual in person has consequences, so does committing these acts online. This applies whether you threaten or intend to threaten their physical or emotional safety.
How serious is cyberstalking?
The severity of a cyberstalking case depends on how far the cyberstalker has gone to harass the victim. For example, posting a mean comment on social media isn’t the right thing to do, but it's not a crime when it doesn’t threaten the person. However, if the comment does threaten the person or the cyberstalker is making plans to escalate their actions, this is a more serious crime on par with threatening someone in person.
Clare Stouffer, a Gen employee, is a writer and editor for the company’s blogs. She covers various topics in cybersecurity.
Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. Our offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about Cyber Safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses. The Norton and LifeLock brands are part of Gen Digital Inc.