Image: Internet Security
Creating a better online experience in the data and communication field has become a non-negotiable topic. Given the current move into the digital space, advanced data platforms and new communication channels have been created to improve customer experience. When social network communication is carried out securely and sensibly, it can be professionally, and socially beneficial. However, lack of proper care can be the root of undesirable consequences, such as cyberstalking.
Cyberstalking is a type of online harassment where a stalker carries out unwanted, persistent, and often obsessive behavior over email, online media, and mobile technology. Cyberstalkers use threats, slander, and defamation to target groups, individuals, and even organizations. They are mainly motivated by the goal of controlling or intimidating their victims, or information gathering to perform offline stalking or identity theft.
What is Cyberstalking
Cyberstalking can take different shapes and forms, but generally, it is the stalking and consequential online harassment via online platforms such as forums, email, and social media. It is a planned action that is carried out over a sustained time period. Cyberstalking cases often begin as typically harmless interactions, or have few unpleasant messages that you might find amusing. As their frequency increases, they become more frightening and annoying.
It is a popular belief that cyberstalking involves direct communication, but this is not true. Some victims may have no idea that they are being stalked. Victims of cyberstalking can be monitored by perpetrators using different methods and use the gathered information for crimes and identity theft. In many cases, cyberstalkers may attempt to bridge the line between cyberspace and real life. They may use your data to contact your friends and harass you offline.
Examples of Cyberstalking
A cyberstalker can go after a victim in several ways:
- Monitoring- The stalker keeps a close eye on the victim’s online activities with the intention of gathering data.
- Online Scams- A popular spot to pull off online scams is dating websites. Perpetrators will create false profiles that perfectly match their victim’s taste and misrepresent what they like, who they are, how they look, and what they do to get their attention.
- Catfishing- Catfishing is a popular cyberstalking method where the perpetrator creates a false social media identity to pose as someone else. In other cases, perpetrators pretend to be the victim to humiliate the victim or fool others.
- Identity theft- Identity theft can be easy if the perpetrator and the victim relate intimately. Common pieces of data such as maiden name, date of birth, social security number, and former address are known by partners. This data can be used by a cyberstalker to make undetected purchases, and apply for mortgages or credit cards.
- Ordering products- Sometimes, perpetrators have the intention of bringing shame to the victim. They will order embarrassing items under the victim’s name and have it shipped to their workplace to cause unrest and distress.
- Information gathering- The co-workers, friends, and family of the victims are approached for information gathering efforts. This information will be used to harass the victim later.
Image: Information Gathering
- Posting insults- Social media and blog comments, tweets, and websites can be used as an avenue by a cyberstalker to post insulting, defamatory, and derogatory comments about someone.
- Texting obsessively- A common scenario is the use of many text messages with baseless accusations to torment and disrupt a victim’s day. This also includes the use of social media platforms to post obsessively and keep the victim uneasy.
- Physical stalking- Often, cyberstalking can turn into a physical affair. Cyberstalkers can use the pulled information to trace the victim and show up near their place of residence. Physical stalking includes obscene mail, vandalism, abusive phone calls, theft, assault, and trespassing.
Different Types of Cyberstalking
A couple of factors can define how a stalker is classified:
- The stalker-target connection (former lover colleague).
- Victim classification (stranger, celebrity).
- Psychological features involved (narcissistic, erotomanic).
- Intentions of the stalker/ purpose of cyberstalking (retaliation, retribution, affection).
Some of the most typical stalker types include:
- Predatory stalking- the motivation of a predatory stalker is getting pleasure from controlling their victim, and might sexually attack their target. They target both unfamiliar or familiar faces, and employ tactics such as crude phone calls, spying, exhibitionism, and fetishism.
- The resentful stalker- The aim of a resentful stalker is to take revenge on someone who upset them by inflicting distress and fear in their victim. These stalkers have a characteristic of irrational paranoia, obsession, and persistence. Although violence is less frequent, verbal threats are common.
- Intimacy seeker- intimacy seekers are motivated by sparking a romantic connection with their victim, idealizing them, and may get potentially deluded that their victim cares about them. The target may or may not be familiar to the cyberstalker. The behavior is commonly characterized by posting mail to the target, or even gifts. These stalkers may become physically violent or exhibit envy if their target starts seeing someone else.
- The rejected stalker- rejected stalkers come about as a result of a failed close relationship. They do this for reconciliatory purposes, or to exert revenge from the rejection. They can be highly jealous and narcissistic. Targets are usually former sexual partners, however, close friends and family can also become targets.
- Incompetent suitor- An incompetent suitor wants to start a romantic endeavor with their target but are barred by their poor social behavior. Often, they stalk close people and might experience an emotional disconnect from the target, even after inviting them for many unsuccessful romantic encounters.
- Morbidly infatuated and erotomanic stalking- these are generally celebrity stalkers. Stalkers have the irrational conviction that their target loves them, and all their actions are received as actions of reinforcing their love. Victims of this type of cyberstalking are commonly specific targeted characters of a more socially elevated status.
Effects of Cyberstalking
Stalking victimization has potentially devastating effects. Taking into account the presence of constant fear and the possibility of physical harm, victims go through various occupational, psychological, physical, and general lifestyle effects. Some of the common affected areas by stalking victims include:
1. Mental health- victims can experience a range of emotions such as denial, depression, anger, confusion, fear, isolation, embarrassment, and self-blame. Panic attacks, illnesses, anxiety, and insomnia also develop to mention but a few.
Image: Mental Health Effects of Cyberstalking
2. Physical health- from chronic stress, victims of cyberstalking may experience headaches and hypertension. Fatigue from difficulty in sleeping and concentration can also arise.
3. Social life- Cyberstalking victims may have problems creating relationships due to trust issues. This may end up manifesting as problems with emotional and physical intimacy.
4. School/Work life- the victim’s performance in their work or school life may change for the worst. Cyberstalking victims may drop out of school, or leave their job as a result.
5. Finances- leaving jobs or sick leaves may result in loss of wages. Victims of cyberstalking may also lose money in a bid to increase personal or home security.
Protecting Yourself From Identity Theft
Having a proactive approach can better protect your information from identity theft. By building many effective barriers of protection, identity thieves can be discouraged from victimizing you. You can protect yourself from cyberstalking by:
- Using password-protected devices: According to a 2018 press release by Kaspersky Labs, more than half of Americans do not password-protect their devices. Under the wrong hands, your financial accounts, emails, and private data can be accessed and stolen.
- Beware of phishing: Texts messages and emails with suspicious links should be avoided. Phishing attacks take the form of legitimate companies and attempt to trick you into entering private data, such as account information.
- Use password managers: Employing the same password to protect all your electronic devices is a security risk. By figuring out only one password, a cyber stalker can have access to all of your accounts. Password managers such as 1Password and LastPass can be effective tools to manage multiple and complex passwords.
- Avoid exposing personal information: Regularly, fraudsters make attempts to pose as the employee of a financial company you associate with. Note, legitimate organizations will never call to ask for personal information such as a pin number or social security number.
- Protect personal documents: your physical documents may include information that may pose a security risk. You should avoid leaving mail in the mailbox, or use electronic statements for sensitive documents. Make sure to shred ATM paper trail and personal documents when throwing them in the trash.
- Check credit reports regularly: a credit report has valuable information that can be used to track usage. Activities of financial accounts, inclusive of balances, are always recorded and a good way to notice any account discrepancies. Spotting irregularities early can help you take action and prevent worse outcomes.
- Limit your exposure: Limiting the number of credit cards you carry with you is a good idea. It will be easy to mitigate the impact in case it is stolen. In addition, protect your social security number by avoiding carrying it.
Cyberstalking poses a big challenge. Even so, it is easier to prevent it from happening than to solve it and eliminate its consequences.
When a stalker carries out unwanted, persistent, and obsessive behavior over the internet of other communication platforms, it is referred to as cyberstalking. Using groups, individuals, or organizations as their targets, they use slander, threats, and defamation in an attempt to control their victims. A cyberstalker can use online scams, identity theft, catfishing, monitoring, information gathering, and even physical stalking to pursue their victims. Types of cyberstalkers include: the incompetent suitor, the rejected stalker, the resentful stalker, the intimacy seeker, the predatory stalker, and the celebrity stalker. By using proactive security measures, you can protect yourself from identity theft.