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You are conscientious, a good person, observe safety laws and precautions, want the best for your family, and bought a personal computer to broaden the educational horizons of your family. Suddenly, your child is missing, you are receiving harassing or threatening emails, or one of your loyal employees suddenly seemed to turn on you with damaging email to your competitors or other employees. What happened? How did this stranger enter your household, violate your business or home without you knowing they were allowed in?
These unwelcome intruders are cyberstalkers, no different than stalkers in the physical world. They are pedophiles, persons with grudges, criminals, young, old, white, black, tall, or short. Unfortunately, most internet users, criminals and decent citizens alike, believe they are anonymous – that they can not be identified or found.
Cyberstalking can be in any number of disguises. For example: threatening or harassing email, flaming (online verbal abuse), mass unsolicited email, identity theft, leaving improper messages at guestbooks or newsgroups from you, initiating directed computer viruses, pedophile activity, or email forgery (sending false or damaging email from you, usually to people you know like coworkers, employers, neighbors, etc.). Unfortunately, cyberstalkers sometimes step out of cyberspace and into the physical world by stealing your identity, luring unsuspecting victims for a first meeting, vandalizing your home, office, or vehicle, sending threatening or obscene mail, making abusive and excessive phone calls, or whatever else the criminal mind can imagine.
Cyberangels, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Blue Ridge Thunder along with the local computer crime units are now the major organizations in the United States available to every internet user to gather evidence about and locate cyberstalkers. Because the internet is a recent development and stalking was only first labeled a crime in the United States by California in 1990, state cyberstalking laws and their implementation are still in their infancy. Unfortunately, the majority of community and state police departments are not yet trained or equipped to handle cyberstalkers. Usually, the stalker has to physically harm or be in the act of trying to harm you before the local police can take action.
The Center for Democracy and Technology focuses on the balance between internet legislation (pending and passed) and your rights as a netizen (a citizen of the internet community). Actual cyberstalking laws, federal child exploitation statutes, and cyberstalking court cases do exist. But, how do we fairly balance the rights and privileges of every netizen (which is every internet user across the globe) with their internet safety? The National Critical Infrastructure Protection Center of the FBI and the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office of the Department of Commerce were first organized in October, 1997 as a response to this question.
So, even with these authorities trying to make the internet a fair and safe place for everyone, there are general safety guidelines you can follow to reduce your chances of being the victim of a stalker.
Do not give your real name, address, phone number, school information, marital status, occupation, income, or passwords to ANYONE through email, chat rooms, or newsgroups. This includes requests from internet service providers because a legitimate ISP request will not come from an email, chat room, or Usenet newsgroup. This also includes the 'best friend' you met over the internet. A criminal can represent themself as a teenager, young person, professional, or anyone that suites their purpose. Adults are just as susceptible to predators as kids or young adults. Chat rooms are an effective tool for any criminal, especially the pedophile. Most pedophiles keep their victim(s) in a "secret" friendship. Travelers (pedophiles that travel to meet their victims) can lure unsuspecting kids and teens to meet after gaining their trust. Then, . . . unfortunately, we heard horror stories of these young victims and their families. Criminals (burglars or identity thieves, for example) gather information about their unsuspecting victims by gaining their trust after posing as "a friend" and piecing together the bits of personal information the intended victim unknowingly supplies over the course of the "relationship" and time.
Do not create an online biography. Family homepages are fun and useful, but, do not include your last name, state, address, phone number, occupation, or other identifying information for a stranger (unknown internet user) to compile.
Some filtering software programs can prevent your child from posting or emailing your address, telephone number, or credit card number.
Be careful what you post to Usenet newsgroups. Do not include any personal identifying information.
Be careful with any online offers (via email, newsgroups, or in conversations) that result in someone visiting your home, ask you to attend a meeting, or require an immediate response requiring financial information or your credit card number.
If you THINK you are being stalked: Basic Guidelines
Use a P.O. Box as your address (on printed checks, internet directories, etc.)
Use an unlisted and unpublished telephone number.
Use encrypted email.
Change your password frequently. Use a nonsensical "word" that has both numbers and letters.
Use an ambiguous username - a word that does not give reference to your gender, interests, location, or name.
If you KNOW you are being stalked: Basic Guidelines
Well, you followed all the guidelines and are a victim anyway. Now, what do you do? Save all messages from your stalker, preferably in a safe deposit box, in both paper and disk form. Record the dates and times the stalker contacts you. Do not panic! Review the websites of authoritative agencies and "get the feel" for them. Decide who you probably would feel most comfortable working with. Contact them. If you feel you do not have the time to look around the websites, go to Reporting Crimes and find your appropriate link for 'Internet Stalking'. If you use email that is not encrypted, do not include ANY personal information (including phone number and state) but emphasize that you immediately need their assistance. The reason is that any unencrypted email is potentially able to be read by an unknown third party. Wait for their response and do EXACTLY what they say. Then, do not abandon or shy away from the internet after this bad experience. The original reason you found your first Internet Service Provider is probably still valid for you. Support for victims of stalking is available through the National Victim's Center. Support for survivors of stalkers is also available. You can still have a rewarding and enjoyable internet experience if you allow yourself.
National Alert Register (for Sex Offenders)
National Sex Offender Registry by the US Dept of Justice