19 April 2013

Focus on... awareness of stalking - digital and cyber stalking

DC Martin O'Neill
Investigator trainer

Based in Maidstone, West Division  |  Joined Kent Police in 1984

I'm going to use this last blog to talk about digital stalking and cyber stalking, explaining the differences and highlighting the things you can do to help protect yourself online. Even if you haven't experienced it please keep reading as the information is useful for everyone.

Once again, I would like to thank Laura Richards for allowing me to reproduce her material. 

Digitally assisted stalking relates to stalkers who use a range of methods to stalk, such as social networking sites and email. Cyberstalking relates to a stalker who only uses technology.

Stalking rarely takes place at a distance - some approach their victims regularly. Research shows that those who visit their victim’s home, workplace, or places frequented by the victim more than 3 times in a week, are those who are most likely to turn violent. 

Because of this we must all remain mindful that most stalking now includes a ‘cyber’ or technology aspect and you should safeguard yourself against.

Some of the methods below are extremely rare but I want you to feel safer by knowing all the information.

The risks of technology - it is important that police, victims and the public understand how technology works, why it puts them at risk and what they can do to reduce those risks - something I train officers on regularly.


  • Google yourself to see what you can find e.g. your digital footprint.

  • Change your passwords from a ‘safe’ computer e.g. a friend’s or trusted third party.

  • Set up a new e-mail account and review privacy settings particularly on networking sites.

  • Be careful about what you put online – always ‘err on the side of caution’.

  • Tell friends, family and colleagues about what's happening, not to give anyone your e-mail, number, home address and to take care what they say on online about you.

  • Keep a diary and take screen shots by pressing ‘Print Screen and ALT’.


  • Assume social networking sites will ever be completely safe.

  • Open e-mails/attachments from the perpetrator.

  • Use easy to guess passwords like your name, pets, family, your school, favourite colours, or the same one for every account. Don't just change letters or numbers either.

Anti-spyware software - spyware software can be easily put on to a computer by the perpetrator sending an email, attachment or PDF. However, you can buy anti-spyware software or download it for free. Be careful not to use a fake product, always use a well-known and recommended brand. 

Mobile phones - if you are leaving an already abusive partner, assume that they may track you using your phone.


  • Clean your old phone as it may have software or a tracking ‘app’. Save your photos, music and address book and then restore the phone to factory settings.

  • Hide your caller ID and set a pass-code so your phone locks immediately after use.

  • Keep evidence. Record voicemails and take pictures of texts in case they are erased.

  • If you get repeat or silent calls contact your provider, who can send your call log to police.

  • Consider installing a ‘whitelist’ app so you only receive calls from your contacts. A ‘blacklist’ feature can bar certain numbers too.

  • Turn off your GPS as well as your ‘geotagging’ settings in the camera application.

Social networking sites - one of the most popular sites is Facebook. It is used by many people nowadays and it is a great way of staying in touch with friends. However, it comes with inherent risks, particularly as many people ‘friend’ those who they do not know.


  • Check your privacy settings and set them to highest level.

  • Limit your friends – it is not a popularity contest and make sure those who are your friends are those you would be happy to tell information to.

  • Be careful about what you post – think about what you say (changing relationship status), what you do (photos that give away personal information) or if you ‘check-in’ somewhere.

Account takeovers - this can easily happen, particularly if your stalker is your ex-partner. If they know your password they can log in and change it. It can be easy to guess people’s passwords too as most choose ones that relate to them.


  • Be aware of warning signs, for example e-mails people say they have sent, but you haven't received; money unaccounted for; new password confirmations being sent.

  • Use multiple e-mail accounts – one for work, one for friends, one for banking etc.

and finally....

GPS devices on vehicles - these can be easily obtained online. They are devices that attach to cars and track movement.


  • Check under the car for a small box, attached by a magnet the size of a deck of cards. 

  • Park the car in a safe, well-lit place.

Right, that’s all from me folks. If my work here this week means at least one person feels more confident in the process and comes forward, this blog has been worthwhile. I really do hope that you’ve found this useful and would appreciate your feedback on Twitter and Facebook.

Following the successful conviction I mentioned on Tuesday, one of our senior officers, Chief Superintendent Steve Corbishley, has said: ‘Stalking can begin with what – on the face of it – seems like trivial behaviour but it can lead to serious offending. Offenders often downplay behaviour and victims sometimes experience as many as 100 incidents before they report it.

‘One incident in isolation can seem unremarkable or irrelevant so our officers are trained to look at all the acts. The legislation is there to be used.’

Remember, please call us if you believe you are being stalked.

If you feel unsure about contacting the police straightaway but feel the need to speak to someone please call the National Stalking Hotline on 0808 8020 300. It’s there to help you.

I hope you all have wonderful, and safe, weekend and thanks for reading my blogs this week.


For more information visit www.digital-stalking.com

For further information about Laura Richards and her work on stalking and domestic abuse, visit www.laurarichards.co.uk