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Stalking Moving Into Cyber-space

January 17, 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - January is National Stalking Awareness Month, and the West Virgina Coalition Against Domestic Violencewarns that stalking is moving into cyberspace.

Some have argued that cyber-privacy concerns are overblown and encourage paranoia, but the coalition says one in four victims nationally reports that their stalker used some kind of high technology.

Cindy Southworth, vice president for development and innovation at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, says stalkers can install spyware on a computer or a car's GPS device, or enable GPS tracking on a cell phone, without the victim knowing. If you think you're being monitored, she says, trust your instincts.

"If you think someone knows too much about your activities, they know too much about your e-mails. It's possible that there is spyware on your home computer. If they know your location it's possible that they've got a GPS tracking device."

Southworth recommends talking to police or an advocate before confronting a stalker or changing passwords or privacy settings.

"If you are dating or in a relationship with your stalker, in an abusive relationship, do not start changing passwords until you are in a safe place because that might tip off the abuser that you are thinking of leaving, which could escalate the abuse."

Southworth says victims should remember that harassing e-mails and Facebook comments can be used as evidence in court. She says more information and technical advice is available at her group's web site, nnedv.org.

AEquitas, a group which advises prosecutors, warns that it's easy for someone to acquire technology that can be used for stalking. Jeff Greipp, attorney adviser with AEquitas, says one example is "spoofing," which lets someone display a false number on caller ID or a cell phone. He says a stalker can use it to trick a victim or harass someone by calling 911 and summoning police.

"That individual may say that 'I have everyone in the home at gunpoint' and then hang up the phone. Dispatched to the home is a SWAT team that takes everyone in that home into custody."

The national domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV