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How to avoid stalkers online

How to avoid stalkers online

With the Internet and social networking sites, it is easy for your friends to keep up with what you are doing. But all that tweeting, status updating and picture posting could be supplying information to someone you don't want to have "following" you.

Cyberstalking – using electronic means to stalk or harass someone – is a very serious issue. According to the Survivors in Action advocacy group, one in 12 women and one in 45 men will be stalked in their lifetime in the United States. The average length of the stalking is almost two years – and it is even longer if it involves formerly intimate partners.

How do you prevent yourself from being cyberstalked? ParetoLogic security analyst Jean Taggart said the key is trying to strike a balance between using social networking site sand protecting yourself.

These general guidelines can help:

Edit your privacy settings: You should limit sharing certain information – such as regular status updates and photos or videos that you have been tagged in – to only people you trust. In Facebook, under Privacy Settings you can create a group to share this information with, so that it doesn't go out to your entire friend list. MySpace lets you adjust privacy settings as well, but for most things you can only limit the info to your friends list. On Twitter you can "Protect My Updates" so that only your followers will be able to read your feed.

Don't friend everyone: You want people to like you, but you don't have to be social network friends with absolutely everyone. There have been a few mainstream media reports where someone writes on Facebook they are in Mexico and their house is broken into by a "friend." It is a good idea to keep your inner circle small. Also, if you end a relationship – be it a significant other or toxic friend – you should think about whether they or even mutual friends (who could be spies) should remain on your friend lists.

Protect your PC: If a relationship ends badly, it is a good idea to reset all of your email and social networking passwords, if you think the person might know them. In most cases, it will not be necessary, but it is always a good idea to have anti-spyware software on your computer. In the rare case that someone tries to stalk you via malware, it will help protect you.

Be careful with location posts: Be wary about specific location tweets or status updates. These posts tell people where you are. Also consider using iPhone applications such as Foursquare and Yelp infrequently. These can tell people where you are. If you are looking to connect with people right now, they can be helpful but most the time not everyone needs to know where you are. As shown on the website icanstalku.com, your Twitpics and other Twitter posts can also reveal your location as well as patterns of your behaviour. For more on locational privacy, check out pleaserobme.com.

Make yourself hard to find: In general, your friends and family know where to find you. Other people should not have easy access to you and your life. On Facebook, it is a good idea to limit the "public search." This means that people can't Google you and get a preview of your Facebook profile. If you have a personal blog you should have it set so people have to sign up to read it or have their ISP address tracked so that if there is a problem you can have it blocked. Consider having non-revealing usernames for posting on public places such as blogs, online newspaper stories and message boards.

Google yourself: If you think you could have a possible stalker, Google yourself. The person might have a blog or web page about you. It is a good idea to search for your phone numbers as well.

Report, don't respond: If you think you are being harassed or stalked online, do not respond. This might cause the situation to escalate. You should report the activity to the online community, Cyber911 Emergency or Cyberstalking (operated by the National Center for Victims of Crime). Keep a record of any unwanted communication and consider discussing the situation with local authorities.

The idea that someone is watching you is not pleasant. However, in today's online world of information sharing, we need to assume it is a possibility. The guidelines above are a great start toward warding off cyberstalkers.

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