This informational material provides tips on home and family security.
Home and Family Security
This is a difficult area to address other than very generally. Changeable conditions and unique differences in housing, family makeup, preoccupation with social and business affairs, neighborhood demographics, and lifestyle all impact the home security profile. These factors should not take precedence over the primary consideration - you and your families personal safety. When a potential danger exists, the family must take precautions and follow the common sense security guidelines. A good approach is to concentrate on making the home a risky target for intruders, and to instill security awareness into each family member.
Survey Your Home and Lifestyle
Begin your home security program with an in depth security survey. Include both the residence and the habits and lifestyles of each family member. Look for possible trouble points. Let each member contribute to and feel a part of the survey and suggest ideas to minimize the risks that are identified. Every person can develop a special sense for observing surroundings, spotting potential problems, and pointing out the danger in everyday situations.
The survey can point out the physical and human weaknesses that may put the family in danger. Put yourself in the place of an intruder and look for weak spots. The following checklist may help in doing the survey and developing your security guidelines.
Take Precautions With Your Home
When choosing a place to live, consider whether an apartment might be more secure than a house. If you live in an apartment building check:
Access control of building, elevators, and parking garages (doorman, keyed front door, receptionist, etc.).
Public areas should be well lit after dark (lobby, laundry area, parking lot, etc.).
Fire exits and doors clearly marked (possibly alarmed to preclude unauthorized entry).
Limited access to apartment balconies and porches.
Doors contain a 180-degree peephole and auxiliary deadbolt lock.
Garage doors and entry gates kept locked at all times (not propped open).
If you live in a private residence:
Install metal sheathed or solid-core entrance doors and install peepholes or intercoms.
Hang doors on heavy-duty hinges reinforced with non-removable hinge pins.
Secure sliding glass doors with a bar, pin the frames so they cannot be lifted off the track.
Don't leave keys under doormats, in flowerpots or in a hiding place near the door.
Never put identification tags on your key rings.
Have an alarm system installed by a responsible company that provides 24-hour service and has demonstrated professional security expertise.
Test alarm components routinely, ensure that if the alarm rings at a remote security office the response time is satisfactory.
Provide adequate clear lines of sight from all windows and doors.
Illuminate residence perimeters and driveway approaches. Eliminate shadows, but don't cause a glare to persons approaching or leaving the home.
Use sodium vapor and quartz lamps for security lighting for a high intensity output.
Configure lighting circuits so that the loss of one lamp will not leave an area totally dark.
Locate switches and controls inside the home.
Consider establishing a well-equipped "safe room" like the one previously described.
Sometimes this could double as a refuge from natural disasters. Safe rooms should have metal or solid core doors, hardened walls and a secure lock.
Be sure windows are properly installed with storm windows, security glazing, locks or pins, grills or bars, shutters or alarms.
Avoid locking windows in a partially open ventilating position.
Provide for quick exit, especially since bedroom windows must be able to serve as fire escape routes.
Locate water and gas shut off valves and electrical distribution boxes inside the residence.
Label fuse boxes and keep them secure, with a flashlight readily available.
Before Leaving the Residence for an Extended Period of Time:
Arrange for mail and newspaper stoppage or ask a friend to pick them up.
Ask neighbors to put some trash in your can on pickup day.
Make sure phones do not ring incessantly, a dead give away no one is home.
Use timers to turn on and off appliances and interior and exterior lights.
The timers should be staggered so that lights go on and off in a normal fashion.
Leave a set of keys to the residence, storage buildings, and codes to the alarm system with a trusted neighbor, inform police to contact this neighbor in case of a problem.
Arrange for lawn care or snow removal services to continue on a regular basis.
Upon returning, if you see evidence of a break in, do not enter, call police first.
If guard dogs are part of the security plan, arrange for professional training, do not treat the animal as a house pet.
Prepare Yourself and Your Family
Never discuss home security and family emergency plans outside the home.
Make an effort to meet you neighbors and involve them in your mutual security.
Instruct younger family members to be wary of strangers.
Teach them not to open the door to strangers when home alone unless there is a scheduled visitor.
If forced entry is attempted, lock the door, phone for help, and go to your safe room.
Do not attempt to confront or corner an intruder, call for help or get out of the house.
Gather important profile information for each family member and close neighbors. (names, phone numbers, ages, description, school, employer, social activities, etc.)
Lock the information in a secure cabinet at home and keep a spare set at work.
Be alert for possible surveillance activities, someone may be watching your actions and daily schedule before targeting your house.
Do not display a routine pattern of leaving at the same time every day; modify your schedule, leave at different times.
Always answer the phone with a simple hello and establish the identity of the caller before giving out information such as your name and address and who is at home.
Children should be instructed to never reveal if they are alone.
Discuss telephone manners and harassing calls with family members.
Explain that such verbal abuse is not directed at them as individuals, and they must try not to get angry, since a harassing caller is often simply trying to get a rise out of you.
Your local police and the phone company can provide guidance and advice on how to handle this kind of disruption.
If the harassment continues, do not hesitate to take action.
When calling on the phone to report an emergency, always give your name and location first, so that help can be sent right away.
Teach children to:
Report suspicious people or incidents, describing all the details they can remember.
Never travel alone, try to walk in a group.
Refuse rides from strangers.
Play in designated areas, not isolated or unsafe areas.
Let the parents know where they are going and when they will be back.
Avoid strangers and don't let them approach or touch them.
Know how to get help and call the police when needed.
When a child is picked up at school, make sure the school has an established procedure for confirming the arrangement with your home or office.
Children should be reminded not to change their after school plans without parental consent.
Consider the implications of keeping a firearm in a home where children play.
Mace or tear gas is a much safer alternative.
If you do include a firearm in your home security program, a shotgun is recommended.
Be sure to obtain the proper permits and train family members in firearm safety and usage.
If a weapon is kept in the home, store the unloaded weapon in a locked area out of reach of children.
Ammunition should be stored separately under lock and key.
Residential Security Tips Exterior:
Keep shrubbery cut back from windows and entrances.
Erect a fence with a locking gate if possible.
Install lighting in a non-accessible location, such as under the eaves.
Have the lighting controlled by automatic timers or photoelectric sensors that will turn lights on and off automatically.
Install alarm systems which ring at central monitoring stations.
Locate control pad near the front door with a delay timer allowing you to exit before activating the system.
Request a panic button that will silently call for help.
Alarms systems can often be combined with smoke detectors to provide extra protection.
Designate a secure storage area in a closet or a small room for valuables. The door should be solid core with a heavy frame and hinges and a dead bolt lock.
Incorporate intrusion alarms on the door using ultrasonic, infrared, or magnetic door contacts.
Smoke detectors are recommended for early fire warning.
Two types are widely in use, photoelectric and ionization, combination detectors include both.
Battery or hard-wired are both acceptable, remember to change smoke alarm batteries when resetting the clock for daylight savings time.
Interior lighting should be controlled with a timer or photoelectric switch especially when you are out.
In the evenings, leave a light on in the living room bright enough to silhouette an intruder.
Use timers to turn on bedroom lights when no one is home.
An office or home is only as secure as its weakest point of entry.
All doors and windows should be checked to see how easily they could be penetrated.
Doors and accessible windows should be fitted with locks and other security devices.
Locks and Locking Devices
The first line of defense in any security system is generally the lock or locking device. Locks differ greatly in appearance, function, and application.
The stronger and more sophisticated the mechanism, the more secure your residence will be.
An intruder cannot risk creating loud noises attempting to defeat a lock.
As a greater deterrent, locks may be used in conjunction with other protection devices such as alarms or bars.
How much should you spend for a lock? Get the best you can afford, with normal use and care a good quality lock will last many years.
The major types of locks used in residences and offices are: cylindrical (key-in-knob), cylindrical deadbolts (key to get in, key to get out), cylindrical sets with deadbolt (key in knob with thumb-turn deadbolt), mortise (recessed into a cavity), and rim-locks (with an interlocking striker plate).
Several types of electrified and magnetic locks are also available. As long as the power is on, they can only be opened with the appropriate regulating device. These include; key cards, switches, computerized controls, security keypads, telephone access, and heat sensitive devices. Cane bolts, metal bolts installed on the inside of a door that can be thrust into the surrounding masonry or door frame, provide additional security. Chain locks are often used to permit partial opening to view or speak with a caller. These may provide a sense of security, but can be forced without much difficulty. A peephole or intercom is much safer than a chain lock.
Doors, Frames, and Hinges
The security afforded by a lock, no matter how expensive, is only as good as the door and frame to which it is fitted. Both should be of solid, sturdy construction. Hinges should be heavy duty and protected against tampering. An iron grillwork gate bolted to the house in front of an entrance door and kept locked affords an extra level of protection.
There are four major types of doors: flush wood, stile and rail (panels), metal or vinyl clad, and sliding glass. Flush doors come in two types: hollow core and solid core. Hollow core is two sheets of thin veneer overlaying a soft filler, solid core is wood all the way through. Stile and rail doors are assembled from several different pieces and mortised together. From a security perspective a steel sheathed door is superior to wood. Patio style sliding glass doors are very vulnerable and require special precautions. Their locks are designed to prevent the doors from being moved laterally. Glass doors must also be secured vertically, since the channel in which they ride may provide wide tolerances. Most locks specially designed for sliding glass doors take into account both types of movement, preventing the door from being lifted out of the channel.
Some of the same devices used to secure windows can also be used with glass doors. Drill a hole through the channel and the frame, then insert a pin or large nail to keep the door from opening.
The vulnerability of a door is usually defined in terms of how long it takes to break through the door itself. If breaking through the door is not possible, prying or forcing a door attached to a weak frame is the favored method. Most wooden frames constructed today have solid wood only for about an inch. Beyond this is usually a 4 to 6 inch gap before the first stud. Consider strengthening frames of this type construction by securing additional 2 x 4 studs directly behind the facing board. Long wood screws should be used to defeat a pry bar or resist a forceful kick.
The security value of the hinge should not be overlooked. A well secured hinge resists two types of forced entry; forcing the door out of the frame by applying pressure to the hinged side opposite the lock, and lifting the door out of the frame after removing the hinge pins. From a security standpoint, the most important consideration of a hinge is whether it is exposed to the outside, and whether or not the pins are designed to be removable. If your door has external hinges with removable pins, consider welding the pins to the hinges. If you want a less permanent solution, drill a small hole through the hinge and into the pin, then insert a second pin or small nail flush with the surface. A locked wrought-iron storm door will also protect the door hinges.
Windows pose more complex security problems than doors. They come in a much greater variety of sizes and styles with emphasis on ventilation, lighting and aesthetics rather than security. Most intruders will try doors before resorting to breaking the glass in a locked window. An unlocked window is an open invitation. Louver windows are a higher security risk than double-hung since the panes are easily removable. Consider replacing the glass in louver windows with Plexiglas or tempered, shatter resistant glass. The simplest measure, which works equally well on double hung or horizontal sliding windows, is to drill a hole through the sash and frame, then insert a pin or nail to prevent movement. If you use your windows frequently for ventilation, drilltwo holes, one for the closed position and another that allows the window to be in a slightly open position. If you have key locks on your windows, make sure they key remains accessible in the event the window is needed for escape from fire or other emergency. Storm windows provide some additional security as well as steel bars, mesh or iron grillwork.
Entry Security Checklist
View locking hardware as a long term investment, match locks to sturdy, compatible doors, frames and hinges so all three components form a strong unit.
Entrance door locks should have at least a 1-inch deadbolt, a recessed cylinder to discourage forcible removal, and a cylinder guard.
Install peepholes or intercom system to identify visitors before opening the door.
Incorporate all doors and vulnerable windows into an alarm system.
Include large picture windows, sliding glass doors, and any windows within arms length of locks.
Make sure all entrance door hinges are heavy duty and are made more secure with pins.
Before using double cylinder locks, which require keys on both sides, consider the possible safety hazards.
Check your local fire safety codes.
If you use padlocks in critical areas make sure they meet the following requirements: hardened shackle (at least 9/32" steel), double locking mechanism (locks both heel and toe), minimum of 5 pin tumbler locks, and a key retaining feature (preventing removal of the key unless padlock is snapped).
Use rim locks as an auxiliary security measure.
Consider filling hollow metal door frames with cement behind the strike plate to prevent forcing.
Restrict keys, both home and office, to those who actually need them, don't hide a spare key under the mat or in the mailbox.
Keep spare keys in a locked drawer, do not tag key chains.
1. Use protection software "anti-virus software" and keep it up to date. Make sure you have anti-virus software on your computer! Anti-virus software is designed to protect you and your computer against known viruses so you don't have to worry. But with new viruses emerging daily, anti-virus programs need regular updates, like annual flu shots, to recognize these new viruses. Be sure to update your anti-virus software regularly! The more often you keep it updated, say once a week, the better. Check with the web site of your anti-virus software company to see some sample descriptions of viruses and to get regular updates for your software. Stop viruses in their tracks!
2. Don't open email from unknown sources. A simple rule of thumb is that if you don't know the person who is sending you an email, be very careful about opening the email and any file attached to it. Should you receive a suspicious email, the best thing to do is to delete the entire message, including any attachment. Even if you do know the person sending you the email, you should exercise caution if the message is strange and unexpected, particularly if it contains unusual hyperlinks. Your friend may have accidentally sent you a virus. Such was the case with the "I Love You" virus that spread to millions of people in 2001. When in doubt, delete!
3. Use hard-to-guess passwords. Passwords will only keep outsiders out if they are difficult to guess! Don't share your password, and don't use the same password in more than one place. If someone should happen to guess one of your passwords, you don't want them to be able to use it in other places. The golden rules of passwords are: (1) A password should have a minimum of 8 characters, be as meaningless as possible, and use uppercase letters, lowercase letters and numbers, e.g., xk28LP97. (2) Change passwords regularly, at least every 90 days. (3) Do not give out your password to anyone!
4. Protect your computer from Internet intruders -- use "firewalls". Equip your computer with a firewall! Firewalls create a protective wall between your computer and the outside world. They come in two forms, software firewalls that run on your personal computer and hardware firewalls that protect a number of computers at the same time. They work by filtering out unauthorized or potentially dangerous types of data from the Internet, while still allowing other (good) data to reach your computer. Firewalls also ensure that unauthorized persons can't gain access to your computer while you're connected to the Internet. You can find firewall hardware and software at most computer stores nationwide. Don't let intruders in!
5. Don't share access to your computers with strangers. Learn about file sharing risks. Your computer operating system may allow other computers on a network, including the Internet, to access the hard-drive of your computer in order to "share files". This ability to share files can be used to infect your computer with a virus or look at the files on your computer if you don't pay close attention. So, unless you really need this ability, make sure you turn off file-sharing. Check your operating system and your other program help files to learn how to disable file sharing. Don't share access to your computer with strangers!
6. Disconnect from the Internet when not in use. Remember that the Digital Highway is a two-way road. You send and receive information on it. Disconnecting your computer from the Internet when you're not online lessens the chance that someone will be able to access your computer. And if you haven't kept your anti-virus software up-to-date, or don't have a firewall in place, someone could infect your computer or use it to harm someone else on the Internet. Be safe and disconnect!
7. Back up your computer data. Experienced computer users know that there are two types of people: those who have already lost data and those who are going to experience the pain of losing data in the future. Back up small amounts of data on floppy disks and larger amounts on CDs. If you have access to a network, save copies of your data on another computer in the network. Most people make weekly backups of all their important data. And make sure you have your original software start-up disks handy and available in the event your computer system files get damaged. Be prepared!
8. Regularly download security protection update "patches". Most major software companies today have to release updates and patches to their software every so often. Sometimes bugs are discovered in a program that may allow a malicious person to attack your computer. When these bugs are discovered, the software companies, or vendors, create patches that they post on their web sites. You need to be sure you download and install the patches! Check your software vendors' web sites on a regular basis for new security patches or use the new automated patching features that some companies offer. If you don't have the time to do the work yourself, download and install a utility program to do it for you. There are available software programs that can perform this task for you. Stay informed!
9. Check your security on a regular basis. When you change your clocks for daylight-savings time, reevaluate your computer security. The programs and operating system on your computer have many valuable features that make your life easier, but can also leave you vulnerable to hackers and viruses. You should evaluate your computer security at least twice a year -- do it when you change the clocks for daylight-savings! Look at the settings on applications that you have on your computer. Your browser software, for example, typically has a security setting in its preferences area. Check what settings you have and make sure you have the security level appropriate for you. Set a high bar for yourself!
10. Make sure your family members and/or your employees know what to do if your computer becomes infected. It's important that everyone who uses a computer be aware of proper security practices. People should know how to update virus protection software, how to download security patches from software vendors and how to create a proper password. Make sure they know these tips too!
For Victim Assistance, please call 1-800-FYI-CALL, M-F 8:30 AM -8:30 PM EST, or e-mail the victim services staff.
Cyberstalking: Dangers on the Information Superhighway
By: Trudy M. Gregorie, Director of Training National Center for Victims of Crime
Although there is no universally accepted definition of cyberstalking, the term is generally used to refer to the use of the Internet, e-mail, or other telecommunication technologies to harass or stalk another person. It is not the mere annoyance of unsolicited e-mail. It is methodical, deliberate, and persistent. The communications, whether from someone known or unknown, do not stop even after the recipient has asked the sender to cease all contacts, and are often filled with inappropriate, and sometimes disturbing, content. Essentially, cyberstalking is an extension of the physical form of stalking.
Most state and federal stalking laws require that the stalker make a direct threat of violence against the victim, while some require only that the alleged stalker's course of conduct constitute an implied threat. Although some cyberstalking conduct involving annoying or menacing behavior might fall short of illegal stalking under current laws, such behavior may be a prelude to real-life stalking and violence and should be treated seriously. Cyberstalking has the potential to move from a URL address to a real address--from virtual to actual.
In a 1999 U.S. Department of Justice report, Cyberstalking: A New Challenge for Law Enforcement and Industry, cyberstalking is identified as a growing problem. (1) According to the report, there are currently more than 80 million adults and 10 million children with access to the Internet in the United States. Assuming the proportion of cyberstalking victims is even a fraction of the proportion of persons who have been the victims of off-line stalking within the preceding 12 months, the report estimates there may potentially be tens or even hundreds of thousands of cyberstalking victims in the United States.
Experienced prosecutors are also beginning to recognize the dangers on the information superhighway. Linda Fairstein, Chief of the Sex Crimes Unit in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office and a Board member of the National Center for Victims of Crime, has said, "By the use of new technology and equipment which cannot be policed by traditional methods, cyberstalking has replaced traditional methods of stalking and harassment. In addition, cyberstalking has led to off-line incidents of violent crime. Police and prosecutors need to be aware of the escalating numbers of these events and devise strategies to resolve these problems through the criminal justice system."(2)
Cyberstalking victims who call the National Center for Victims of Crime often complain of not being taken seriously or of not even being recognized as victims by law enforcement agencies they have contacted. Responding to a victim's complaint by saying "you can't be hurt on the Internet--it's just words" or "just turn off your computer" is not acceptable or responsible. It's unreasonable to expect cyberstalking victims to walk away from their on-line activities, which may comprise their professional career, in order to avoid this kind of problem. On-line harassment and threats are just as frightening and distressing as off-line harassment and threats.
A recent incident described in the Cyberstalking Report from the U.S. Attorney General is typical of the lack of law enforcement training and expertise that can be so frustrating for victims. (3) A woman complained to a local police agency that a man had been posting information on the Internet claiming that her nine-year-old daughter was available for sex, and including their home phone number with instructions to call 24 hours a day. Numerous calls were received. Although every call was reported to local police by the family, the police officer simply advised them to change their phone number. Subsequently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was contacted and they opened an investigation. The FBI discovered that the local police agency did not have a computer expert, and the responding police officer had never been on the Internet. The local agency's lack of familiarity and resources may have resulted in a failure to understand the seriousness of the problem and the options available to law enforcement to respond.
The lack of state-of-the-art technology and an adequately trained, experienced workforce are two of the greatest challenges for law enforcement and prosecutors faced with investigating and trying cybercrime cases. The criminal justice system must become more sensitive to cyberstalking complaints, and the genuine threat that such stalking poses, and must devote the necessary training and resources to allow proper investigation and prosecution.
The only thing a cyberstalker needs is access to a computer and a modem. Due to the enormous amount of personal information available through the Internet, a cyberstalker can easily locate private information about a potential victim with a few mouse clicks or key strokes. Information is power, and stalking of any kind is all about power and control. There is little security on-line. Turning on a computer can expose anyone to harassment. Everyone who receives e-mail or uses the Internet is susceptible to cyberstalking.
Internet users are most vulnerable in cyberspace areas in which they interact with others. These include chat or Internet relay chat lines, message boards or newsgroups, where Internet users post messages back and forth, and users' e-mail boxes. E-mail harassment usually begins with initial contact in live chat or newsgroup situations.
Cyberstalkers use a variety of techniques. They may initially use the Internet to identify and track their victims. They may then send unsolicited e-mail, including hate, obscene, or threatening mail. Live chat harassment abuses the victim directly or through electronic sabotage (for example, flooding the Internet chat channel to disrupt the victim's conversation). With newsgroups, the cyberstalker can create postings about the victim or start rumors that spread through the bulletin board system. Cyberstalkers may also set up a web page on the victim with personal or fictitious information or solicitations to readers. Another technique is to assume the victim's persona on-line, such as in chat rooms, for the purpose of sullying the victim's reputation, posting details about the victim, or soliciting unwanted contacts from others. More complex forms of harassment include mailbombs (mass messages that virtually shutdown the victim's e-mail system by clogging it), sending the victim computer virii, or sending electronic junk mail (spamming). There is a clear difference between the annoyance of unsolicited e-mail and on-line harassment. Unsolicited e-mail is to be expected from time to time. However, cyberstalking is a course of conduct that takes place over a period of time and involves repeated, deliberate attempts to cause distress to the victim.
People who do not have access to the Internet, or who choose not to go on-line, are not immune from cyberbased crime. Databases of personal information available on the Internet can enable a stalker to trace a victim's user name to their real name, address, telephone number, and other personal information, or can enable a stalker to impersonate the victim on-line. The offender can then harass the victim on the computer via e-mail or at home through mail, telephone calls, or even by appearing at the victim's home or workplace. Telecommunication technologies also make it much easier for a cyberstalker to encourage third parties to harass and/or threaten a victim.
For example, in the first successful prosecution under California's new cyberstalking law, prosecutors in the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office obtained a guilty plea from a 50-year old former security guard who used the Internet to solicit the rape of a woman who rejected his romantic advances. The defendant terrorized his 28-year old victim, who had never been on-line and did not even own a computer, by impersonating her in various Internet chat rooms and on-line bulletin boards, where he posted, along with her phone number and address, messages that she fantasized about being raped. On at least six occasions, sometimes in the middle of the night, men knocked on the victim's door offering to rape her in response to the Internet "personal ad." The defendant pleaded guilty in April 1999 to one count of stalking and three counts of solicitation of sexual assault. As a result of the stalker's actions, the victim was eventually forced from her apartment, lost her job, suffered significant weight loss, and developed a fear of going outside of her residence. (4)
Most of the cyberstalking cases that have been prosecuted did not involve technically complex forms of stalking, and e-mail was simply being used as an alternative form of communication. However, this is not always the case. The availability of anonymizing software provides a high degree of protection for stalkers seeking to cover their tracks more effectively. Examples of these types of technologies are "anonymous re-mailers," which automatically shield the sender's identity with pseudonyms and send the e-mail through servers that instantly erase digital tracks to prevent later access by anyone, even law enforcement. Another example is Stratfor's Shredder, a software program for Windows 95 that acts like an electronic paper shredder that automatically overwrites deleted files, including all the routine computer backups. (5) The more complex software and computer technologies become, the easier it is for cyberstalkers to operate anonymously, and the more difficult it is for law enforcement to investigate and collect enough evidence to support prosecutions.
In order to address cyberstalking, it is critical to understand stalking in general. In many cases, cyberstalking is simply another phase in an overall stalking pattern, or it is regular stalking behavior using new technological tools. Therefore, strategies and interventions that have been developed to respond to off-line stalking can often be adapted to on-line stalking situations. There are federal, state, and local criminal justice agencies which have begun to focus on stalking, and some have recently developed special task forces to deal with cyberstalking.
As with all stalking, the greatest trauma is the faceless terror that it brings into a victim's life--24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Internet becomes an electronic curtain behind which the stalker hides while terrorizing the victim at home and work, with friends and neighbors, and with countless people that the victim does not even know. Cyberstalkers may be located on the other side of the world, across the country, across the street, or in the next cubicle at work. They could be a former friend or lover, a total stranger met in a chat room, or simply a teenager playing a practical joke. The inability to identify the source of the harassment or threats is one of the most ominous aspects of this crime for a cyberstalking victim.
The fact that cyberstalking does not involve physical contact may create the misperception that it is less threatening or dangerous than physical stalking. Cyberstalking is just as frightening and potentially dangerous as a stalker at the victim's front door. The psychological torment is very real, even in the absence of a distinct physical threat. It totally disrupts a victim's life and peace of mind. Cyberstalking presents a range of physical, emotional, and psychological trauma for the victim, who may begin to develop or experience:
Eating pattern disturbances;
High levels of stress;
A feeling of being out of control; and/or
A pervasive sense of the loss of personal safety.
On January 10, 2000, in a keynote speech, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno described the Internet and other information technologies as bringing enormous benefits to society, yet also providing new opportunities for criminal behavior. She proposed a round-the-clock cybercrime network of crime enforcement personnel, regional computer forensic laboratories to analyze seized computers for evidence of unlawful activity, and a secure on-line clearinghouse that would allow federal, state, and local law enforcement to share information about cybercases. (6)
As part of the 2000 Violence Against Women Act, Congress extended the federal interstate stalking statute to include cyberstalking, 18 U.S.C. §2261 A. In 2000, Congress also passed the Amy Boyer's Law, 42 U.S.C. Section 1320 B - 23 (P.L. 106 - 553), which prohibits the sale or display of an individual's social security number to the public, including sales over the Internet, without the person's expressed consent, submitted either electronically or in writing. The law allows a person harmed by wrongful release of a social security number to sue the seller or displayer for equitable relief and monetary damages in U.S. district court. In addition, the Social Security Commissioner can impose on any such violator a civil penalty of $5,000 for each violation, with increased penalties (maximum of $50,000) if the violations constitute a general business practice. This new law applies to violations effective on December 21, 2002, two years after its enactment.
Amy Boyer's Law is named after a young woman who was murdered after her stalker purchased her social security number over the Internet. With that information, he was able to locate her license plate number and place of employment. He detailed his plans to kill her on a web site posted under her name. Within minutes of his last web site entry, he drove to her workplace and executed her as she got into her car.
States have also begun to respond to cyberstalking by adding provisions to their current stalking and harassment laws that criminalize "stalking by electronic means" or "the use of computer equipment for the purposes of stalking." (7) About half of the states currently have language in their laws that specifically address harassing electronic, computer, or e-mail communications. Other states' laws contain broad language that can be interpreted to encompass cyberstalking behavior. Some have statutes prohibiting harassment via computer contact, while others have stalking statutes that include electronic communications. A few have both stalking and harassment statutes that encompass electronic communications. Other states have laws, outside of stalking or harassment, that criminalize computer communications or e-mail misuse. Some have statutes that prohibit making threats through e-mail or "electronically submitted communications."
Victims of on-line harassment and threats, often in collaboration with victim service providers, have had to fill the void of available resources and assistance by developing their own informal support networks and informational web sites to share strategies about how to respond to these crimes. One such program is Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA), which was founded by women to educate the Internet community about on-line harassment. WHOA also educates the on-line community to develop web site resources, including the creation of a safe-site and unsafe-site list to enable Internet users to make informed decisions, and providing information about how users can protect themselves against on-line harassment.
CyberAngels: A nonprofit group devoted to assisting victims of on-line harassment and stalking. cyberangels.org
Safety Ed International: A nonprofit organization assisting the Internet community and providing specific advice, resources, and information to victims being harassed or stalked on-line. safetyed.org
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse: A nonprofit consumer and advocacy program that offers consumers a unique opportunity to learn how to protect their personal privacy. PRC's services include a hotline for consumers to report privacy abuses and to request information on ways to protect their privacy. They have also produced fact sheets on privacy issues including Factsheet # 14, entitled "Are You Being Stalked? Tips for Your Protection" and Factsheet # 18, entitled, "Privacy in Cyberspace."
Network Solutions' WHOIS: An Internet company which provides searches in its registrar database to assist persons in determining the contents of a domain name registration record found in the header of a received e-mail. The result will provide the contact information for sender's Internet service provider.
Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Affairs Department: A resource site for consumer information from the federal government, including contact information if you have been the victim of identity theft or misuse of a social security number and fraudulent credit card accounts.
If you are being harassed on-line, there are several things you should do:
If you are under 18, tell your parents or an adult you trust that you are being harassed or threatened. Do not keep this to yourself. Parents must know what is going on to be able to help and support you.
If you are getting harassing e-mail, get a new account or request a new log-on name and password from your Internet service provider. Close your old account. Learn how to use the filtering capabilities of your e-mail program to block e-mail from certain addresses.
Save every piece of communication you get from the cyberstalker. Save all of the header information you can if it's an e-mail or newsgroup posting. Print a hard copy, and copy the communication to a disk for documentation.
Start a log of each communication explaining the situation in more detail. Document how the harassment is affecting your life and what steps you're taking to stop it.
Once and only once, contact your harasser directly and state in simple, strong, and formal terms to stop contacting you and/or posting anything about you. State that the communications are unwanted and inappropriate, and that you will take further action if it does not stop. E-mail a copy to the system administrator of your Internet service provider. Save copies of these communications, and note that you sent them in your log.
If you receive harassing on-line messages and it is possible to trace the origin of the unwanted message and you have informed the sender that you do not want to be contacted, you may want to consider reporting the on-line stalker to the Internet service provider (ISP) because many ISPs have policies that prohibit the use of their services to harass or abuse another person. Some ISPs may be willing to cancel the stalker's account. If you receive abusive e-mail, identify the domain (letters after the @ sign) and contact the ISP. Most ISPs have an e-mail address such as abuse@[domain name] or postmaster@[domain name] that can be used for complaints. If that does not work, you can usually find contact addresses by going to www.networksolutions.com/cgi-bin/whois/whois (do a "who is" search on whatever ISP you need). If e-mail complaints don't work, make a phone call. Save copies of these communications, and note all contacts in your log.
Keep in mind, however, that this may be just a short-term fix or may even exacerbate the situation if the stalker discovers that you notified the ISP. [Under those circumstances, he/she may attempt to retaliate against you or begin/continue to stalk you off-line. Regardless of whether the on-line stalking ceases, you need to be aware that the stalker may have obtained personal information on you via the Internet or through other sources, and, consequently, you may be still at risk for off-line stalking, in which case you need to do appropriate safety planning.].
Contact your local police. Report every incident of on-line abuse and provide the police with copies of evidence you have collected. Save copies of any police incident reports, and note each contact to law enforcement in your log. If the stalker is out of state, you should also contact your local office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Call the FBI Computer Crimes Unit in your local area. [The Federal Interstate Stalking and Prevention Act, 18 U.S.C. Section 2261A, was amended in 2000 to cover on-line stalking as well as stalking by phone and mail. Also, some on-line stalking cases may fall under 18 U.S.C. Section 875, Interstate Communications (to make threats to physically harm or kidnap another person in interstate communications is a felony) or 47 U.S.C. Section 223, Obscene or Harassing Telephone Calls in Interstate Communications.]
In order to better protect yourself on-line:
Use a gender-neutral screen name.
Never give your password to anyone, especially if someone sends you an instant message (IM).
Don't provide your credit card number or other identifying information as proof of age to access or subscribe to a web site run by a company with which you are unfamiliar.
Tell children not give out their real name, address, or phone number over the Internet without permission.
Use a free e-mail account such as Hotmail (www.hotmail.com) or YAHOO! (www.yahoo.com) to pass messages in newsgroups, mailing listings, enter chat rooms, fill out forms, or correspond with someone you don't know well.
Don't give your primary e-mail address out to anyone you don't know.
Spend time on newsgroups, mailing lists, and chat rooms as a "silent" observer before "speaking" or posting messages.
When you do participate on-line, only type what you would say to someone in person.
Don't respond to e-mail from a stranger; when you reply, you are verifying your e-mail address to the sender.
On a regular basis (at least once a month), type your name into Internet search engines to see what information, if any, pops up. To have your name removed from any directories, contact each search engine on which you are listed and request to be removed.
(Tips #1 - 8 were developed by the George Mason University Sexual Assault Services, 1999.)
1. U.S. Department of Justice. (August 1999). Cyberstalking: A New Challenge for Law Enforcement and Industry -- A Report from the Attorney General to the Vice President. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, pp. 2, 6.
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