In today’s interconnected, technology-driven world, it’s becoming more difficult to protect privacy.
For individuals dealing with stalkers, knowing how technology can be used to track movement and location is important for one’s safety.
An estimated 4 percent of women and 2 percent of men are victims of stalking nationwide, said Elaina Roberts, legal director of the Stalking Resource Center associated with the National Center for Victims of Crime in Washington, D.C.
Roberts was in Norman last week, where she addressed attendees at the Annual Domestic Violence Partnership Conference at Embassy Suites. She talked about the “Misuse of Technology to Stalk” and how law enforcement can detect it and help victims prevent it.
“It is not my goal today to make you hate technology or to scare you,” Roberts said. “It’s to show you ways technology can be manipulated.”
Technology isn’t bad, Roberts said. We use it to make sure our children and spouse get home safely from work or to help emergency responders find us when we call 911 for help. It allows us to talk with friends and even connect face-to-face via a computer or smart phone with friends and family overseas.
“We know that cell phone companies have found a way to capitalize on that with family locator plans,” Roberts said. “They’re marketed toward your kids, to keep your family safe.”
But criminals use technology to create an advantage for themselves, and a stalker may use technology to follow and watch a victim.
While computers and tablets can be used by stalkers, the most common tool these criminals have is the cell phone. A cell phone is the perfect tool for a stalker to misuse because it’s very thing most of us take with us everywhere we go.
And in this day and age, most of us have smart phones, increasing the number of ways stalkers can manipulate technology.
Cell phones are equipped with GPS locators and can be used to gain access to victims, and there are apps that allow parents or a spouse to monitor text messages. Roberts said to understand the level of access a stalker might have using even basic cell phone technology, you have to think about who has the power in a domestic abuse situation.
“Who typically controls the finances?” Roberts said. “Who typically enrolls the family in a cell phone plan? We know that half of all stalkers are intimate or former intimate partners.”
• Clues your stalker might be using technology: Does the stalker show up everywhere you go? Does he or she have information about the content of conversations you had with other people, things he or she shouldn’t know?
Do you hear clicking sounds when you’re on the phone, have high data usage or a battery that is being overused and runs down frequently?
Did the offender, at some point, have physical access to your phone?
You can check for suspicious apps and delete them, change settings to increase privacy and even call the cell phone company to find out if monitoring services are enabled on your phone, but if the stalker is the person who set up the plan, the victim might not have access.
If a victim suspects a cell phone has been compromised, Roberts recommends keeping the phone and getting a burner phone to use.
Some agencies that assist victims may provide free used cell phones for victims.
“Every victim is going to be different,” Roberts said. “We all make different choices. It’s up to each victim to make their own choice [what to do about the phone].”
Roberts said keeping the old phone allows law enforcement to extract evidence. Additionally, it may keep the victim safer if the abuser believes he or she is still in control.
“Our intimate partner stalkers are the most dangerous type of stalkers,” Roberts said.
If such stalkers learn they they’ve lost control, they may escalate and become more violent.
• Friends and children on social media: Friends, children and family members can be an unwitting source of information for your stalker, Roberts said.
One victim couldn’t believe it when she was out with friends and her stalker kept turning up, no matter where they went. As it turned out, her friends were posting on social media, unwittingly letting her stalker know where they were going.
In other cases, a stalker may use tracking devices on a child’s phone. One inventive stalker even made use of the GPS in a dog’s collar.
Roberts said victims of intimate partner stalking should be particularly careful about any gifts given to children because GPS can be embedded in everything from children’s watches to keys and other valuables. The motive for the technology is to keep kids and valuables safe, but criminals manipulate the use of these devices, she said.
She recommends considering including forbidding giving children’s gifts with tracking devices in protective orders.
Calling for an Uber? Consider who once shared an account with you and may have access to the trip tracker.
• Manipulating caller ID: If your caller ID says it’s mom on the other end of the line, but when you pick up the phone, it’s your stalker or a disguised voice you think might be your stalker, there is action you can take. Once you determine the caller and caller ID on your phone aren’t matching up, law enforcement officers can use phone records to compare times and dates of calls to prove what’s going on. On the stalker’s phone records, random numbers will show up, but the times can be matched to the time of the calls on your phone records.
This same technology can be used for texting. If you have a stalker, be careful what information you put into a text.
• Computers and cameras: Cameras are everywhere, even in our homes.
“You really should, even just generally, be covering up your camera on your computer,” Roberts said.
Beware of strange emails or opening attachments. One bad incoming email can give a total stranger access to your home, she said.
If that sounds like something off a TV crime drama, it’s because it does happen. Roberts said one man was caught secretly watching over 200 strangers in their homes, via their computers.
An innocent looking email with a virus can give access even when the computer is in sleep mode, she said.
By Joe Hampton | The Norman Transcript