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Protecting Yourself From Online Stalkers

As much as I enjoy ‘meeting’ new people via the Internet, I’ve had my share of ‘strange & uncomfortable’ encounters. Colleagues resorting to serious verbal abuse, minor harassments, and creepy ‘secret admirers.’

Without getting into too much detail… I’ve crossed paths with yet another piece of work.

It all began when this individual began having an ‘affair’ with an AI (artificial intelligence) program I integrated into my site. Because my AI was still in the ‘learning’ stage, she wasn’t very bright. This greatly frustrated
this individual and his ‘conversation’ with my AI began turning very abusive… until he decided to take his frustrations out on me.

He continuously sent me harassing e-mail messages using fake addresses and several IPs. I was just about to lose my mind when I made the decision to temporarily cease downloading and reading my e-mail messages.

Ignoring this individual wasn’t making matters any better… as a matter of fact, it worsened. He called and left me several voicemail message on my toll-f r e e number. Now, reading these messages is one thing… HEARING the harasser’s VOICE is something completely different. It’s frightening.

So following the advice of a friend to whom this has happened to before, I filed this with the police.

Here are some tips I’d like to share with you:

* Do not post your home address online… use a P.O. Box or Mailboxes Etc. type services. If all you have is your home address, don’t post it on your site – or anywhere else. I don’t care what anyone says about not posting P.O. Box addies on websites… are they going to take responsibility if a wacko shows up at your doorstep?

* Do not post your home phone number… use a voicemail service, or even better, a service allowing you to get a local/Toll-F r e e number that forwards calls to any number you choose.

* Keep one e-mail address EXCLUSIVELY for family and friends.

* Isolated incidents such as one-time heated exchanges can most likely be safely ignored…

* However, if it escalates to ‘annoying,’ and you no longer choose to be contacted by this individual, block them from accessing your site, sending you e-mails and IM messages. Ask your phone company if you can add phone numbers to a ‘block’ list so they can no longer call in. Keep in mind though, that blocking and ignoring these pests sometimes aggravates the situation because stalkers thrive on control and attention.

* REPEATED attacks that threaten your wellbeing should alert you that you may in fact have a serious problem. Keep records of all e-mails you receive (including headers), install an answering machine to your home number to record evidence, and contact your local authorities with your information.

Whether it’s someone lurking on the forums or a big-name respected by many people online… you just can’t be sure unless you REALLY know the person. That’s the ‘darker’ side of meeting people on the Internet.

It’s been quite a stressful several months for me and my family, but we’ve been helping each other getting both personal and the biz side of things back to ‘normal.’

Please, please take proper precautions to monitor and protect you and your family’s Internet privacy.

(Please take this as an advice from a friend… I’m not a lawyer and do not intend to render legal or other professional advice.)

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