“Evil requires the sanction of the victim.” – Ayn Rand
If you have (or do not want to have) a stalker or psychopath, here are some of the best tips to ensure your privacy and safety.
1. Use a private post office box. Residential addresses of post office box holders are generally confidential. However, the U.S. Postal Service and Canada Post can release a residential address to any government agency, or to persons serving court papers. Get a private mailbox that is at least two ZIP or postal codes away from your residence. Use your private post office box address for all of your correspondence. Print it on your bank checks instead of your residential address. Instead of recording the address as “Box 123,” use “Apt. 123” or “#123”. If you must use a traditional home mailbox, make sure it has a good lock.
2. Do not file a change of address with the U.S. Postal Service or Canada Post. Send personal letters to friends, relatives and businesses by giving them the new private post office box address. Give your true residential address only to the most trusted friends or family members. Ask that they do not store this address in rolodexes or address books that could be stolen.
3. Sign up for your state or province’s address confidentiality program. Some states, provinces and territories have some mechanism in place to protect victim confidentiality. Address confidentiality programs offer a no-cost mail-forwarding program that enables victims of domestic violence and stalking to protect their residential address. A few states limit the program to just the driver’s license or voter records. You can find out if your state or province has an address confidentiality program if you are an American or Canadian.
4. Obtain an unpublished and unlisted phone number. Phone companies list names and numbers in directory assistance (411) and publish them in the phone book. Make sure you delete your information from both places. Do not print your phone number on your checks. Provide a work number or use an alternate number such as a pager or voice mail number when asked – that is, a message-only number that is used solely for receiving recorded messages from callers. Consider replacing your landline with a cell phone if you haven’t already done so. Always use caution when sharing your number. Do not ever let someone borrow your cell phone, even for a moment as they can install or program tracking software in your phone to find you.
5. If your state or province has Caller ID, order a Complete Blocking service. This can help prevent your phone number from being disclosed when you make calls from your home. Be aware that blocking is not 100% effective. Programming “glitches” can sometimes inadvertently reveal blocked numbers. At least one company now offers a service that can “unblock” blocked numbers. It does this by forwarding your call to a toll-free number, which can then capture your phone number. For the best protection, use a pre-paid calling card from a pay phone (but this may reveal the general location of the pay phone). As payphones are becoming less prevalent, you can always try a pre-paid cell-phone. Consider using a Caller ID Spoofing service to mask your number.
6. Buy a pre-paid cellular phone with cash. You typically do not need to provide a billing address or sign a contract for these kinds of phones. Be sure to get a phone number with a different area code from your current location. The most secure phones are those that do not connect to the Internet. When activating your phone, provide little or no personal information.
Immediately disable any location tracking services (talk to your carrier or refer to the manual to learn how to do this). Try to keep a charged cell phone readily accessible to call for help in the event of an attack. Some websites advertise a service to pinpoint the physical location of any cell phones (including those with location tracking disabled) using triangulation of signals to cell towers. Regardless of what these websites promise, it is extremely unlikely that anyone other than law enforcement agents and telecommunications companies have the ability to track the location of cell phones in the U.S. or Canada unless the phones have location tracking enabled or special software installed. Most of the time, a stalker would need physical access to your phone to install software in order to use location tracking devices. At a minimum, a stalker (or even the police) would need to know a victim’s phone number in order to track his or her location through the phone. You can protect your phone number by using a Caller ID Spoofing service when you make phone calls. This will allow you to choose whatever number you want to appear on the recipient’s Caller ID.
Remember that when the phone is powered off completely, not even the police or a telecommunications carrier can track its location. If your stalker somehow learns your phone number, change your number by contacting your carrier. For maximum security, replace the phone entirely (especially recommended if your stalker gets physical access to your phone). Some domestic violence shelters offer free cell phones to battered women. Read more on cell phone stalking and GPS enabling.
7. Avoid calling toll-free 800, 866, 888, 877 and 900 number services. Your phone number could be “captured” by a service called Automatic Number Identification. It will also appear on the called party’s bill at the end of the month. If you do call toll-free 800 numbers, use a pay phone or a prepaid cellular phone that can be quickly disposed of, should the number become compromised.
8. Have your name removed from any “reverse directories”. The entries in these directories are in numerical order by phone number or by address. These services allow anyone who has just one piece of information, such as a phone number, to find where you live. Reverse directories are published by phone companies and direct marketers. Contact the major directories and request that you be removed from their listings:
Haines Criss+Cross Directory – By mail: Haines Criss+Cross Directory, Attn: Director of Data Processing, 8050 Freedom Ave. N.W. , North Canton, OH 44720. Telephone: (800) 843-8452 and ask for extension 312.
Equifax Direct Marketing Solutions (formerly Polk) – By mail: Equifax Direct Marketing Solutions, Attn: List Suppression File, PO Box 740256 Atlanta GA 30374 (Include your name, address, phone number and a description of what information you would like suppressed.) Telephone: (888) 567-8688.
9. Let people know that information about you should be held in confidence. Tell your employer, co-workers, friends, family and neighbors of your situation. Alert them to be suspicious of people inquiring about your whereabouts or schedule. If you have a photograph or description of the stalker and vehicle, show a photo or describe the person to your neighbors, co-workers, friends, family and neighbors.
10. Do not use your home address when you subscribe to magazines. In general, don’t use your residential address for anything that is mailed or shipped to you.
11. Do not accept packages at work or home unless they were personally ordered by you.
12. Avoid using your middle initial. Middle initials are often used to differentiate people with common names. For example, someone searching public records or credit report files might find several people with the name Jane Doe. If you have a common name and want to blend in with the crowd, do not add a middle initial. In fact, consider using your first initial and last name only in as many situations as you can.
13. When conducting business with a government agency, only fill in the required pieces of information. Certain government agency records are public. Anyone can access the information you disclose to the agency within that record. Public records such as those held by a municipal assessor or office, registrar of voters, or motor vehicles department are especially valuable to a stalker, as are business licenses.
14. Ask the agency if it allows address information to be confidential in certain situations. If possible, use a commercial post office box and do not provide your middle initial, phone number or your Social Security or Social Insurance Number. If you own property or a car, you may want to consider alternative forms of ownership, such as a trust or an LLC. This would shield your personal address from the public record.
15. Put your post office box on your driver’s license. Don’t show your license to just anyone. Your license has a lot of valuable information to a stalker, including your date of birth.
16. Don’t put your name on the list of tenants on the front of your apartment building. Use a variation of your name that only your friends and family would recognize.
17. Be very protective of your Social Security or Social Insurance number. It is the key to much of your personal information. Don’t preprint the SSN or SIN on anything such as your checks. Only give it out if required to do so, and ask why the requester needs it. The Social Security Administration or Service Canada may be willing to change your SSN or SIN. Contact the SSA or Service Canada for details.
18. Alert the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and Trans Union. Put a fraud alert on your credit reports to avoid fraudulent access. Better yet, freeze your credit reports.
19. If you are having a problem with harassing phone calls, put a beep tone on your line so callers think you are taping your calls. Use an answering machine or voicemail service to screen your calls, and put a “bluff message” on your machine to warn callers of possible taping or monitoring. Be aware of the legal restrictions on taping of conversations.
20. Use an answering machine even if you already have Caller ID. It is possible for a tech-savvy stalker to circumvent Caller ID by having a trusted number appear when he or she calls. This practice is known as Caller ID Spoofing. Consider screening your calls by allowing all incoming calls to go to the answering machine before you pick up. If you have harassing or threatening messages left on your answering machine or voicemail, tape record them in case you need them as evidence for a restraining order or in filing a police report.
21. If you are a victim of cyber-stalking, act promptly and firmly to defuse the situation. Take potential threats seriously. Very clearly tell that person to stop, saying something like, “Do not contact me in any way in the future.” Sometimes it is helpful to copy your “stop” message to the abuse department of the harasser’s Internet service provider. Do not respond to any further messages from the harasser or have anyone else contact the harasser on your behalf. Change your email address if necessary.
Do not enter any personal information into online directories. Read more about cyber-stalking.
22. Keep a log of every stalking incident. Building such a paper trail can make a successful prosecution more likely. Examples of evidence that may help build a case include: Caller ID records, logs of phone calls, copies of threatening letters and email messages, items sent to you in the mail, pictures of injuries, or even photos of the stalker outside your home.
Plus, maintain a list of names, dates and times of your contacts with law enforcement. Read more about preparing evidence and organizing a stalking or harassment case.
23. Consider getting professional counseling and/or seeking help from a victims support group. They can help you deal with fear, anxiety and depression associated with being stalked.
24. Make a police report. Consider getting a restraining order if you have been physically threatened or feel that you are in danger. Study your state’s stalking law to gain a clear understanding of what conduct constitutes an offense under the statute. You should contact an attorney or legal aid office if a restraining order becomes necessary. When filed with the court, a restraining order legally compels the harasser to stay away from you, or he/she can be arrested. Be aware that papers filed for a restraining order or police report may become public record. Put minimal amounts of information on such documents and provide only a post office box address.
Note: Some security experts warn that restraining orders sometimes lead to violence. Before obtaining a restraining order, consider your options carefully. Check out my post on restraining and protection orders for more information.
25. Be cautious about applying for a domain name. If you use your name as a Web site domain name (for example, www.janedoe.com), it will be relatively simple for potential stalkers to locate your physical address because that information is available in the domain-name databases. Check your current listing by visiting www.domainwhitepages.com. When registering a domain, look into private web registration services.
If you have an online presence for work, or are exposed to the public eye, you can also read more about how using pen names and pseudonyms can protect you.
26. Develop a safety plan. Remember, even restraining orders do not always prevent stalking from escalating into violence. Make sure friends, neighbors, and co-workers know about your situation. Show them photos of the stalker. Keep handy the phone numbers of assisting agencies. Set up easy access to a reserve of money, credit cards, medication, important papers, keys, and other valuables in case you need to leave quickly. Have a safe place in mind that you can go in an emergency. Try not to travel alone. Always vary your routes. Carry a cell phone with you. Read my 6-part series on preparing and executing a safety plan.
27. Password-protect all accounts, even your utilities. A stalker may try to transfer funds out of your bank account, cancel your credit cards or even cancel phone, electric or water service. Protect yourself by having hard-to-crack passwords on all of your accounts.
28. For your own protection, carry pepper spray or a weapon you can use effectively in self-defence.
29. Get a mobile phone if you do not already have one.
30. Carry a digital or video camera. This could be a feature that is already installed on your cell phone.
31. Never verify anything like your home address over the phone.
If you can suggest any other great tips, please leave a comment below.
Until next time… keep safe and sane…