Cyberstalking: How to prevent cyberstalking, report cyberstalkers to FBI

CHICAGO (WLS) -- We look online for fun, friendship and even love - but you have to stay safe.

Whether it is on social media or a message board, the FBI says cyberstalkers are preying on victims and many times, those victims don't know how to stop the stalking or threats. The ABC 7 I-Team found what to do if you are being targeted.

"Cyberstalking is when someone uses an online electronic communication service in order to contact someone else with the intentional purpose or causing injury to them or causing some kind of harassment that would make them fear for their lives," explained Special Agent Siobhan Johnson. "We really are seeing more and more cyberstalking. We can't put an actual number to it because a lot of victims of cyberstalking people don't come forward, they don't want to report it. So we don't know the actual number, but we can say that we've actually been prosecuting a lot more of these cases recently."

The FBI says cyberstalking is when someone uses the internet to cause mental or physical injury, or if a victim believes their life is at risk. This definition varies slightly from cyber harassment or trolling because those cases aren't usually considered life or death, and that violator may be able to harass or troll you without repercussions, like being charged or prosecuted.

"You need to have an intentional situation where someone is trying to cause you distress, and you need to have that fear for your injury or your life, and then you need to have an electronic communication system. Without those three things, you do not have a claim for cyberstalking," Johnson said. "And the perpetrator doesn't have to actually say the words 'I want to hurt you' or 'I want to kill you.' As long as you have a reasonable belief that your life is in danger, or that you are in danger of real injury. So that belief is what is important there."

There are things you can do to prevent cyberstalking. Johnson recommends making your social media accounts private and NOT oversharing personal information. You may also want to avoid sharing your location.

If you're not sure of the current cyberstalking laws, or the difference between cyberstalking and harassment, Johnson recommends reporting it anyway.

"If somebody feels like they're already deeply in the middle of a cyberstalking situation, stop," Johnson said. "Don't give into demands to send photographs, or conduct sexual activity, or send money."

If a situation is getting worse and making accounts private doesn't help, you may want to consider erasing your digital and social footprint as much as possible.

You can deleting accounts all together and even pay for services to scrub your information from websites.

To report cyberstalking call 1-800-CALL-FBI, or www.fbi.gov/tips. Johnson says every tip sent to the FBI is looked at by an agent, and the FBI or local authorities can't get involved unless a complaint is on file.
Copyright © 2020 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.