10 Essential Tips to Protect Yourself from Online Harassment and Stalking

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Online harassment and stalking are growing problems that can threaten people's safety, privacy, and mental health. With so much of our lives now taking place online, it's crucial to take proactive steps to protect yourself from those with malicious intent.

Luckily, there are practical measures you can take to minimize the risks of being harassed, stalked, or having your personal information fall into the wrong hands online. In this blog post, we'll provide 10 essential tips to help safeguard your privacy and security in the digital world.

Be Cautious When Sharing Personal Information

Oversharing personal information online can inadvertently expose you to harassment, stalking, and identity theft. Follow these guidelines to keep your sensitive details off the internet:

  • Avoid posting your full name, address, phone number, birthday, or other identifying details publicly on social media. Keep that information limited to close connections only.
  • Be wary of uploading photos that reveal your exact location via embedded GPS metadata. Consider stripping metadata from photos before posting them publicly.
  • Limit public details about your current or past employment, schools attended, family members, relationship status, and other personal life details. Keep your social media presence strictly professional.
  • Regularly review your social media profiles and posts to remove anything that publicly shares too many private details. Customize your privacy settings as well.

The more scattered pieces of personal information you leave online, the easier it becomes for bad actors to compile those fragments and steal your identity or stalk you. Be vigilant about what you share publicly online.

Use Privacy-Focused Browsers and Search Engines

Your web browser and search engine hold huge amounts of data about your online activities, interests, and identity. Take steps to minimize how much of your web browsing is tracked:

  • Use privacy-focused browsers like Brave or Tor that block online trackers and ads by default.
  • Conduct searches via privacy-centric search engines like DuckDuckGo that don't store your search history.
  • Avoid logging into Google or other services while conducting sensitive searches. Search in incognito/private browsing mode.
  • Use a reputable VPN like ProtonVPN to encrypt traffic and mask your IP address from sites you visit.

Taking the above steps will significantly enhance your anonymity online and make it much harder for stalkers or creeps to view your digital footprint across the web.

Criminals routinely conduct "phishing" campaigns to trick victims into clicking malware links or entering their login credentials on fake sites. Be vigilant against potential phishing attempts.

  • Watch for suspicious emails that ask you to verify personal information or reset passwords unexpectedly. Don't click on the enclosed links; instead, go directly to the real site.
  • Check the sender's email address in messages; phishing emails often spoof legitimate addresses.
  • Inspect links before clicking to see if they lead where they claim. Hover over them to preview destinations.
  • Only download attachments and click links from known trusted sources. Be extra cautious about unsolicited messages.
  • Use antivirus software and browse with ad/tracker blocking enabled to prevent malware infections from compromised sites.

Exercise caution around links and downloads to help prevent hackers from gaining access to your accounts and computers. Don't give them an easy pathway in through phishing attempts.

Regularly Monitor Your Online Presence

Keep a close eye on your online presence to spot any warning signs of potential harassment or stalking risks early.

  • Set Google Alerts for your name, username, phone number, and other personal details to monitor new mentions across the web.
  • Occasionally, search your name on Google to uncover any concerning posts about you in forums, blogs, or shady sites.
  • Check your follower lists and view/follower ratios on social media. Unfollow or block any suspicious accounts.
  • Review tagged photos of yourself to confirm you're comfortable with the contents being publicly visible.
  • People search sites like Spokeo that aggregate personal details to opt out of public listings.

Routinely monitoring your online presence gives you a chance to catch and address any privacy invasions or harassment early on before they have larger consequences.

Seek Support and Report Harassment or Stalking

If you experience severe online harassment or stalking, seek help from both professionals and law enforcement.

  • Confide in trusted friends and family who can provide emotional support and assist with online monitoring and reporting.
  • Contact counseling services about cyberbullying, harassment, or stalking to learn coping strategies.
  • Report online threats directly to the social media platform or website where they occurred. Most have systems for handling abusive content.
  • Document evidence and consider contacting the police if you feel unsafe. Cyberstalking and criminal harassment may warrant legal action.
  • Consult legal help about pursuing restraining orders if threats continue offline or pose physical danger.

You don't have to suffer online abuse alone. Seek assistance to regain control of your online presence and safety.

Use Temporary Phone Numbers for App Verification

Homepage of Veritel

Many apps and services today require users to verify their identity by submitting a phone number. However, this means your personal mobile number is now in the hands of yet another company. If that company suffers a data breach, your number could be leaked publicly or sold to shady entities.

A safer alternative is to use a temporary phone number just for the app verification process. This shields your primary number from unnecessary exposure. Services like Veritel provide access to reliable temporary phone numbers you can use for all your online verification across various apps and sites.

Using throwaway numbers from Veritel prevents your personal mobile number from being linked to your social media profiles or other services. This provides a layer of protection in case your accounts are compromised or your data is exposed to a breach. It also helps minimize the risk of stalkers or harassers obtaining and abusing your personal number.

Create Strong and Unique Passwords

Weak, reused passwords are one of the biggest security pitfalls for internet users. Cybercriminals routinely take advantage of weak passwords to hack into people's accounts and steal their personal information.

To better safeguard your online presence, it's essential to create strong, unique passwords for each of your accounts. Here are some tips for effective password security:

  • Use 12–14 random characters consisting of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols
  • Avoid dictionary words, names, birth dates, or other personal information.
  • Don't reuse the same password across multiple sites
  • Consider using a password manager like Last Pass or 1 Password to generate and store passwords securely

The minor inconvenience of using longer, more complex passwords is worth it for the enhanced protection. Unique passwords prevent criminals who compromise one of your accounts from being able to access your other accounts using the same credentials.

Make your passwords difficult to crack, and never reuse the same one twice!

Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

Two-factor authentication (2FA) provides another critical layer of security beyond just a password. With 2FA enabled, users have to provide two forms of identification to access their account—typically a password plus a temporary code generated by an authentication app or sent via SMS; major sites like Gmail, Facebook, and Apple ID all support 2FA. Take the time to enable this extra security precaution, especially for accounts with sensitive personal information on them. Though it involves an additional step when you log in, 2FA dramatically decreases the odds of a criminal accessing your accounts, even if they learn your password.

There are various 2FA methods to choose from:

  • SMS Codes: Temporary codes sent to your mobile phone via text message
  • Authentication Apps: Generate codes offline using apps like Google Authenticator or Authy
  • Hardware Tokens: Physical security keys that connect to your device to authenticate you

Set up 2FA using one or more of the trusted methods above for all sites that support it. The minor inconvenience is worth the peace of mind.

Keep Software and Devices Updated

Outdated devices and software are more vulnerable to hacking attempts. Follow best practices to keep your systems current:

  • Enable automatic updates on your computers, phones, and tablets to install the latest security patches promptly.
  • Regularly check for new updates on devices that lack auto-updates.
  • Only use the latest versions of apps and internet browsers, which fix prior security flaws.
  • Beware of using older operating systems like Windows 7 or Mac OS Mojave that no longer get security updates.
  • Back up your system and data regularly in case you need to reset/wipe devices compromised by malware fully.

Keeping your digital life updated closes security gaps that could allow cybercriminals or stalkers to access your systems and data. Don't give them an easy, outdated target.

Use a VPN When Accessing Public WiFi

Public WiFi networks in coffee shops, airports, and other locations often lack encryption and security controls. Connecting directly leaves your data vulnerable to eavesdropping by nearby attackers.

Protect yourself when using public hotspots by routing your connection through a trusted Virtual Private Network (VPN) provider like NordVPN or ExpressVPN. A VPN will encrypt all traffic between your devices and the internet, preventing snooping or man-in-the-middle attacks on unsecured public networks.

Never access sensitive accounts or share private information over public WiFi without the protection of a VPN. This simple precaution goes a long way toward keeping your browsing secure.

Final Remarks

Online harassment, cyberbullying, and stalking present growing risks, especially for those with an extensive digital footprint. However, implementing proactive precautions like strong passwords, privacy tools, and secure connections makes it much harder for bad actors to exploit your presence across the web.

Safeguarding your identity and accounts is also critical to avoiding falling victim to life-damaging crimes like swatting or doxing. Take the time to actively manage your privacy settings, minimize tracking, and report any concerning online activity aimed at you.

With vigilance and the right security tools, you can take control of your online presence and engage freely on the internet with greatly reduced risk. Protect yourself against emerging cyber threats using the tips outlined in this blog. A few preventative measures go a long way toward preserving your safety and peace of mind.