More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Stalkers go high tech to intimidate victims
By Chris L. Jenkins, Washington Post
April 14, 2007

Little more than cursory skills needed to track exes' online, phone activity

The case had the makings of an eerie cyber-mystery: A young Alexandria woman told local police she suspected that her ex-boyfriend was tapping into her e-mail inbox from thousands of miles away, reading messages before she could and harassing the senders.

She was right to be suspicious. Her ex had hacked into her e-mail account, either guessing her password or using spyware -- software that can secretly read e-mails and survey cyber-traffic, law enforcement officials said. For months, apparently, he had followed her every online move, part of a pattern of abuse city police are still investigating.

Law enforcement officials and safety groups have focused on the Internet as an arena for such types of harassment as false impersonation and character assassination as more people voluntarily place their private lives on public display through Web sites such as and

But a little-discussed and more threatening phenomenon is also happening to the unwitting online and in the high-tech world: cyber-stalking, the illegal monitoring of private information and communication of ex-lovers and spouses as a form of domestic violence. The spurned often use global positioning systems, invasive computer programs, cellphone monitoring chips and tiny cameras to follow the whereabouts, goings-on and personal communications of unsuspecting victims.

Cases from across the country have shown that stalkers with little more than cursory computer knowledge have been able to track the e-mail and Web activity of current or recently divorced spouses. In other cases, some cellphones, outfitted with GPS chips, are secretly attached to cars, and the signals are then followed online.

'I know what you're doing'
A Fairfax County woman named Carol, who requested that her last name be withheld because her case is ongoing, said her ex-husband accessed her e-mail and confronted her with personal information she had shared only with a close family member.

The cyber-stalking came after weeks of harassing e-mails and traditional stalking behavior, such as peeking in her window. She's convinced that he presented the computer information to prove that he could violate her sense of security whenever and wherever he wanted, even after he moved out of the region. At one point he sent an e-mail saying "I know what you're doing" and recounted personal actions she had told a family member only via e-mail.

"When the stalking comes from someplace, anyplace, it makes you wonder what he's really capable of . . . what he was going to do next," Carol said. "He could have been anywhere at anytime looking into my life and getting to me. He could have seen anything, like legal documents I was forwarding; or where I was going to be. That's what I never knew."

Just as technology has opened a new realm of abuse to those who seek to stalk someone from afar, cyber-stalking, in turn, has opened a new avenue of violation. Victims feel powerless to stop others from reading legal documents and intimate correspondence as well as tracking their every online move.

"What's so disturbing for many victims is that they can be harassed or followed from anywhere," said Susan Folwell, manager of the Domestic Violence Grant Program at the Women's Center, a counseling and resource center in Vienna. She said she has worked with victims who have had GPS devices placed in children's backpacks and listening devices put in tote bags.

"Victims begin thinking, 'I'm totally powerless' and start wondering what they have to give up to stay safe," she added.

Difficult to track
The scope of the activity is somewhat unclear, police officials and victims' rights advocates said. In many cases, those who are being stalked through the airwaves aren't aware that they are being monitored. And evidence is difficult to gather, so police officials often don't feel they have enough to clinch prosecution.

"When a victim first talks to the police, the stalker's behavior may not necessarily look all that dangerous to an outsider," said Cindy Southworth, director of the Safety Net Project, a program run by the National Network to End Domestic Violence, an advocacy group in Washington. Cyber-stalking is the topic of a national conference this month in New Orleans.

"But when you look deeper at the pattern of stalking . . . following, calling and showing up unannounced someplace time and time again to track a victim, it becomes clear that these cyber and non-cyber tactics are designed to induce fear," she said.

With the technology rapidly becoming cheaper and more readily available, police departments, prosecutors and advocates who work with domestic violence victims are struggling to keep up.

"It seems like these stalkers are a step ahead of us," said Amy Santiago, a detective with the Alexandria Police Department's domestic violence unit, which has investigated about a dozen cases. "We're trying to keep up with it, but it seems like every day things are changing."

New level of intimidation
Victims and advocates said the 21st-century stalking has taken the repeated phone calls in the middle of the night to an entirely new level. A Prince William County woman, who asked that her name be withheld because she feared retribution from her ex-husband, said the cyber-stalking she experienced in early 2006 at his hands shook her even when she knew he was not in the area.

"He would show up to places that I had only told people in e-mails . . . my lawyer's office," the woman said. "I'd sit there and think: How did he know I was going to be here? How? I felt like I was going crazy."

She added that in one situation, she and her ex-husband began shouting when he showed up at the attorney's office, and the quarrel turned into a brief shoving match in front of their daughter. She said that even though she knows he left the area in 2005, she checked her car once a week for GPS devices until late last year.

Generally, the Web-based technology used is spyware ? software that allows stalkers to invade their victims' computers by sending an e-mail. When the e-mail is opened, the spyware secretly latches onto the target. Personal information, as well as keystrokes and a user's Web-browsing history, can be stolen. Documents on hard disks can be scanned.

Stalkers also use GPS devices, on their own or as chips in cellphones. The units can be traced online to track the whereabouts of targets. To keep the systems running, sophisticated stalkers have attached the devices to power sources in cars.

Do-it-yourself manuals widely available
It's not hard to figure out. Do-it-yourself manuals are widely available online. Some sites advertise otherwise legitimate programs for stalking uses. For instance, spyware was developed commercially to help parents keep tabs on their children's Web use and to provide information for advertisers. Now it is commonly advertised on Web sites as a way to snoop on a spouse. "Monitor any PC from anywhere!" one ad promises. "Spy stealthily so that the user won't know such monitoring exists," another says.

State legislatures took notice of online abuse about 2000 and began passing laws that make high-tech stalking a crime. A law President Bush signed last year also prohibits anonymous electronic communications intended to "threaten, abuse and harass." In addition, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has started to track technological methods used in stalking and domestic violence.

Nonetheless, advocates note that legislation might not help because it could limit the ability of authorities to counteract yet-to-be-developed technologies.

To catch up to the criminals, police domestic violence units are being trained to deal with the increasing use of technology and are beginning to ask potential victims whether they suspect that the privacy of their online activity has been violated.

In addition, lawyers who specialize in such cases are beginning to advise clients to be careful how they communicate through computers, to change passwords frequently and to hand-deliver important documents if they are going through difficult marital separation proceedings.

"This happens more frequently than people realize. . . . It's like a virus," said Mehagen McRae, a Fairfax lawyer who said she worked on a spate of such cases in 2005 and 2006. "I tell my clients to act as if the entire world is reading their e-mails and that if they feel as if they are being watched, they are probably right."


l have a question about this internet stalking and this stalking in General. l was married to a US citizen and l am Canadian. For reasons of my own physical safety, l was warned by his VA Lawyer, a Dr. at the VA Hospital in the State we were living and the Local Police (whom l did call to state l was leaving and to ask if l was using the car to drive back to Canada would l be stealing the car, as my husband was using that as a threat to keep me down in the US with him, which they stated no) to leave immediately. l gave myself about fifteen min. to get as many clothes and shoes through the bedroom window and my immigration papers and other legal papers, and went into the kitchen, got my cat and dog and got them into a cage and told my husband l was taking them to the Vet.

At that point, he was ignoring me, so l just tried to be as calm as possible and said l would be back in a little while and left.

About two days later, he called the Police and said he had to report me missing and they took the report , knowing full well where l was and talked to the neighbors who also knew who had helped me, and the Police told them that they just went along with him because he seemed very high on drugs and my husband then not getting any response then called to Canada and when talking to my Mother, got the answer l was there.

He then started emailing , calling night and day, and then hired someone to follow me as he was not allowed into Canada as he is a covicted felon. This person apparently was to follow me to report back to my husband on what l was doing, who l was talking to and if l was seeing another man and also to get the car back.

When my neighbor told me that from down South, l was just a basket case, l went to the Canadian Police who then asked for my neighbor's number to talk to her, find out what and how she knew about this man, and then a mutual friend here in Canada came face to face with him one day, when he showed up at his house.

This man is known to the Canadian Police in the area of where l live and he was told to not only leave me alone but also what he was doing was against the law and he could be charged if he continued doing what he was doing. He then took the car keys for the car, which l was not around at that time, and left.

l can tell you, watching over your shoulder all of the time is not a good feeling and not being able to identify who you are supposed to be seeing is not a good feeling. l was jumpy and on pins and needles all of the time. l moved away from where l lived, my name was changed and l don't often venture out to far from home. l have also changed my appearance.
He got his car back , which he had said was the most important thing to him. l saved all of his harrassing emails. That was two years ago.

These past two weeks, l am now still getting emails that l have to pay for the Divorce that he wants immediately. l have been told by the Canadian Police not to have any contact with him whatsoever, by phone, email, letters, through friends, family, etc and he is still trying to make contact with me.

l mean this man still does not give up. l ignore everything coming from him and have just been told now, that the email addy that he writes to , if l ignore it for six months it becomes invalid, so hopefully that will get rid of him. He just won't let go no matter what, he comes up with new ways of trying to contact me or make me pay for leaving him.

My question is any advice on how to rid myself of a pest?

l did write the Canadian Government, sent them the Police complaint that l filed, the VA Lawyers name and number and the VA Reb and Dr. who told me l had to get out because he was going to snap mentally and explained l was not to have anymore contact with him and l had been abused and also wrote to the immigration for the US and explained that to them also and withdrew my immigration proceedings, so the Canadian Government has listed me as single in Canada because of this carryings on, and because this man cannot get into the country but as the Police said it does not stop him from hiring someone to come into the country or as he did the last time he hired someone from here in the Country.



I'm so sorry to hear you are going through this.

As I read Davids posting I thought "how frightening" to have this happen to you, and now your account of things.

I just don't get people anymore.


Hi Michelle,

I faced a similar situation when I was assaulted, it was a form of stalking.
I would let you know it very important to keep your documents, information, your phone records, logging information to be current.
The documents and keeping track of all information is very important, it helps the police with timelines. Also in getting protective orders.
Pictures, important papers, and legal documents that you may have, you may consider copying and putting in a bank deposit box. It is a backup in case you have to leave in a hurry, also a certain amount of cash in a safe place.
Even to cover gas, room, food if you have to leave quickly.
I tell most women this anyway, I personally keep money in a safe place at home even today.
I suggest getting a unlisted number. You could do another change of appearance.
I would suggest you keep a tape recorder by the phone you use, it case you get a call you can record.
I would try to pay with cash, not use any credit cards that he can trace, for a while in case he could be getting information that way.
The less you leave a paper trail for him the better.
I would make sure you closed all bank accounts and joint accounts with any places you have been associated with during your marriage.
I would have you lawyer request a restraining order, no contact from friends and relatives related to him because of your personal safety.
If he hires someone you should contact the police, then the police know and do follow up with this person, you may have to be persistent with the police. Take a picture and log where this person is following you. The police usually take stalking very seriously given it is happening more and more.
When on the computer if you have a router make sure you have encrypted it, you do this by contacting the company you have bought the router from and it is done online also.
If you use the internet make sure you delete the history and cookies and maintain your computer safety.
I think the forum has information about that area.
I know it seems over welling, it is best to ignore him, keep you lawyer updated, and the police.
I would continue to maintain contact with the police and get a file number if you do not have one.

I would recommend contacting a support group. I can look into my data base about that are you could contact the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime in Canada the site has information. I have and continue to refer to this organization.
I would be careful with joining groups online. Chatting in any forums, make sure you feel safe in the forum.

Be care with giving out to much details, and change your personal routine. That way your empowering yourself again and doing the things you can enjoy, only doing them on different days.

Most of all Michelle trust your instincts, it is that gut feeling, you most likely know the one I mean.

If you do need support, make up a separate email account, change the location when you register are I would suggest you buy a proxy.
Megaproxy is one that is cheap. It cost about $10.00 for 3 months. You can let you internet provider know and also consider logging a complaint with his internet provider.

I would also suggest seeing someone professional, it helps to have someone to talk with and remember you are not alone. I do most of what I told you everyday. I still do many things I truly enjoy, and in the forum I know some members know who I am, I have felt comfortable, and talked openly in the forum. The moderators and everyone here do the best at making everyone follow the rules. I hope you find this helpful Michelle.

Take care Holly :)


l have kept all of his emails and l am living in a different province with a different name (last) so he only has access to My Mom's phone number and computer address. He has emailed an old address and l no longer use it and have changed my address to a different server and have now stopped using the old address all together for the fact, he might start trying to hack into that (if he has not been for the past two years) as he has noticed already that one is not working any longer and called me a coward for not using it, only trying to get a reaction from me. l cannot respond as the Police said and he could get hold of the ISP address and locate me.

l did not see the man following me, but he apparently had been seen and talking to people that knew of me and when the Police were called he was told then and there to back off, which he did, but not before taking the car and trying to see if he could sell it there for any amount of money. It was not the fact my then husband wanted the car back, it was because he did not want me having the car.

He wrote terrible emails to anyone that l knew, relatives, friends, co-workers and humiliated me telling them stories to make himself the victim and l may as well have been a serial murderer or part of Bonnie and Clyde. l have always been an honest person and to have this happen , l can say l never expected and can still not understand how after two years, he is still trying to get a reaction from me. We never consummated the marriage so it would not be considered legal really, but he is demanding the Divorce immediately and that l pay half. That was the last email. l mean this guy is sick in the head. he is just mad l left and was lucky that l got out alive. There was a previous girlfriend who "died" by suffocating under her pillow, and that was being investigated and they ruled it accidental and l found that out toward the end of my being there and l used to sit there and l would literally shake thinking he was only four hours drive away from her and he told me with his car it took three hours and he often drove there in the middle of the night to see if she had a man there with her after they broke up because he was mad and wanted to catch her.

l often wondered if he murdered her because how could a 40 yr old woman just accidentally die with a pillow over her face? The Police had taken him in numerous times for questioning but he had some alibi and they had no choice but to let him go. It was a flimsy alibi such as he was sleeping after neck surgery and could not move on painkillers given to him although there was no one to verify he was home or even sleeping.

But the Police did tell me, they were very worried for me as well as his Lawyer so that is why everything took place in the manner it did so he would not snap if he knew l was leaving.
l thought of him at times as "Sleeping with the Enemy" and when he came in my room, l woke up instantly and pretended to be asleep, although l was watching to see what he was doing because l was afraid of him.

I don't understand how the Canadian Government after hearing all of this now says l am considered single in Canada, but they do. It is just a nightmare to me and this is really the first time in two years l have ever gone into detail like this.

l have a private number and due to previous child abuse and ongoing abuse, my own Mother does not even have my address or phone number so there is no fear that she will give it out. He is probably harassing her now, which she will have to deal with, l just get the emails. She is getting the calls and probably any one hired at her door. It was just when l returned to Canada, l stayed with her briefly that this man found me. I'm far enough away that they will have a hard time finding me now.

l thank you for all of your suggestions. l am on a very tight budget as l am on disability and l have a daughter living with me so l don't have much money that l am able to spend as l have bills to pay and groceries, so l have to just go without really spending anything more right now.


by the way, l forgot to mention, l am taking medication for anxiety and panic attacks, PTSD from that whole situation and l am getting help from ongoing Therapy and a Psychiatrist.


There are a few free proxies you can use if you're concerned about your online privacy, Chelles. One of them is vtunnel. Here's the url:

You can get to vtunnel by using their http address, but the https is a bit safer, I think.
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