Protecting yourself from the creeps
2 FEB 2010 (The Star)

DANGEROUS SITUATION: If someone is stalking you, tell everyone you know. Don't hide it.

HOW is it that a cyberstalker is able to learn so much about his or her victim? The Internet and search engines make the task easier than in the days before the World Wide Web.

Also, it's because many people don't realise how much personal information they are putting on the Internet. It may not be all in one place but with search engines, tiny bits of information can sometimes be pieced together into surprisingly revealing backgrounds.

With such tools, a cyberstalker is also able to trace a victim's friends, family and work colleagues in order to glean more details. Almost - everyone has a Facebook account these days and even if you don't, you're likely to be tagged by-someone who does.

Then, there are data-furnishing companies operating on the Internet. These companies are-agencies that compile and sell private records on consumers for useful purposes.

The data is useful for marketers or anyone else wanting to gauge spending patterns or public interest in certain consumer goods or - services. They're also used by vendors to validate customer particulars and to improve sales.

These are very accurate but like all information, can be misused by unscrupulous people.

At one such website, I typed in a friend's phone number and I got the residential address. It was spot on. I also managed to find out the name of the person that the telephone number was registered to.

Be careful with your personal information online. Everything is connected on the Web and you may be inadvertently leaving a breadcrumb trail leading straight to your doorstep for strangers to follow.

Take Facebook, for example. People love putting statements there, such as "Yay. Whole family going on holiday to Euro Disney, no partying with you guys this weekend and the next."

An innocent looking morsel of information but a gold nugget to a burglar who has found your address somewhere else on the Web, or maybe right there on your Facebook page. Or it could give a cyberstalker the opportunity to find out more about you.

Your social patterns and ­favourite haunts also become more obvious the more pictures of your activities you post online.

What to do?

Despite all the preventive steps, sometimes the worst happens. You have become the target of a cyberstalker or stalker.

Report it to the relevant authorities immediately. Most victims are afraid of letting other people know of their predicament. They hide it, hoping it will go away. It won't.

"The victim can also tell all his or her friends and family members that he or she is being stalked," said Valerie Jaques, consultant -Psychologist at Integrated Psychology Network.

This gets the victim support from friends and family-always a good thing when facing any kind of crisis. It also alerts all these other people to be on the look out for anyone trying to pump them for information on the victim, making it tougher for the cyberstalker to operate.

The Communications and Multimedia Consumer Forum of Malaysia (CFM) recommends that a victim should also change his or her e-mail addresses and user-IDs, as well as increase the privacy settings for his or her social-networking tools. (See related stories below for more steps.)

CFM is a national self-regulatory forum appointed by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (SKMM) to be a one-stop centre for consumer complaints and queries involving the communications and multimedia industry.

"Also contact your Internet ­service provider for assistance, lodge a police report and report the incident to the SKMM," advised CFM executive director Muhamad Tahir Muhamad Noor.

He said the CFM will also forward any complaints of cyberstalking it receives to the relevant authorities for further action.

Cyberstalkers can be charged under Section 420 of the Penal Code or the Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act.

If found guilty under Section 420, the cyberstalker would face a maximum sentence of 10 years jail time, as well as a whipping or fine-or both.

If found guilty under Section 233, the cyberstalker could be sentenced to one year in jail or a fine not exceeding RM50,000, or both.-SUBASHINI SELVARATNAM