Detectives are meant to be experts when it comes to following people — so it’s no surprise that, as a licensed private investigator, I’m often asked what to do if the tables are turned.
America may have woken up to the dangers of stalking following the 1989 murder of My Sister Sam star Rebecca Schaeffer, but 28 years later, the shooting of former The Voice contestant Christina Grimmie by an obsessed fan shows that the dangers are as real as ever.
And it’s not just celebrities who are victims of stalkers — in fact, anyone can be stalked at any time.
Would you know if you were being stalked?1. Check Your Phone
I have had a lot of true-crime fans who have watched Goodfellas or CSI one too many times ask if the FBI could be monitoring them. Is it possible? In theory, yes.
In reality, wiretapping is expensive, and involves lots of manpower and a court order.
So unless you’re running an international drug-trafficking ring, it’s unlikely that the feds are listening in on your phone calls to your mom.
Usually, obsessive behavior is like Occam’s Razor: The most likely explanation tends to be the most obvious.
If someone keeps showing up in places where you happen to be, it’s far more likely that they are using the easiest tool available to them (and the one you carry with you 24/7) — your phone.
Installing spyware on a smartphone only takes the person who installs a few minutes – in the time it takes to go to the bathroom at a coffee shop or take a quick shower, a stalker can gain access to your entire life.
Along with pinpointing exact GPS locations, apps like MSpy allow users to remotely access call history, text messages sent and received – and even listen in to conversations around the phone by activating the microphone.
Many of these apps leave no trace, so finding them isn’t always easy.
But there are a few steps that experts recommend: First of all, if you have an iPhone, verify that it is not jailbroken — meaning that someone has modified the phone to get past the built-in security controls.
If you do have a jailbroken phone, experts recommend installing the latest iOS release to get the phone un-jailbroken, then installing a program to alert you if it becomes jailbroken in future.On Androids, many spy apps leave behind signs in the program files.
You can look for them, but, since many have innocent-sounding names, most experts recommend doing a factory reset if you have any suspicion that your phone has been compromised. This should delete the stalker apps, but can also result in losing data.
So make sure to back up everything before you do the reset, and, once you’re done, DO NOT automatically re-install all apps – instead, put in the ones that you need manually. You don’t want to re-install the spyware!
2. Do A Social Media Sweep
Turn location services off on all social media. In fact, it’s a good idea to disable location services for everything if you suspect you may be being stalked.
Yes, it’s annoying when you can’t find the nearest Thai restaurant — but if a potential stalker friends one of your friends and can see that you have checked in at the same coffee shop every Tuesday for the past month on Foursquare, they can identify a pattern.
Also beware of restaurants, bars, and other spots that offer free Wifi if you check in there — remember, this may show up on your Facebook settings.
It’s a good idea to do what many celebrities do: Speak in the past tense, saying, “I was at X last night” instead of “I’m headed there today” — and, even then, it’s better not to reveal exact locations.
On Facebook, check your privacy settings and make sure that your posts are visible only to your friends, not the general public.
While you’re at it, why not ditch any friends you haven’t met in person? And don’t accept new requests from strangers — especially if they are working in Nigeria and just need some funds to tide them over until their million-dollar inheritance check clears.
3. Look For Hidden CamerasIf someone has bugged your apartment, it’s far more likely that they are using a hidden camera, which they can buy very cheaply on Amazon.
When sweeping your apartment, check for any wires that lead nowhere — or unfamiliar Wifi names that appear to be connected to your system.
Look around for items that don’t look familiar. Hidden cameras come in all shapes and sizes — but some of the most popular are alarm-clock cameras, smoke-detector cameras, and USB-charger or electrical-outlet cameras.
Also: Check your stuffed toys, water bottles and house plants for nanny cams!
Additional steps include turning off the lights so that you can look for tiny green or red LED lights, shining a flashlight against a mirror to pick up hidden cameras that may be behind it, or using a radio-frequency detector that can detect wireless cameras.
Radio-frequency detectors typically cost less than 50 bucks, and can help you investigate if you suspect someone has slipped a camera into your home.
4. Check Your Computer
Key loggers are the weapons of choice for hackers.
An application such as VNC allows someone to remotely view all your activity on a computer — which can log every keystroke you type — and help hackers break in to your social-media sites, email — and online banking.
To avoid being hacked, experts recommend using a good, strong password — NOT something that can be found publicly like your date of birth, mother’s maiden name, or pet name — and changing it often.
Make sure that you keep recent, updated back-ups of all of your work, in case you become the victim of a hacker demanding a ransom (these are sadly becoming more and more common) and need to restore your data.
Don’t respond to unsolicited friend requests on Facebook, or links that appear to be antivirus software.
Another low-tech, cheap — and Mark Zuckerburg–approved — idea that works is putting a piece of duct tape over your webcam.
5. Buy a burner phone
Buying a non–smart phone is the first tip that I give my clients who fear that they may be compromised.
It’s as easy as walking into a phone store and buying a prepaid phone and/or SIM card (if you want, you can write down the name “Jane Doe”).
These days, you can buy prepaid smart phones, but I personally like to use old-school flip phones if I’m worried about being followed.
After you have your burner phone, you can try to narrow down the possibilities in order to figure out how you may have been compromised.
Even in a technologically advanced age, sometimes the old-school methods are still the safest.
6. Take Stalking Seriously
If someone’s behavior bothers you, and you have told them to leave you alone but they continue to harass you — please, please take it seriously.
This goes for men as well: I had a close friend male friend who was being stalked by a female, and for a long time, he was hesitant to report it to police due to the fact that he was embarrassed.
Because his stalker was attractive, he was dismissed by friends and family. Some of them even made jokes about him being “lucky” and having a “hot stalker” — until she showed up outside his house with a knife.
Know the stalking laws in your area. Report any incident, no matter how small, to local law enforcement and, most importantly, keep all of the messages, emails, and letters from the stalker. They could become important evidence later.
Main photo: [ThinkStock]