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A new toolkit for cyber stalking and harassment victims

29th October 2018

Victims of cyber stalking and harassment are being empowered to take back control through innovative online-safety advice which helps them secure their devices and online accounts.

The new ‘Cyber Stalking Toolkit’ devised by specialists from our safeguarding department offers practical advice to complainants and victims of cyber-related domestic abuse crimes, and helps them to identify and deactivate spyware, secure their social media accounts and review all their media outlets alongside a trained officer.

Detective Chief Inspector for Safeguarding, Louise Cass-Williams said: “This is a fantastic way for our officers to help empower victims of these awful crimes.

“We know that in today’s society it can be really hard, impossible even, for people to completely switch off and disregard all their devices. Previously, we would have advised victims to switch off their phones and computers but we know that people rely heavily on their devices and so we have to equip them with the tools they need to stay safe and make them aware of what to look out for.

“Our new toolkit gives our frontline staff comprehensive and thorough guidance to help educate victims how to keep their social media accounts and smart phones and devices as safe as possible.

“As technology evolves, so do these types of crime and we are proud to be evolving our responses to the digital threats that many Domestic Abuse victims face. Our officers are highly skilled and know what to look for, and rest assured, if you commit this type of crime, you will be pursued.”

In 2017, part of funding secured by Dame Vera Baird QC, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, from the Home Office was used to create a specialist team within Northumbria Police that investigates cases of cyber-based stalking and harassment.

Dame Vera said: “Victims of cyberstalking and harassment can often feel very vulnerable and powerless in these situations and we want to make sure they get the opportunity to take back the control in their lives. This toolkit does just that and shows how skilled and prepared Northumbria is at tackling the issue. No one should live in fear.”

Securing mobile/ digital devices

  • Deactivate location services on all mobile devices – the default setting on all mobile devices should be OFF. Location services should only be used when necessary, for example when using the likes of Google maps, but turned off again afterwards.
  • Review all apps on your devices and check who has permission to use them – on many devices this can be accessed via Settings > Apps or App manager (depending on your device) select the app and then scroll to permissions.
  • Consider antivirus/spyware and security apps – Ensure all devices’ security apps are updated regularly and routine scans are scheduled. Ensure anti-virus/spyware packages are installed where relevant.
  •  Remember to consider all your smart devices including thermostat, car, smart fridge etc
  • Consider replacing all mobile devices – if you believe your device has spyware or tracking software installed the safest option is to replace it entirely. But be aware that the device might be needed by police as evidence at a later date.

Securing online accounts

  • Create new email accounts with no relation to your personal information
  • Create strong and secure passwords – avoid links to your personal life and try to use different passwords for all of your different accounts
  • Change all passwords and pins, even if you think the perpetrator does not know them
  • Change all online banking details – if you think the perpetrator has access to your financial details you should consider changing your bank account. Do not allow your browser to remember your details.
  • Set up two-step authentication on social media and consider changing your profiles – delete contacts related to the perpetrator and do not accept friend requests from people you do not know
  • Change every online account to backup or recover to a new email address.

Increase privacy/update tools

  • Search for yourself online from a friend or relative’s device and account
  • Remove excess information from all your online accounts
  • Review your social media and check which accounts need to be deactivated
  • Review friends lists and remove ‘non-essential’ contacts
  • Try and update your privacy settings regularly
  • Add a non-tracker browser or add-ons to your internet browser – try and use a secure browser like a Mozilla Firefox
  • Be particularly aware and alert to ‘checking in’ via Social Media to particular location or publishing where you are going on a trip, a holiday or the fact that you are just simply away
  • Ask those that you are going with to do the same in case a perpetrator attempts to seemingly innocently contact them and they inadvertently disclose where you are.