Stalking and Domestic Abuse – use of covert surveillance

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A Safeguarding Hub – 40 minute read

In mid-May, The Mail on Sunday published a short article in which Amazon were accused of encouraging stalking, by making available for sale a number of different types of GPS tracking devices aimed specifically at the distrusting partner market, in other words to people who suspect their partners of having an affair. However, whilst this was the retailers selling point, the news piece was about individuals who use these devices to aid them in stalking their victim’s, regardless of whether they are current or former partners, associates or complete strangers. The criticism quite rightly came from the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, who run the National Stalking Helpline. They and other safeguarding organisations have identified that the use of covert surveillance technology is becoming more and more popular, not helped by the ease at which a perpetrator can purchase equipment.

Two months before, the Domestic Homicide Review (DHR) into death of 24-year old Alice Ruggles had been published. Alice had been stalked and subsequently murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Trimaan Dhillon in Gateshead in October 2016. One of the purposes of a DHR is to establish whether lessons can be learnt from the death, in order to prevent similar murders in the future. Within the review, the independent panel made twenty recommendations, some aimed at government level, others for reginal and local organisations. Recommendation 8 was aimed at national level – “Home Office to consider the legal and social impact of the non-regulation of spyware in respect of domestic abuse and stalking victims”. The purpose of this recommendation was to ensure: “Spyware is better regulated, public awareness of the use of spyware to commit abuse and stalking is increased and victims are better protected”.

There was no suggestion that Dhillon had used GPS tracking devices, instead the reference to spyware relates to the methods he used to cyber-stalk Alice through her social media. The review found that Dhillon used social media and messaging to isolate, frighten and exert control over Alice. He was able to digitally stalk Alice by accessing her phone, messages and online accounts. Although it was never proved, it is believed he also used spyware surveillance software. Dhillon didn’t only use technology to covertly stalk Alice, he also used it to fake accounts in order to harass her.

Whilst Dhillon’s methods were to use digital spyware and cyber-stalking, the use of ‘non-online’ surveillance spy devices have also been used in tragic circumstances. A few months before Alice was killed, 19-year old Shana Grice was murdered in Portslade, East Sussex, by her stalker and ex-boyfriend Michael Lane. In this case Lane fitted a tracker to Shana’s car as part of his offending behaviour, a tracker like those advertised on Amazon, eBay and other online marketplaces.

What we have here are two forms of covert surveillance, one using online technology to watch, control and harass; the other utilising technology to watch, listen and track. Two forms of stalking.

The key findings and actions that came from the DHR into Alice’s murder were well considered and included an action for the Chair of Gateshead Community Safety Board to “write to the Home Office to request that they consider the legal and social impact of the non-regulation of spyware in respect of domestic abuse and stalking victim”. Another was for the Member of Parliament and Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria to raise awareness of Alice Ruggles DHR, and to lobby for improved regulation of spyware products. Sadly, the reality is that any form of legislation forcing the likes of Amazon to get their act together, is a long-way off and potentially may never happen. A complete ban is unlikely and if it did, then how do you prevent a stalker from purchasing from abroad. That’s not to say that making representations at parliamentary level should not be encouraged, but the purpose of this article is to focus on another of the DHR’s key findings. This is that the digital stalking was not fully understood by the agencies involved with Alice and that there was a: “a lack of support and advice provided by agencies to limit the perpetrator’s access to Alice’s social media and messaging accounts”. The review panel concluded that agencies need to be alert to the potential use of spyware by perpetrators and provide appropriate advice to the victims. Whilst this was recorded in the context of online stalking, it is also relevant for all forms of covert surveillance used by stalkers. The panel outlined the challenges they felt faced those agencies responsible for safeguarding victims, which we feel are very relevant:

  1. How to identify it has happened?
  2. What to do about it?
  3. How to help prevent it happening?

Therefore this article is aimed at assisting safeguarding professionals with some information that will try to address each of those points:

How to identify it has/is happening  

It is crucial to have a good understanding of what devices and types of surveillance devices that the stalker has at their disposal. Covert surveillance equipment used in stalking, broadly fall into the following categories:

  • visual
  • auditory
  • tracking
  • communication interception

Commercially available spying equipment can be purchased at specialist high street stores, but the real marketplace is online. Both eBay and Amazon have an abundance of equipment available and there is no subtlety involved in the advertisements. For example, the Mail on Sunday news piece which kicked our article off, highlighted a portable real time GPS tracker that can be magnetically attached to “vehicles or belt and track their movement in real time over the internet”. A further description for this device featured on the Amazon pages is “perfect for tracking vehicles, teens, spouses, elderly persons or assets”. Other references include tracking a suspicious spouse” and “track your spouse or partner to see where they actually are when 'working late' again”. The device also has a geofence function which means the person with control over the device can set geographic boundaries around locations, receiving a notification when the person or vehicle carrying the device leaves the area. When describing this function, the advert gives some examples, one of them being “alerting you the moment your suspect spouse leaves your home”. No real mistake that this is aimed at stalking your partner. These types of trackers retail from £40 upwards, but there are trackers on the market for as little as £10, with some linked to contract services.

This is just one device that a stalker can utilise. Below is some of the other technology available:

Stalkers can use either still or video cameras. The former is likely to be used manually and from a distance, using long focus lenses e.g. from a garden into a house or from building to building. Technically this type of stalking falls within the term covert surveillance, for the victim will not know they are being photographed. However, because of the technology available, the most common method will be to use small covert cameras that can be disguised as, or concealed in non-descript everyday objects. Hidden cameras can be wired, connected by cable to recording equipment, or wireless, transmitting online live feeds to the stalker via an app on a smart phone. Dependent on the type, cameras can come with audio and night vision capability, and also be triggered by a motion sensor.

Examples of where covert cameras can be concealed:

  • televisions
  • wall sockets
  • fire/smoke alarms
  • clocks
  • clock radios
  • plant pots
  • picture frames
  • table lamps

Examples of covert cameras disguised as something else (all available to buy online):

  • water bottle
  • coffee cup
  • key fob
  • fire/smoke alarms
  • soft toys
  • mobile phone chargers
  • USB sticks
  • air freshener

Like cameras, covert listening devices (bugs) can be concealed pretty much anywhere, to eavesdrop and record the victim’s conversations and activities. A device generally consists of a tiny transmitter and microphone. However, listening equipment may be as simple as using software to remotely hack into the victim’s own device e.g. a mobile phone’s microphone and listening to their conversation. Examples of listening devices that can be purchased online include:

  • 2-plug mains wall adapter
  • wall sockets
  • mouse for a computer
  • gang extension lead
  • car key
  • desktop calculator

There are various types of ‘radio’ tracking, but generally the method employed by a stalker is to use widely available and accurate Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. This provides real-time positional data and tracks the transmitting device to within a few meters on a map backdrop. Covert GPS trackers work in exactly the same way as the GPS in your phone, they are just designed to be hidden e.g. attached magnetically to the underside of a car, or designed to appear as an everyday object.

Spyware is software secretly embedded onto a computer’s hard drive, normally delivered as a virus, which allows the stalker to remotely access the infected device. They can then secretly track, monitor and record confidential information that is inputted onto the computer by the user. This includes identifying the webpages the user has visited, internet traffic, social media and email use.

Dependent on access, it is possible for perpetrators to use a victim’s phone to track their movements and activity. This can be as easy as using ‘Find My iPhone’ to track a partner’s location or using another app-based location finder such as Life 360, which can also be programmed to alert the perpetrator when the victim has arrived or left certain locations. These apps can be hidden and the notifications turned off, so that the victim is unaware that the app is active on their mobile. App-hiding apps are available such as ‘Blackhole’ which will hide the app and the icon.  A stalker may also install spyware software such as Spyzie onto the phone, enabling them to track activity on the victim’s handset.

Whilst writing this article (July), the trial of Ricardo Godinho took place at Guildford Crown Court. Godinho was accused of murdering his estranged wife and mother of four, Aliny Godinho. In February he had lay in wait for Aliny whilst she was collecting her child from school. As she was talking to several other mums he attacked her, stabbing her several times. The murder took place in front of their 3 -year-old daughter. What emerged during the trial was that Godinho had previously tracked his wife’s movements by using a GPS feature on the phone of one of their children. Examination of his computer also revealed that he had accessed her email and tracked her phone. Godinho was convicted of murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment, to serve a minimum of 27 years.

At the end of July, a story appeared in The Independent covering ‘stalking apps’ found in the Google Play store, used to spy on employees, partners and children. The journalist used research by the cyber security company Avast to highlight seven apps that allow the user to track another person’s location, identify their contacts, view call data and messages. The article also highlighted a common theme with these type of spyware apps, this is that they are often marketed as a safeguarding tool to ensure your children are kept safe. However, this is generally clouding the other reasons for their use – spying on employees and partners. Avast reported these seven apps to Google who removed them from their Play Store, but collectively they had already been downloaded and installed more than 130,000 times. They still remain available via the developers’ websites.

Also in July the Chinese authorities were accused of spying on tourists entering the country via certain routes. It was claimed that their methods were to install apps onto the visitor’s phones. This was carried out by confiscating the traveller’s phones as they go through border control, downloading the app and interrogating the device, before the phone is returned to the owner. The app gathers personal data from the devices and also checks the phone’s images, videos, documents and audio files against a database of words and images the authorities deem suspicious. Whilst the purpose of this is to identify anyone who may have links to extremist terrorism, it is another example of technology available to interrogate another person’s mobile device by simply using an app.

Spyzie, SpyAgent and WebWatcher are just three types of monitoring software available that will allow a perpetrator to know pretty much everything the victim is doing on a specific device. Primarily advertised as child monitoring systems, the options they give stalkers are truly frightening.

Spyzie is a phone-based software, allowing the person controlling the system to track a person’s phone or tablet activity. It is both Android and iOS compatible and once it is paired with the device it can track and extract pretty much all activity, allowing the stalker to monitor the data remotely from their own device.

We haven’t just picked on Spyzie, there are other makes available in the marketplace such as WebWatcher and Spytec-SpyAgent which offer pretty much the same services on mobile and computer devices.

Here is what they are generally capable of:

  • check all messages on WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, Instagram and Snapchat
  • view the persons screenshots
  • access call logs
  • check all text messages
  • export and view all data
  • track the person’s location (device geolocation)
  • automatically record the devices keylogging
  • view the person’s internet browsing history
  • view and monitor all the devices photos

Internet of Things (IoT) technology is a technical name for a wireless system used to control certain smart functions inside the home e.g. speakers, entertainment, lighting, alarm, video doorbells, CCTV, blinds/curtains and central heating systems. Whilst there have been few documented cases of this type of technology being used in stalking cases, it has happened and many domestic abuse and stalking charities now carry warnings and articles on their websites about this emerging issue. One conviction involved 35-yer old Ross Cairns from Altringham, Greater Manchester. He used a wall-mounted iPad to spy on his wife of 16-years after they had separated. Cairns was an electronics expert who was alleged to have logged into Elan Home Systems in their former matrimonial home and listened to wife's telephone conversations. He was also accused of using an app on his iPhone to access the smart home hub, which is designed to control heating, lighting and security systems. His wife also accused him of hacking into a dating website she was a member of and changing her profile picture. However, some of the accusations were not proved and whilst he was originally charged and convicted of stalking and harassment offences, the stalking conviction was later quashed on appeal. The harassment conviction stood and Cairns was imprisoned for 11 months after it emerged, he was in breach of a previous suspended sentence for fraud and theft. He was also given a 3-year restraining order.

What is clear is that there is huge potential for stalkers to exploit this technology, particularly in a coercive and controlling domestic environment, but also where a stalker is stranger or where no existing or previous relationship has taken place. Whilst it will be easier for an abuser to deploy, install or manage devices in a current or former domestic setting, there are many examples of where perpetrators have managed to hack into individuals’ smart devices.

Potential signs of covert surveillance  (not exhaustive)

  •  does the perpetrator know personal information about the victim that they would not ordinarily have access to?
  • does the perpetrator repeat back to the victim (or knows details of) private conversations the victim has had with other?
  • does the perpetrator know the current whereabouts of the victim, or turns up at a location the victim is at, without having any prior information of where the victim was going?
  • does the perpetrator continue to find ways of contacting the victim, after they have changed telephone numbers and social media profiles?
  • does the perpetrator have access to the victim’s social media account despite being blocked?
  • the victim has been given smart devices, phones, computers by the perpetrator.
  • does the victim report unusual activity on their social media accounts e.g. messages and posts are appearing/disappearing on their accounts?
  • does the victim report unusual activity on their bank or other financial accounts?
  • does the victim report apps on their devices that they do not recognise and did not download?
  • has the victim received unexpected notifications or email requests asking them to confirm password changes?
  • has a potential perpetrator borrowed the victim’s laptop/phone/device for any period of time e.g. to sort out an issue the victim might have with the device?

How to help prevent it happening and what to do about it

 Improve your own knowledge

For practitioners to respond properly to incidents of cover stalking, it is important they have a good working knowledge of stalking, that they are able to recognise the signs and understand the different motivation types.

The widely accepted definition of stalking is “repeated, unwanted contact that occurs as a result of fixation or obsession and causes the victim to feel distressed or fearful”.

Stalking campaigns can take many forms, with a stalker taking direct or indirect action, or a combination of both. Whilst a stalker may choose to remain anonymous, most stalking involves the perpetrator interacting with the victim directly, on a regular basis. Stalking behaviour may include:

Direct

  • following the person to or from home, a place of work or leisure
  • loitering and waiting outside the victim’s home or work addresses
  • repeated and constant phone calls, texts and emails (may be obscene, sexually explicit, threatening or declaring love and adoration
  • sending unwanted letters or gifts
  • damaging or making threats to damage property belonging to the victim
  • breaking into the victim’s house
  • making threats – to cause harm to the person or their families/partners/friends/children
  • threatening to harm or kill themselves
  • theft of the victim’s property
  • violent assaults

Many of the above behaviours can also be indirect when carried out anonymously

Indirect

  • contacting and harassing friends/colleagues/partners/family/children
  • cyberstalking – monitoring social victims’ social media, hacking into accounts and obtaining personal information, publishing false information about the victim, creating false profiles and stealing the victim’s identity. Spreading and posting malicious messages, rumours and information
  • watching and spying on the victim without revealing themselves (can include taking covert images)
  • posing as the victim (normally over the phone, but can also be in person in some cases)
  • making vexatious complaints about the victim (normally to public service providers or to the police)
  • ordering goods in the victim’s name (either by fraud or through their own accounts). Can also include cancelling good the victim has ordered

Stalking behaviours and methodology are generally broken into the following five distinct types of stalkers:

  1. Intimacy seeker
  2. Incompetent suitor
  3. Rejected
  4. Resentful
  5. Predatory

 For more on the 5 categories, please see our article: Stalking – The Five Motivation Types

There are strict laws around how law enforcement and other agencies use and deploy surveillance capabilities, but these do not apply to private citizens. For most people within the UK, deploying cameras, listening devices and GPS trackers covertly does not amount to a criminal offence in itself, although it is illegal to use listening devices on certain wave bands. Likewise, there is no specific cyberstalking law.

However, this does not mean stalkers are able to act with impunity. Deploying covert devices in the stalking and cyberstalking context are all covered by a 2012 amendment to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, making stalking a specific criminal offence.

Simplified, the offence of stalking is made out when a person pursues a course of conduct against another person, which amounts to harassment of that person, and the acts or omissions involved are ones associated with stalking. Another element is that the person carrying out the act or omissions knows or ought to know that the course of conduct amounts to harassment of the other person.  Section 2A is a summary only offence and therefore carries a maximum prison sentence of 51 weeks.

Section 4A is stalking involving the fear of violence or serious alarm or distress. This is where the perpetrator pursues a course of a course of conduct which amounts to stalking; and which causes another to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against him or her; or
causes another serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on his or her usual day-to-day activities. This is an indictable offence and therefore upon conviction in the Crown Court, carries a maximum term of 10 years imprisonment.

Whilst stalking is not legally defined, the act lists a number of examples of behaviours associated with stalking. The list is not exhaustive, but gives an indication of the types of behaviour that may constitute a stalking offence:

  • following a person
  • contacting, or attempting to contact, a person by any means
  • publishing any statement or other material relating or purporting to relate to a person, or purporting to originate from a person
  • monitoring the use by a person of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication
  • loitering in any place (whether public or private)
  • interfering with any property in the possession of a person
  • watching or spying on a person

The examples in bold are particularly relevant to this article.

Under s4A, a course of conduct which causes serious alarm or distress that has a substantial adverse effect on the day-to-day activities of the victim is not defined, but Home Office guidelines (not exhaustive) suggest the following:

  • the victim changing their routes to work, work patterns, or employment
  • (b) the victim arranging for friends or family to pick up children from school (to avoid contact with the stalker)
  • the victim putting in place additional security measures in their home
  • the victim moving home
  • physical or mental ill-health
  • the deterioration in the victim's performance at work due to stress
  • the victim stopping /or changing the way they socialise

Harassment

There has been criticism in several stalking cases that police have not recognised the seriousness of the conduct of the perpetrator, and instead of dealing with it under stalking legislation, have I instead proceeded by using the ‘easier’ harassment side of the legislation contained within the Protection of Harassment Act. In some cases, this has led to the perpetrator being given a “harassment warning”, a written notification warning them to cease their behaviour or face potential arrest and prosecution. Unfortunately, it has become a bit of a cultural myth that a person must be given a harassment warning before they can be arrested under the Act. We cannot comment on specific cases, but if a victim finds a GPS tracker attached to the underside of their vehicle, then we would suggest that a written warning is going to be wholly ineffective in persuading the stalker to cease. In our view it was unhelpful for legislators to insert the ‘new’ offences of stalking side by side into the existing Harassment Act and we really could have done with a separate stand-alone stalking act.

It is important for safeguarding professions (particularly police) that they recognise stalking for what it is and do not just view it as harassment. For safeguarding professionals, the vital difference between harassment and s4A stalking is that the offender’s behaviour causes a victim serious alarm or distress (includes psychological harm) that has a substantial adverse effect on their usual day-to-day activities.

Investigators should not fall into the trap that the conduct of the offender does not appear to be too bad, e.g. because they are ‘only sending flowers and letters of affection’. Just because the intentions of the stalker do not appear to be malicious, doesn’t mean the impact on the victim is any less frightening. The offence of stalking should be the start point, even where the offender appears to have committed other offences in the course of their stalking e.g. an offender will commit an offence under the Malicious Communications Act 1988 if they send an electronic communication to the victim which is threatening, indecent or grossly offensive. If this is a one-off message then malicious communications might well be the way ahead, but if the emails are persistent, then stalking comes into play. Likewise planting a camera in a victim’s home and then watching them undress and shower may well be an offence of voyeurism, if carried out for sexual gratification. However, there is a bigger picture and stalking should be at the forefront of the mind.

Stalking Protection Act 2019

Introduced this year, the Stalking Protection Act introduced Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs). This allows police to apply to a magistrates’ court for an order in respect of a person (the “defendant”) if it appears that the defendant has carried out acts associated with stalking, the defendant poses a risk associated with stalking to another person; and there is reasonable cause to believe the proposed order is necessary to protect another person from such a risk. The purpose of the order is to prevent the defendant from carrying out acts associated with stalking, but can also require the defendant to do anything described in the order e.g. be psychologically assessed or attend a rehabilitation programme.

Dealing with a person who believes they are being stalked

 The persistent and obsessive nature of a stalker should never be underestimated. Whilst many may use an unsubtle direct approach, many others will be sly, manipulative and underhand in their method. Some stalkers will take their time, spending hours upon hours planning their stalking campaign, covertly gaining information about their victims from other people or from online sources. Stalkers are capable of stalking their victims over a long period of time, often many years, with many victims not initially reporting until the behaviour becomes more and more persistent. Statistics show that the average stalking victim experiences more than 100 incidents before reporting to police.

Be aware of how being stalked can affect and change a person’s life. Stalking can cause:

  • psychological harm including post-traumatic stress disorder
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • agoraphobia
  • suicidal thoughts

It can force victims to:

  • change their routine and behaviour
  • change their job
  • withdraw from social interactions
  • move home

It can lead to:

  • physical assault
  • psychological assault
  • sexual assault
  • homicide

Regardless of your role, you will probably need to obtain some detail from the victim to make a decision about risk and determine what action you should take. Attempt to establish:

  • timeline of events
  • the number of incidents, details and locations
  • the relationship (if any) between the victim and stalker, including how the victim knows the stalker
  • whether others are affected (secondary victims) and at risk, such as the victim’s partner, parents, friends or children

Please note: The person will likely be giving you details of crime(s) and therefore may well be entitled to special measures within the criminal justice system, if criminal charges are brought against the stalker. Therefore, care should be taken to only record sufficient information to enable you make a decision around risk and shape your next course of action, whilst leaving police to determine the most appropriate means of obtaining an evidential statement from the victim.

  • Never take the risk likely. Just because there has been no violence doesn’t mean that the risk can be treated less seriously
  • Always listen to the victim and treating what they say and feel seriously
  • Never send any potential victim away or making a ‘future’ appointment for them. If the victim doesn’t get the appropriate response and support at the time, then you may not have a further opportunity and the consequences could be fatal
  • Always be supportive and non-judgemental
  • Familiarise yourself with the various risk assessment tools available that can help you assess risk e.g. the S - DASH stalking screening questions or the Stalking Risk Profile.

Please Note: A word of warning about risk assessing stalking. Whilst screening questions will assist you in recognising the risk, risk assessment and the response in stalking cases should be carried out by police or others trained to deal with stalking cases.

The Golden Rule

If the victim is describing or making an allegation of stalking, then it MUST be reported to the Police. If the victim appears to be in immediate danger then contact with the police should be via the 999-emergency call system.

Covert Surveillance - some key advice for victims/clients

As we now know, GPS trackers can be very small and concealed virtually anywhere - a person’s clothing property or vehicle. One of the key giveaways indicating a victim is being stalked via GPS, is for the stalker to turn up unexpectedly and randomly at places where they had no way of knowing the victim was going to be. Of course, they may be using a GPS tracker via the victim’s phone, but if that has been eliminated, then it may be likely that a GPS tracker has been planted either on the victim or their vehicle. Whilst there are anti-spy detector devices on the market, realistically the only way of locating a tracker is to search for it. Clothing and property is fairly easy, but a vehicle is a great deal more problematic. It will involve conducting a systematic interior and exterior inspection of the vehicle. We therefore come back to the main theme, which is if the victim believes they are being stalked, then they should be told to report this as a crime. Police have at their disposal specialist search teams/advisors and access to mechanics if necessary. Removing the tracker will need to be part of the ongoing risk assessment, as removal may well alert the stalker.

Advise the victim to:

  • check your privacy and security settings on your internet browser, email and social media accounts.
  • ensure their wi-fi network is protected with a password.
  • invest in anti-virus software. Ensure their software, firewalls and operating systems are up to date and their content is backed up. They should run regular scans on their devices.
  • always use passwords/password locks to keep their devices secure. Passwords should not be obvious and linked to the victim e.g. dates of birth, names of children or pets. They should be random and they should not use the same password for every website/profile/account they have signed up for. They should be a combination of lower and upper-case letters, numbers and symbols. Passwords should be changed regularly and not shared with anyone.
  • If they are changing passwords because they feel an account has been compromised, then advise them to use a different computer. Advise them to use biometrics (fingerprints) locks where possible.
  • never leave their computer unlocked and unattended. They should never give access to anyone. They should beware of the good-natured person offering to fix it for them – it could be the opportunity the stalker needs to download spyware.
  • to use other devices if they are communicating with others about their stalker e.g. police, relatives, advocates or researching stalking support websites. If the stalker is using spyware then this will alert them to the involvement of others. The same applies if they intend to research websites about removing spyware or cyberstalking.
  • tell them not to attempt to have the spyware removed. The matter should be reported to the police immediately and removal should be left to the police, so that is can be recorded evidentially.
  • avoid sending personal information on emails.
  • to create a new secure email account on a safe device, using details that won’t identify the victim (this includes the actual email address). Advise them not to access the new account on any suspected compromised device.
  • not to open links or attachments that they do not recognise or are not expecting. It may be spyware.
  • to review how much personal information they have on the web or social media.
  • to take caution when accepting someone as a ‘friend’ on social media.
  • to take care what photographs they share. An image can tell a stalker a lot about the victim, especially locations or places frequented.
  • to take care when updating any electronic calendars or advertising a function/activity they intend to attend.
  • to consider turning off the location services metadata when posting photos. Metadata can identify when the image was taken and location.
  • to follow the examples in the computer/device section (above), when creating and changing passwords on social media accounts.
  • to check their privacy settings and establish exactly who has access to the information they are putting online. Advise them to restrict access to those that are trusted only.

There are a number of signs that might suggest a stalker may have installed a stalking app on a victim’s phone. Whilst the phone may be displaying an app the victim didn’t download and doesn’t know, the likelihood is that the phone wont changed in appearance. Some indicators are:

  • there is static/background noise when making calls.
  • there is an increase in data usage.
  • the battery has begun to drain faster than it should, even though usage has not increased.
  • the phone begins to routinely become unresponsive, crashes or there are issues when powering down.
  • the device becomes unusually hot.

It is also beneficial to establish whether the suspected stalker had had access to the victim’s phone.

Some advice you can offer:

  • conduct a physical examination of the phone for unwanted apps. Some devices have the facility to search for hidden apps. Check all apps that access and provide real-time location services. Whilst, they might not always identify stalking apps, the victim can also invest in anti-virus apps/download for mobiles.
  • follow the examples in the computer/device section (above), when creating and changing password/PIN numbers on mobile devices. Advise them to use biometrics (fingerprints) locks where possible.
  • never leave their phone unlocked and unattended. They should never give access to anyone.
  • to check your mobile call and data usage. Check for any texts, calls or data usage you don’t recognise.
  • review billing and tariff plans if the stalker is an ex-partner and a joint mobile plan was taken out. This will allow the stalker to have access to call data.
  • tell them not to delete the app. The matter should be reported to the police immediately so that the presence of the app can be recorded evidentially.

Health trackers – where they have been provided to the victim by a potential stalker e.g. as a gift, then if the stalker has synced the tracker to their device, it will enable them to access the victim’s data, in some cases even tracking the victim.

The size of covert cameras and listening devices, together with the ingenious methods of concealment, make it extremely difficult for them to be discovered. There is equipment available that will sweep for covert wireless devices, but realistically these are used by companies that specialise in anti-spy services. The main giveaway that a device has been installed is where the stalker reveals or acts on information, they had no way of knowing, unless they were present at the time the information was divulged. Locating hidden devices can be complex and again, if the victim believes they are being stalked, then they should be told to report this to the police, who have at their disposal specialist police search teams. Locating and removing these devices will need to be part of the ongoing risk assessment, as removal may well alert the stalker.

Summary

Whilst the advice above can be provided to the victim, it is vitally important that the stalking is reported to the police, so that the criminal elements can be investigated and the risk managed. It will also allow the victim to get the required support e.g. specialist advocates. Professionals trained in stalking will be able to provide advice to the victim around:

  • bespoke safety plans
  • maintaining a log of the stalking
  • how to retain evidence e.g. text and phone messages, letters and gifts

Covert Surveillance – more advice and resources that can help you and the victim

Below are some further resources we recommend you familiarise yourself with:

Digital stalking: A guide to technology risks for victims by Jennifer Perry – whilst written in 2012, this is a concise guide, covering pretty much everything we have included in this article.

Technology and Safety Quick Tipsa document by Refuge and Safety Net, providing guidance on risks and safety tips covering: Spyware, Computer & Phone Monitoring Software, Keystroke Logging Hardware, Global Positioning System (GPS) Devices, Mobile Phones, Caller ID & Spoofing, Email, Hidden Cameras, Personal Information & the Internet. Please note: this guide is from the US and therefore contains invalid contact numbers.

Documentation Tips for Survivors of Technology Abuse & Stalkinga resource by Refuge and Safety Net, providing advice on how to document abuse and stalking. Please note: this guide is from the US and therefore contains invalid contact numbers.

iPhonePrivacy&SecurityGuidea guide by Refuge and Safety Net on how to keep your iPhone safe. Please note: this guide is from the US and therefore contains invalid contact numbers.

Android – a website article titled: How to harden your smartphone against stalkers—Android edition’.

Who’s Spying on Your Computer - Spyware, Surveillance, and Safety for Survivorsa guide by Refuge and Safety Net covering spyware. Please note: this guide is from the US and therefore contains invalid contact numbers.

Choosing and Using Apps Considerations for Survivors by Refuge and NNEDV, a guide explaining the importance of considering safety and privacy when accessing domestic violence and stalking support apps.  Please note: this guide is from the US and therefore contains invalid contact numbers.

Home Automation Survivor Privacy Risks and Strategiesan insight into smart devices and how they can be misused. Please note: this guide is from the US and therefore contains invalid contact numbers.

Thanks for reading


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    Brilliant as ever and topical after a recent seminar in force I have had several requests for search teams
    Physical search by trained officers is the most effective means of recovering and if appropriate forensically linking offenders

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