DCSIMG

Victim of cyberstaker tells of living nightmare

IT started as a brief, innocent meeting which should have gone no further. It has turned into a living nightmare.

&#149 Sites such as Facebook and Twitter are increasingly being used to abuse and threaten other members

In one of the first cases of cyber-stalking reported in the Lothians, a 26-year-old from Stockbridge has told the Evening News how he has been left under siege for nine months by dozens of e-mails, calls and texts every day from a woman he only met for a matter of minutes.

The freelance designer said he had been forced to contact police after the woman e-mailed his clients and sent several messages under various pseudonyms pretending to be interested in employing him.

The 22-year-old woman also started showing up at places where he was hanging out after identifying his location through Foursquare, a site which allows users to "check in" to venues across Edinburgh.

Today, DC Derek Graham, who works for Lothian and Borders Child Protection Internet Investigation Unit, said it was the first case of its kind he had come across, but he warned that the number of online disputes being reported in Edinburgh has been on the rise in recent months.

The victim, who designs logos, websites and artworks, said: "It has become quite scary. I've had texts and voicemails ranging from affectionate to hateful. She has called and e-mailed me up to 40 times a day and I've found up to six or seven voicemails on my phone in the morning.

"I thought I could handle it by myself and I felt a bit sorry for her, but I might have underestimated the situation. At first, it was only me that was involved, but now she has e-mailed some of my clients asking to work with them.

"It was by chance that I saw the messages and the extremes she is willing to go to scare me. Over the months she has taken more and more invasive steps. It's reached the point where I need to get the police involved."

He explained that he met his stalker when he held a public exhibition of design works in March last year. He said: "She came to the public opening, introduced herself and took one of my business cards. A couple of days later she invited me for a drink, so we met up at the Assembly Rooms to talk.

"I realised straight away that there was something not quite right. She was very intense, so I didn't want anything more to do with her. Around three weeks later, she texted me asking what was happening between us and why I wasn't with her? She would constantly ask where I was and what I was up to."Eventually I told her I had a girlfriend just so she'd back off, but she went crazy with texts, phonecalls and e-mails."

The victim tried several methods to deter the young woman, ranging from replying calmly to her messages to ignoring them completely and blocking her online and through his mobile.

He said, however, that any actions proved to be fruitless. He said: "She just got a new Sim card and set up new e-mail addresses. Nothing really seemed to work. As a freelance, it's really important that I have a bit of an online presence. I make contacts and get work through social networking sites, but the hassle got so bad I closed my Twitter and Facebook accounts for two months.

"I no longer use Foursquare because it directly identified where I was and she started showing up in places.

"I put an update up one Sunday saying I was in Le Monde, on George Street, and she showed up when I was enjoying a coffee with my mates. Another time she appeared at Joseph Pearce's, on Leith Walk.

"I try to ignore her but I get quite violent reactions. She's told me 'I'm going to destroy you', called me 'ugly' and said she hates me. She can quickly switch from loving to hateful texts and sometimes she has conversations with herself. I couldn't put up with her any more after she got in touch with my clients."

He added: "Looking back, I should have separate phone numbers for my work and social life, but you never expect this sort of attention. I think it is easy to forget just how much information you're giving away online. I'm extra careful now. I never write anything that would give away my location, for example.

"The police have told me to keep them updated and I'm keeping a diary."

DC Graham explained that although the Child Protection Internet Investigation Unit spends around 90 per cent of its time dealing with issues relating to paedophilia and child abuse, it is dedicated to fighting any sort of online harassment or crime.

He pointed out that in recent months there has been a rise in reports, especially concerning the use of Facebook, and said that Lothian and Borders might have to expand the unit in future.

He said: "Foursquare has kicked off and now Facebook has launched a similar thing where you can sign into locations.

"Some of my colleagues have even added 'ma hoose' on these sites, which I wouldn't do.

"I'm on Facebook, but I wouldn't put a picture of myself up and I wouldn't check in to places.

"I can't see why anyone would want to do it. It could cause big problems.

"Everyone is now living online and it's having a knock-on effect on crime. You have got to be careful about what information they're putting up there.

"This incident is a first for me, but people have got to be careful.

"There is definitely a possibility that this problem could get bigger. Online interaction isn't going to go away, so people must try to stay safe."

SAFETY ON THE NET

Dc Derek Graham offers some advice on how to stay safe online:

&#149 If you have young children, make sure your computer is in the family living room, or somewhere you can monitor what they're getting up to.

&#149 Think before you "sign in" to locations. Websites such as Foursquare and Facebook can make it all too easy to track exactly where you are, making you vulnerable to stalkers or criminals.

&#149 On Facebook, don't add somebody you don't know. Whereas Twitter allows strangers to follow you if your account isn't on a private setting, Facebook should be reserved for friends and family. It is much easier to give personal and potentially harmful information away on a Facebook profile. Don't get stuck into a competition about who has the most Facebook friends.

&#149 Think twice before you write something online, especially on public websites such as Twitter. Giving out too much information can lead to fraudulent activity. Don't give somebody the chance to guess an account name or a password.

&#149 To make sure you and your children remain safe, visit the CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) website for advice and tips. www.ceop.police.uk/

&#149 If somebody is harassing you online, the first step is to block and ignore them. Don't respond to somebody who is throwing insults and they will often get bored pretty quickly. If they don't, the next step is to contact police.

 
 
 

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