(We’re wrapped up in several serious cyber harassment cases at the moment and are sharing several tips on how to handle these type situations that cross over into criminality. All too frequently we feel our hands are tied in trying to protect ourselves, our businesses and families from this type of harassment but in reality, the reporting protocol for these type incidents already exists. Below is information on how to report cyber harassment.)
Cyber harassment refers to the malicious use of technology to willfully and deliberately harass or harm another individual or entity. Cyber harassment can qualify as a federal crime. Undoubtedly though, it is a scary experience for the victim. If you are in fear of imminent danger to your welfare or that of others, call 911 immediately to report the harassment.
1. Determine whether you are the victim of cyber harassment. The lines between genuine cyber harassment and general nuisance are blurry, so it can be difficult to substantiate a claim of Internet harassment. If someone is threatening you with violence and you genuinely fear for your safety and well-being, you might meet the criteria of being a victim. It is important to note that hacking, cyber spying and cyber stalking are not forms of Internet harassment. The first two are not necessarily criminal activities, depending on the nature of the offender’s behavior, and the latter is a separate crime, which should be reported and addressed differently than cyber harassment, defined by the Federal Anti-Cyber-Stalking Act.
2. Do what you can to reduce or prevent further Internet harassment from occurring. This includes changing your email address, screen names and member names for instant messaging programs and social networking websites; applying private settings to your profiles and websites that currently are public; and ceasing all contact with the person who is harassing you. You must demonstrate that you have taken steps to stop the person from harassing you. If you communicate continuously with the individual who is harassing you, your chances of being able to report and stop Internet harassment will drop significantly.
3. Gather as much information as you can about the individual harassing you. This can prove to be quite difficult given the anonymous nature of the Internet, but technology allows law enforcement to track down anonymous harassers by using multiple methods. Develop a log that includes email addresses, screen names, and website and social networking profile URLs that belong to the person/people harassing you. Save and print emails and conversations, create “screen grabs” or screenshots of websites or profiles with threatening or malicious content, and keep track of the offender’s every attempt to contact you. A detailed log containing dates, times and places will help you immensely when you report cyber harassment. If possible, also try to locate and write down the offender’s Internet Protocol (IP) address.
4. Contact your local law enforcement agency and ask to report cyber harassment. Use the police department’s non-emergency (administrative) telephone number or visit in person to make your report. Be prepared to provide information you have detailed in your log. If you know the offender’s (even general) location, you can contact his local police department or file a report with both precincts. Be sure to get a copy of any police report you file.
5. Contact your local FBI field office if your local police department is unable to or uninterested in pursuing your report. You can locate your local office using the FBI’s field office locator online, or ask you local police department for the information. Always attempt to make a report with your local police department before contacting the FBI, unless you have reason to believe the harassment is terroristic in nature, (e.g., the offender is threatening to plant a bomb or commit a school shooting).
6. Contact a cyber harassment watch group for more assistance. While your matter is under investigation, you can contact an organization such as WiredSafety for further assistance and general support. Note that this type organization is not a governmental or law enforcement agency and you should not rely on these private groups as an alternative to law enforcement authorities.
Our Operatives: Street smart; info savvy.
As always, stay safe.