This is scary: more than 100,000 people are reported to have downloaded a phone application called StealthGenie. It’s a spy app, and its creator was arrested in Los Angeles last month. Not only can this illegal software tell a stalker where his victim is located, but it can also listen in on all of a victim’s phone conversations. It’s evidence of a nefarious industry that is constantly developing tools to keep tabs on former lovers, attractive strangers, business competitors, and unsuspecting teens.
The lead character in the novel The Red Chair is being stalked, however, the hooded figure didn’t use illegal software to spy on Grace Simms, but rather other, more traditional techniques like physical observation. Stalking is a crime, and it is no fiction that thousands are being stalked at this very instant. It can happen to you, so be ready. Be aware of these five common tools ― just a pentad among the scores of tactics executed by brazen stalkers.
- Your car: Don’t leave things in your car that tell a story, including mail. In Danna Wilberg’s novel, The Red Chair, Grace Simms leaves an envelope in her car and it ends up giving her peeking stalker information about her whereabouts and routine. Put your motor vehicle registration cards and insurance information into a sealed envelope. Place the documents in your glove compartment. You don’t want a valet or a car repair technician snooping for your address and account numbers while you aren’t looking. Put gym bags and grocery bags in your truck, so a stalker can’t discern your daily habits and routine.
- Your phone: Never let it out of your possession. That’s how so many people became victims of StealthGenie. Someone obtained possession of a phone and downloaded the software. It resides invisibly on the phone and cannot be detected. Keep your phone locked and use a secure passcode. Don’t even trust your friends, because today’s trusted friend can become a disgruntled stalker tomorrow. Keep your phone number private. If you are interested in someone who is still a relative stranger, use an application like Burner, to get a temporary phone number.
- Your friends: Educate your friends about revealing private information to strangers. They often tell too much. In the book Ghost in the Wires, former hacker Kevin Mitnick describes how he used social engineering (that is, person-to-person conversations) as much as technology to wiggle his way onto private phone lines and networks. A stalker can be so sneaky. Imagine this scene: you and your girlfriend are at a bar. You leave your seat for just a minute to talk to a friend. The man at the bar says, “She’s very fit. I’ve never seen her at my gym. I go to 24 Hour Fitness on Riley Street.” Your friend says, “No, she works out at Cal Fit.” Boom. Damage done. The stalker knows where to hang out.
- Your embarrassment: Stalkers are manipulators. They can make you think you are crazy for suspecting them. “You know I am just worried about you,” one says after calling you too often. Then you feel guilty and embarrassed. Don’t be afraid to confide with a friend. In the book The Red Chair, Grace is shy about telling others the details of her stalking. She is slow to tell her friend Sal about her suspicions. She’s even slow to tell police Sargent Garret Weston – and a potential boyfriend — about callers that hang up. Best practice is to: a) give a known stalker a one-time ultimatum to stop, b) keep a journal or log, c) confide with a friend or relative, d) file a police report.
- Your online presence: it is nearly impossible these days to keep your name off the internet, but too many people take for granted the settings that social media sites offer to protect your privacy. Turn on settings that restrict strangers from seeing your Facebook posts. Your Facebook cover shots are always public; keep your address and easily identifiable personal venues out of cover pictures. Do not make your birthdate public on Facebook. A birth date is candy for identity thieves and stalkers delving into public records. Never accept a friend request from a stranger. Unfriend or restrict people that make you comfortable. However, remember that the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that nearly 75 percent of stalking victims know their stalker in some capacity.
As a lifestyle habit, remember that anything you post online can be obtained somehow, somewhere, by somebody.
In announcing the arrest of the creator of StealthGenie, the Department of Justice said, “The indictment alleges that StealthGenie’s capabilities included the following: it recorded all incoming/outgoing voice calls; it intercepted calls on the phone to be monitored while they take place; it allowed the purchaser to call the phone and activate it at any time to monitor all surrounding conversations within a 15-foot radius; and it allowed the purchaser to monitor the user’s incoming and outgoing e-mail messages and SMS messages, incoming voicemail messages, address book, calendar, photographs, and videos. All of these functions were enabled without the knowledge of the user of the phone.”
That’s breathtakingly bold. Be aware. Anyone can be a victim. Grace Simms, the lead character in The Red Chair novel, ultimately realized who her stalker was, but was that realization the end of her plight? Will she tell Sal of her new suspicions? Will the police wind down her case or stay vigilant?
Stay safe and bring home a suspenseful book: The Red Chair, available at www.amazon.com.