Many college students use Facebook.com daily without being aware of the cyberstalking threat.
When students put their phone numbers, addresses and other personal information on a social networking site like Facebook, they increase their chances of being a cyberstalking victim, said Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance.
January was National Stalking Awareness Month and Kaiser said that because people between the ages of 18-24 have the highest victimization rate, due to the popularity of Facebook and MySpace.com, it's important for students to protect themselves against cyberstalking.
"People should be really guarded in sharing personal information," Kaiser said. "I wouldn't suggest that the Internet is a place to write an autobiography."
According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project's January 2009 report about adults and social networking websites, 75 percent of Internet users in the 18-24 age group have a profile on a social networking Web site.
A social networking Web site is a place for people to connect with each other by creating a profile that each individual can customize with pictures, contact information and details about interests, such as music and movies, to reflect that person's personality. Kaiser said an e-mail address is usually the only information needed to become part of a social networking Web site.
Some tips Kaiser had for students were install a firewall, anti-spyware, use the highest privacy settings on social networking web sites and limit the information they put online.
Kaiser advised students that they should "be really careful about who you let into your circle."
Along with the active steps that students can take to protect themselves, Kaiser suggested that students enter their names into a search engine to see if they come across information that they didn't know was there.
"People don't even know sometimes how much information about them there is on the Web," Kaiser said. "People leave trails all over the Internet and stalkers will use those trails."
He said stalkers would use anything from an e-mail address to a phone number, street address or instant message, to stalk a victim.
Nick Penta, a pre-veterinary science freshman, said he thinks an ex-girlfriend stalked him over MySpace. He said she sent him several messages and viewed his profile about 20 times a day to learn about his new girlfriend.
Kaiser said stalking is defined as repeated actions that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.
Penta added that he wasn't scared of his ex's actions.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice's January 2009 report "Stalking Victimization in the United States," of the 3.4 million Americans who reported being stalked, 25 percent reported being cyberstalked through email or instant messaging.
Stephen Orlando, a pre-business freshman said he experienced the same jealous behavior by an ex, over the Internet.
According to the report, 75 percent of stalking victims were stalked by someone they knew.
"The vast majority of stalking is done by people who know each other," Kaiser said.
Even taking into account Orlando and Penta's experiences with exes over the Web, the two men have not chosen to make their Facebook profiles private and non-viewable to users whom they have not given permission.
Kaiser advised students to "use the highest privacy settings you can on any of the social networking sites."
Amy Cheng, a pre-physiology freshman, said her Facebook profile is private and she doesn't post her personal information on the page.
"I don't put anything on there that I wouldn't show my mom," Cheng said about information on her Facebook profile.
Emily Smith, an undeclared freshman, said that although her profile isn't private, she doesn't put any contact information on her Facebook profile.
She added that if she had more of an issue with cyberstalking she might consider changing her profile to private.
Orlando said that he thinks that cyberstalking is more of an issue for women than men.
"There's a lot more creeper stalker people looking for girls than guys," he said.
Penta said that the difference could be attributed to the fact that some women put relatively provocative photos on their individual profiles.
"They're easier targets, just because their pictures might be more revealing," Penta said.
Whatever the reason, the Department of Justice report did concede that women run a much greater risk for being victims of cyberstalking than men.
Whether the victim is a man or woman, the fact that friends and family support the stalking victim is crucial, Kaiser said.
For more information on cyberstalking, Kaiser said that students should visit the National Center for Victims of Crime's Web site, www.ncvc.org or the National Cyber Security Alliance's Web site, www.staysafeonline.org.