Signs of a Stalker: Are You Being Followed?

Not only can stalkers can make your life a living hell, stalking is scary, dangerous, and in many cases, illegal.

If you came to this page because you suspect someone’s stalking you, make your safety your priority. Contact the police or other law enforcement if you have immediate concerns about your personal safety. If you don’t have immediate concerns but believe something’s afoot, read on to learn the signs of a stalker and what you should do.

What is stalking?

According to the National Center for Victims of Crime:1

Stalking is a complex crime that is often misunderstood and largely underreported ...Unlike other crimes that are defined as an incident, stalking is a pattern of behavior, often of individual acts that could—in isolation—seem benign or be noncriminal.

A good first step is to look up the stalking laws in your state. Most states don’t consider a first stalking offense to be a felony.2 However, your stalker might have already done something illegal without either of you recognizing it at the time. If while reading this resource you realize illegal behavior has already taken place, you don’t need to read any further; you should call the police.


Startling statistics about stalkers in the US

We pulled some data from a CDC survey done in 2011. Frustratingly, this is the most recent comprehensive survey on stalking that we could find. We’d like to see more attention given to stalking research so that victims of stalking have better resources.

  • About 18.3 million US women are victims of stalking during their lifetimes. For context, that’s about 15.2%.3
  • Men are stalked, too. 5.7% (nearly 6.5 million) of US men experience stalking at some point.4
  • Stalking tends to happen among young people. Most victims first experience stalking between the ages of 18 and 24.5
  • About 4 in 5 victims of stalking are stalked by someone they know.6
  • Most people know their stalker intimately. 61% of female victims and 43.5% of male victims are stalked by a current or former romantic partner.7 In fact, stalking is often linked to domestic violence.8
  • About 24.5% of Native American/Alaska Native women, 22.4% of multiracial women, 15.9% of non-Hispanic white women, 14.2% of Hispanic women, and 13.9% of non-Hispanic black women have experienced stalking. (The sample size for Asian and Pacific Islander women was too small to get reliable data from.)9
Most people know their stalker intimately.
Stalking Facts

What does a stalker do?

A stalker’s persistent pattern of unwanted attention usually makes the stalked person feel uncomfortable, threatened, or afraid for their or their family’s safety. Stalking often escalates in frequency and severity over time.10

Stalkers may use more than one channel to obtain information about you, harass you, or contact you. You can be stalked and not even know it. For example, columnist Kelly Meister-Yetter told the ASecureLife team that she didn’t realize her ex-boyfriend was stalking her.

“Every time I came home from somewhere, there he would be,”

Meister-Yetter said. “I thought it was coincidence, and it didn't occur to me that he'd been waiting for me to come home.”

Of course, stalking can also be glaringly obvious. It depends on how your stalker behaves.

Common forms of stalking behavior

  • Following you or showing up wherever you are.11
  • Sending persistent, unwanted, or inappropriate gifts, letters, notes, emails, texts, or social media messages.12
  • Damaging your home, car, or other property.13
  • Monitoring your phone, computer use, or social media accounts to learn about you, your family, your personal life, and your whereabouts.14
  • Using technology, like hidden cameras or global positioning systems (GPS), to track where you go.15
  • Driving by or hanging out at your home, school, or work.16
  • Threatening you, your family, friends, or pets or to reveal information (true or not) that could damage your reputation or relationships.17
  • Seeking information about you via public records, online search services, or private investigators or by going through your garbage or personal property. They may also contact or befriend your family, friends, neighbors, or coworkers to gain information about you.18
  • Posting personal information or spreading harmful rumors about you.19
  • Creating or manipulating situations to make contact with you. For example, applying for a job where you work or calling you with a personal emergency.20
  • Putting you in challenging or harmful situations so they can play the hero. For example, maybe they hide your wallet and then help you find it.21

How to identify signs of a stalker

The CDC’s survey shows that around 80% of stalking victims know their stalker in some way.22 But that doesn’t mean a stalker is always a stereotypical jilted lover or jealous spouse. Stalkers might not have any romantic interest in the objects of their scrutiny. They instead see them as possessions to own or control.

Abuse and stalking

Here’s a surprising indicator of stalking: you’re in or were in an abusive relationship. Abuse, both physical and emotional, is about control.23 Your abuser may maintain control over you by tracking your whereabouts and life events and then contacting you at unexpected times.

Abusers may also paint their victims as stalkers or unstable. So be especially wary and seek outside counsel to keep from being manipulated into out-of-character behavior.

Stalkers are persistent and lack healthy boundaries. Even when you set boundaries, such as requesting they leave you alone, they don’t follow them (or they do for a while and then reappear). While personality disorders like narcissism may feed these behaviors, a personality disorder isn’t a prerequisite for—or a sure sign of—stalking.24

If you’ve asked someone to stop unwanted behavior, they should stop. If the person persists despite explicit and repeated requests, that’s a major red flag that points to stalking.

Just remember, being stalked is not your fault. Even if you don’t know the stalker—even if you haven’t had contact with them or asked them to stop—it doesn’t matter. No one has the right to invade your privacy or to make you feel uncomfortable or scared.

Just remember, being stalked is not your fault.

How to deal with a stalker

Unfortunately, stalking is often difficult to prove. For one thing, stalking often starts subtly.25 Individual incidents may not seem like warning signs; they may seem harmless or even innocent. It’s not unheard of to run into the same person twice in one day, or to get several Facebook messages from your ex in one week, or to be saved from a flat tire by someone you’d normally avoid.

Even as stalking incidents escalate, there may not be any hard evidence. Still, if you’re being stalked, threatened, or harassed in any way, you shouldn’t suffer in silence.

Says Kelly Mesiter-Yetter, who was stalked by an ex-boyfriend, “When I finally figured out what was going on, I thought that I could control the situation because I knew him. I was wrong. I learned the hard way that desperate people do desperate things, and no matter how well you think you know someone, desperate people are unpredictable.”

You can’t reason with a stalker, and you may not be able to predict what they’ll do next, but that doesn’t make you helpless. Here’s what you can do.

Send a clear message

It’s not always a good idea to confront or even acknowledge a stalker. A stalker may be trying to get your attention.

On the other hand, says Jessica Pomerantz, a psychology researcher at the University of South Carolina, “Oftentimes, there is a fantasy or unrealistic [expectation] involved in the stalking...Therefore, if [the victim] approaches them, it can ruin that fantasy for them.”

Still, Pomerantz adds, “Their reaction could be unpredictable, explosive, and dangerous.” This is especially true if your stalker is a stranger whose behavior you have no context for.

If you do know your stalker and feel safe approaching them, tell them in no uncertain terms to leave you alone, now. You don’t have to scream or threaten them, but you don’t need to be overly polite either. You’re not asking, you’re telling. Be clear, be firm, and be brief. Don’t engage in a drawn-out conversation—that’s probably what they want.

Never confront a stalker alone
Protip

If you can, have a witness present when you tell your stalker to leave you alone. Be smart and safe; you may not be dealing with a rational person.

Document everything

There’s not much the police can do without some proof. The more evidence you have, the easier it is to have the stalker arrested or charged or to obtain a restraining order against them.

No matter how small or isolated a potential stalking behavior may seem, document what happened, including the date and place. Take photos and video, and save evidence like notes, voicemails, or emails. If you have witnesses, even better.

Don’t wait for the situation to escalate. Contact the police any time you feel uncomfortable or afraid based on someone else’s actions toward you or your family. It’s more documentation, and although you may not be able to pursue legal action against your stalker right away, the law’s on your side. You don’t need to live in fear.

Install a home security system

An excellent way to protect yourself from potential stalkers in and around your home is to install an alarm system. Home security installation can be very quick, so this is something you can do right away.

Choose a dedicated cellular system so that even if someone messes with your phone or broadband lines, the system is still active. And once you have it, use it consistently. Keep it activated even when you’re home.

Many home security companies offer key fobs with panic buttons. We suggest getting some if your chosen security brand sells them. Everyone who lives in your home should keep one on them at all times so they can alert your home security provider if there are any problems.

One more thing: if you want to keep a specific person out of your home, we strongly recommend adding cameras to your system. Security cameras are the perfect way to know exactly who approaches your home, car, and yard. You can choose between motion-activated cameras, cameras with motion-activated spotlights, cameras with facial recognition software, and more.

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Protect your mobile devices

Jemma West, a product specialist at Certo, a company that makes anti-spyware software, says that there are at least 25,000 available apps that stalkers can use to track their victims and spy on phones. “[These apps] give stalkers access to a huge amount of personal data, including messages, photos, [and] GPS location.”

The Google Play Store has anti-spyware apps, but “these apps simply don’t exist for iPhones, due to restrictions imposed by Apple’s App Store,” explains West. “Fortunately, there are some non-App Store alternatives for iPhone.” McAfee provides an iPhone alternative, and so does Certo.

West also recommends keeping your mobile devices updated, using strong passwords or passcodes, and using two-factor authentication. And be sure to change your passwords regularly.

Look out for your children

If you’re being stalked, step up security around your children, even if your stalker hasn’t contacted or threatened them.

  • Alert your child’s school of the situation. Don’t be embarrassed; this could be a safety concern for everyone near your child.
  • Make sure your child’s school and any caretakers have a list of who is and who is not allowed to contact or pick up your child from school. If possible, provide the school with photos and a vehicle description of anyone you don’t want near your kids.
  • Depending on your child’s age, you may want to explain the situation and help them recognize the stalker. Let them know they shouldn’t have contact with this person for any reason and to tell you if they see the stalker hanging around anywhere.
  • Don’t let children walk to and from school or the bus stop alone. Find alternate arrangements or a trusted adult to accompany them if you can’t.
  • Establish a short, simple code word to say on the phone or through text as a warning, a call for help, or a way to tell your children not to come home.
  • Teach your children how to dial 911 in an emergency.

If your children are older, even middle-aged adults, your stalker may still try to use them to get to you. Warn them so that they’re prepared. Likewise, warn your parents and other close family members. While stalking may not lead to physical violence, stalkers are likely to be manipulative. If nothing else, they might find a way to get information about you from your loved ones.

Tell others

Don’t be embarrassed to tell on your stalker! The more people who know, the more people you’ll have looking out for you and your family. Plus, your stalker wants you to feel isolated.26 In their mind, that increases your chances of accepting them.

  • Tell family, friends, and neighbors.
  • Tell your employer; they may have extra security measures to help you stay safe. For example, if you leave work at night or have to walk through a parking garage, your employer might be able to provide an escort to your car.
  • Tell the police. Don’t be discouraged if the department can’t do anything at first. Contact them every time you have something to report.
  • Provide photos and vehicle descriptions to everyone you know.

Limit social media use

Watch what you post on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. At the very least, change your Facebook settings to “private” and refrain from posting information about where you are and where you’re going. To be extra safe, close your social media accounts and tell others not to post anything about you or your children.

The less information your stalker has, the safer you are.

Change numbers, locks, and patterns of behavior

  • Change your phone numbers, including your cell. Give out your new number only to those who absolutely need it, and block any numbers associated with your stalker, just in case.
  • Change your locks, especially if there’s a chance your stalker could have a key.
  • Change your daily patterns. Most people are creatures of habit, driving the same route to work, running the same loop around the neighborhood, stopping for coffee at the same time each morning. Stalkers rely on these predictable patterns. Don’t stop living your life, but find ways to shake up your daily routines. Try a new restaurant; spend the night at a friend’s house.

Make personal security a priority

Focus on things you can do to ensure your personal safety. That could include carrying a self-defense weapon, like a Taser or pepper spray, and developing a self-defense plan. Or it could mean taking a self-defense class.

The power of self-defense
Our Experience

The idea of carrying a Taser or pepper spray might scare you. That’s understandable. You don’t have to take our self-defense suggestions if they make you feel uncomfortable. We recommend self-defense because when you have a stalker, you lose control over a big chunk of your life, including your safety and security. Defending yourself is one way to take control back.

For tips and ideas on how to develop your self-defense plan, check out our article on the best self-defense without a gun. For recommendations on the top-rated Tasers and stun guns, check out our article on the best Tasers and stun guns. And for more information about choosing pepper spray, we also have an article about the best pepper sprays for self-defense.

We said it before, and we’ll say it again: if you’re being stalked, you’re not at fault. You deserve to live your life without fear or abuse. We hope the resources provided here will help you start your path back to normalcy.


Contributing author: Kimberly Alt

Sources:
  1. The National Center for Victims of Crime, “2015 NCVRW Resource Guide
  2. The National Center for Victims of Crime, “Stalking
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization—National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, United States, 2011
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization—National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, United States, 2011
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization—National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, United States, 2011
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization—National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, United States, 2011
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization—National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, United States, 2011
  8. FindLaw, “Stalking and Domestic Violence
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization—National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, United States, 2011
  10. RAINN, “Stalking
  11. One Love Foundation, “It’s Not Cute, It’s Stalking: The Warning Signs
  12. One Love Foundation, “It’s Not Cute, It’s Stalking: The Warning Signs
  13. Protection Against Stalking, “What Is Stalking?
  14. One Love Foundation, “It’s Not Cute, It’s Stalking: The Warning Signs
  15. RAINN, “Stalking
  16. Langston University, “Indicators of Stalking Behavior
  17. Langston University, “Indicators of Stalking Behavior
  18. Protection Against Stalking, “What Is Stalking?
  19. Langston University, “Indicators of Stalking Behavior
  20. Langston University, “Indicators of Stalking Behavior
  21. North American Investigations, “Are You Falling Victim to a Stalker?
  22. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization—National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, United States, 2011
  23. MyDomaine, “The Need for Control and Its Relationship to Abuse
  24. Psychology Today, “The 7 Types of Stalkers, and How to Spot Them
  25. Protection Against Stalking, “What Is Stalking?
  26. Langston University, “Indicators of Stalking Behavior