Safety online is important for all but especially so for victims of domestic violence. Often, women that are cyber-stalked by their partners, don’t know that the cyber crime is taking place until it is too late.
Abusive partners may use spyware software to monitor their victims movements, conversations and online activities on either a computer or mobile device.
“Between December 2016 and November 2017, the National Stalking Helpline received 4,337 calls or emails. 77% of the victims who contacted them were female and 74% of stalkers were male. In 56% of cases the perpetrator was an ex-partner. In roughly 130 cases reported to the National Stalking helpline last year, stalkers had downloaded spyware onto a victim’s computer or a covert spying app onto their phone. Spyware on a laptop can allow stalkers to track their victim’s keystrokes or be used to turn on the camera of a computer and watch the person through it.” – National Stalking Helpline UK.
How can you tell if a stalking app has been installed on your phone?
If an abuser has installed a stalking app on your phone, your phone will probably look the same. No new icon will be displayed, and most antivirus software won’t detect it. But these clues may suggest that a stalking app could have been installed:
- The abuser has had physical access to your phone;
- The abuser knows a lot of very specific information about you, including your exact locations, the content of conversations you’ve had, what you’ve texted and to whom, and what you’ve searched for online;
- The phone’s battery drains faster, without any difference in your phone usage;
- There are unexplained data usage charges on your bill; or
- You have trouble turning off the phone.
What must I do if I suspect a stalking app has been added to my phone?
- Get help immediately – notify law enforcement and/or a local GBV NGO and/or trusted friend and/or trusted family member that you suspect that your phone has been hacked and that an abusive partner is stalking you.
- Backup your phone – Your phone will have evidence on it that may assist you with law enforcement. Ask a local GBV NGO to assist you with the backup so that you can preserve evidence for law enforcement.
- Reset your phone – resetting your phone to it’s default factory setting is the only way to remove spyware apps, you can ask your local telecoms service provider to assist you with this too.
Remember that taking any of these steps could tip-off your abuser – especially if you use your phone to research your options, make a call, or have a conversation near your phone. If you are concerned your phone might be monitored, consider leaving it behind when you are seeking help. Do what is best in your particular situation.