How to deal with a stalking e-mail sent to 12 year old girl
November 22, 2013 7:34 AM   Subscribe

My friend's 12 year old daughter just received a disturbing anonymous e-mail. What should my friend do?

Here's the e-mail:
From: Anon Person <>
Date: November 15, 2013, 4:43:25 PM EST
Subject: hello

hello realname
you don't know who i am but i know who you are
you'll see me soon
i promise
Realname is the girl's real name, and it is an unusual name.

My friend says
I have been trying to notify Google, but that isn’t as straight forward as you think....still looking into it. And it looks like they can’t look into IP address etc. without a court order.

I called the local police dept. and they took a report – there isn’t much more they can do....the dispatcher looked the google policies up online and gave me advice that I could label it as phishing (even though it isn’t) and there would pop up a notation field where I could indicate the specifics of the situation – but as soon as I did that, the email disappeared so who knows what Google does with it.

They gave me Google’s number but it seems to be hard to get hold of a human but I will keep trying.

I will also tell the school today, just as fyi.

That is true it could be a peer, but it is honestly hard to imagine who would do that to realname (she is a fairly shy, quiet kid, not a likely subject of bullying), and also that email seems pretty sophisticated for a 12 year old to have created an anonymous account and to write that specific type of content, but who knows.

...It may be nothing or a harmless prank but of course it is scary and I am just trying to err on the safe side.

I have been trying to talk to realname about this without making her too scared, just so she is a little extra aware of her surrounding etc. but she gets very upset so I am trying to be careful how to talk to her about it.
Some additional information which may or may not be related: my friend recently published a book which has some sections about realname, and she has mentioned realname in recent interviews about the book. She's a long-time feminist blogger and author.

What should my friend do to best handle this situation?
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (28 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
More likely than not, I'd bet this is a classmate of her daughter just fucking with her. Kids do dumb things and this sounds like one of them. I would encourage the daughter to alert mom about any further emails of course.
posted by chiababe at 7:44 AM on November 22, 2013 [11 favorites]

it is honestly hard to imagine who would do that to realname (she is a fairly shy, quiet kid, not a likely subject of bullying)

"Shy and quiet" is exactly the likely subject of bullying.

What should my friend do to best handle this situation?

I would advise her to mostly ignore it. Save the email, notify the school, escalate if it continues, but do not give anonperson7 the satisfaction of seeing a huge reaction based on one email.
posted by Etrigan at 7:45 AM on November 22, 2013 [26 favorites]

Based on what you say, I could easily imagine this being an attempt to get the mother's goat, not a real threat on the daughter. Does the mother have any enemies who don't like the content of her work?

But regardless, I wouldn't overblow it. It is also the kind of dumb thing kids do to each other and could be totally unrelated to the mother's work. You've done just about everything appropriate to do.
posted by Miko at 7:45 AM on November 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

This reads to me like a lot of spam I receive, some of which contains my real name. I received one today that said nothing but "Please join me to accomplish this dream...." The Google spam filter did not catch it.

I don't want to tell you to do nothing or to not be concerned at all, just tossing it out there that this could just be spam. If anyone with your daughter's name and email address added her to a CC: list or any sort of mass mailing, that's pretty much all it could take for a spammer to have her name and email.
posted by bondcliff at 7:46 AM on November 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

If it makes you feel any better, I've gotten spam emails that look like this.
(Using my real name, and English-looking sentences with poor punctuation and capitalization)

If it only happened once, I'd probably ignore it and move on.
posted by jozxyqk at 7:47 AM on November 22, 2013

I'd have your friend send an email right back to the anonymous person and say something like this:
Hi, Anonymous

I am realname's parent and I want you to know that I have reported your email to both the [city] police and the school board. None of us finds this kind of prank amusing in the least.


My gut feeling is that this is some jerkoff at realname's school just being a jerkoff because jerkoffs gonna jerkoff. An email like that might scare the little shit away.

I was a kid who really shouldn't have been a subject of bullying, but I was, and kids are terrible assholes, so I really think this is someone at her school. For an example of how stupid these things are, we got a prank call in the middle of the night when I was a senior from some douchebag saying "Jennifer left her bag of marijuana at my house!" And my dad, being an alarmist idiot, believed them and had a "serious discussion" with me the next morning. Really I'm just trying to reiterate: NEVER UNDERESTIMATE the assholic stupidity of teenagers.
posted by phunniemee at 7:48 AM on November 22, 2013 [32 favorites]

that email seems pretty sophisticated for a 12 year old to have created an anonymous account and to write that specific type of content, but who knows

Speaking to this particular aspect of this question: no, it is not too sophisticated for a 12 year old to have done. When I was that age, I sent an anonymous letter to my own grade school, letting the administration know that there were several students sneaking behind a wall to smoke during recess.

I got nice paper, typed it according to the format of official letters I had seen, printed it at my parents office, used the postage meter in their mailroom, and put it in the mailbox.

The school administration assumed it was from a parent, because surely no students could have sent a letter in such a manner. They had an assembly of all the students and told us so (and restricted our access to the area the kids had been using to smoke).

Don't underestimate the sophistication of middle schoolers.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:50 AM on November 22, 2013 [18 favorites]

That's the creepiest spam I've ever seen. I'd change the password on this account so the girl isn't checking email there anymore. I'd make a filter to forward any more emails like that to the parent. And I'd find a very knowledgeable person who is willing to try and track down the sender to take a look at it. If the parents get another email, they should send it to the police right away.

It doesn't matter who it is or why, it's threatening. I'd also bring it up to the authorities at school and her teachers. They should *not* talk to her about it, but should keep an ear and eye out for any bullying behavior from other students.
posted by amanda at 7:52 AM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Cyberstalking feminist writers is unfortunately extremely common, and that would be my guess as to what's going on. I agree that your friend has done everything that's appropriate to do for now. If it happens again, either to her daughter or to her, she should continue to document and report.
posted by jaguar at 7:52 AM on November 22, 2013 [14 favorites]

There are millions of times more stupid anon pests on the Internet than there are actual dangerous people with the intent to harm a child. Sure, by all means change the password on the account so the girl doesn't have access, and have the parent monitor what else comes in; but I doubt you'll see anything more, as long as no email was sent back to confirm that the jokester had hit the mark. Probably someone trying to locate the kid for purposes of e-mail harassing the family.

I wouldn't send anything back to that address to confirm it hit the target, for sure. Not yet anyway. If more stuff comes, the parent reading the account can decide what to do.

Also, it's too late to close the barn door after the horses are out, but this is one of the reasons that this:my friend recently published a book which has some sections about realname, and she has mentioned realname in recent interviews about the book is a bad thing to do to your kid and your friend needs to stop.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:58 AM on November 22, 2013 [11 favorites]

my friend recently published a book which has some sections about realname, and she has mentioned realname in recent interviews about the book. She's a long-time feminist blogger and author.

For the love of God she needs to stop mentioning her daughter. Especially given the well-known vitriol and death threats feminist writers receive. Jeez.
posted by jayder at 8:11 AM on November 22, 2013 [40 favorites]

I would try to see if realname has left a digital trail where someone who doesn't know her could find her email address. Is it published anywhere? Because if not, this would have to be someone who knows her email address, which likely means another student. And this is not unlike something a kid would do -- certainly getting an anonymous email address and doing this is not too sophisticated for a kid, although I see how what is written may seem like an adult. Kids tend to repeat things they hear on TV though. I would see if that anonymous email has a digital trail, assuming it's not actually anonperson7. It may be an email that the person has used before. But one time when I was in 3rd grade, me and my friends were talking about a scary TV show and it was Halloween and as a prank, I wrote an anonymous note as the character of the TV show saying basically they better watch out or something. It was just a prank, but my friend seemed freaked out and told the teacher, so I confessed crying, haha. This may be a bad prank, or it could be a bully who wants to scare your friend's daughter. If the person at the police department was unhelpful, speak to someone else. This is obviously meant to be a threat and not phishing. Any sort of threat that causes alarm is second-degree harassment in New York state (I believe). When I searched Google, the answer I got was this.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:13 AM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

(But on the plus side, the fact that friend is a feminist writer -- talk about burying the lede! -- makes me think the threat is actually quite small, it's just some greasy basement-dwelling MRA type getting lulz by scaring your friend and her daughter).
posted by jayder at 8:16 AM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

"realnamedolphin7"-- is the daughter's email her actually in this format, i.e. easily searchable but not easily guessable? If so, google the daughter's name and email address and try to see if you can find it online.
posted by acidic at 8:26 AM on November 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

Just throwing it out there - maybe sign the girl up for a self-defense course.
posted by foxjacket at 8:42 AM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you want to eke out a little bit more info on the email itself, you can check the email headers by viewing the email in gmail, expanding the options menu and selecting "Show original." That will give you the raw text of the email including the headers with routing information. See menu pic here:

If it truly is just personal Gmail to gmail it probably won't be very illuminating but if the sender spoofed the sending address, you might see that it came from some other server somewhere which would be evidence in favor of SPAM.

If you do this and want help interpreting the headers, you can cleanse the text of the recipient's actual name and address and PM me.
posted by rocketpup at 8:45 AM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, my gut feeling is also this is a peer of the recipient. Teens are a horrible combination of playful and cruel, with a large lack of ability to see how things might be interpreted from someone who's not of the mind that this is a joke. And a large lack of ability to forsee consequences happening to them.

From ages 10-16, it was common for groups of girls to call up the really unpopular guys and pretend to like them to get them to do stupid things).

And at 16, or 17, an acquaintance and a friend of his I didn't know dressed up in all black with ski masks and made noises outside the house around 1-2am when they new I had a friend over. When I was looking out the window to see what was going on, suddenly a ski mask pops up in front of the window and I instinctively pushed my hands out into the window; fortunately the window didn't break, nor did I wet myself.

Said acqauintance was also known for calling people he didn't like at 2 in the morning if "the word" was that their parents weren't home for the weekend/night from pay phones while disguising his voice to say things like "I'm 20 miles away and driving there now. I'm armed and you'd better fucking not be there when I get to (insert address) here." then immediately hang up. Classy guy.

There's more stuff like this that I heard of others more removed from my social circle doing that I don't currently recall, but remember at the time thinking it was pretty fucked up. And yes, sometimes the quiet shy people were the perfect targets, rather than someone who "deserved" it.

The email is a combination of boldness, anonymous and vagueness that just screams for attention, but I don't think deserves it.

Sadly, sending any reply will likely only make the perps (yes, likely perps) laugh. Setup gmail to forward any emails from this address (or maybe anon*) to the parents while deleting the message without it arriving to her inbox. Parents can monitor for further threats. I stress that I think it's best not to reply.

Definitely encourage the parents to search out information on being aware of the environment, and perhaps some self defence classes if she's been spooked by this.

On re-read; definitely bringing up her daughter's real name was a ... poorly thought out move. Sadly outspoken feminists draw out anonymous abuse, and it's not always direct (family, employers, etc). However, fortunately the anonymous misogynists are less likely to be get physical (beyond unscheduled food deliveries) than school peers. School peers might TP the house, or blow up a mailbox; internet blowhard cowards tend to stay internet blowhard cowards.

Generally minor's names are a bit harder to find; schools don't list them, and barring mentions in a searchable local paper, finding out the names of someone's minor children isn't an easy task (but this cat it out of the bag). Linking the name to the email address should be investigated Both your friend and her daughter need to revisit all of their social media (facebook, g+, etc) settings; anony-cranks shouldn't be able to abuse her friends and family. Also, spend some time searching for her and her family to see what info is put out there for the world. If there's absolutely no where public that the name and email address are mentioned, then you know it's via a school peer.
posted by nobeagle at 8:46 AM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't reply to that shit. That's what they want, to get a rise out of them. Don't give them that pleasure.

However, on the chance that they do find out who did this, make sure they follow up. I got sent a nasty letter full of sexual comments when I was about 11 (not anon, but made to look like someone else wrote it). My folks found out who did it and the boys responsible had to come over to our house with their parents and apologize to me. It was awkward as hell but I'm so glad they took it seriously. I felt so powerless when I read it and that meeting gave my power back. It was a huge lesson in learning to stand up for yourself and showed me that my parents would always go to bat for me.

And yes, your friend needs to lay off writing about her kid. I'm glad my mother wasn't out blabbing my life to the world when I was that age. Christ.
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:47 AM on November 22, 2013 [9 favorites]

It sounds very much like what a kid would write to another kid to freak them out. Don't let it freak her out. It's just a stupid email. Delete and move on but by all means, encourage her to share any other stupid emails with her parents.
posted by h00py at 9:06 AM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Has your friend talked to any other parents of her daughter's peers and asked them if their children received similar emails?

It's possible that her daughter is not a specific target of abuse, but that some kids thought it would be funny to send creepy emails to a bunch of kids. Like prank calling, you usually didn't stop with just the first call, you kept going.

I do think that your friend should get to the bottom of this, and should take her child's safety seriously. However, when I was a kid, I sent my best friend an anonymous letter trying to disguise my handwriting, telling her to meet this anonymous stranger at some location on a specific date and time. Looking back on it, that was EXTREMELY CREEPY. At the time, I thought I was giving my friend some kind of awesome mystery to solve.
posted by inertia at 9:16 AM on November 22, 2013

FWIW, to me this doesn't sound like what a kid would write to another kid. To me the mom putting her child on Front Street in her book and talks is far more likely to have generated this nastiness.
posted by jayder at 10:27 AM on November 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

I have to agree with jayder, and here's why: The 12 year olds I know avoid email for shenanigans because it's the easiest thing for parents to find. Even a throwaway Gmail account is likely to pop up again somewhere. This is ESPECIALLY true if the daughter has a cell phone, and therefore another way to receive shenanigans.
posted by gnomeloaf at 10:54 AM on November 22, 2013

Um, when I was a high school Freshman I got the pretty much the same message verbatim via AIM. It was a boy in my class who created a new account just to talk to me. He told me who he was after a week of back and forth messages. I kissed him in the cafeteria, then had my BFF break up with him for me the next day.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 11:08 AM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ultimately, change the email to something more anonymous.
posted by cass at 11:24 AM on November 22, 2013

To add to what rocketpup said, if you view the original message, you may also find an IP address that you can look up (try Sometimes you may find more information. If its sent from a school, for example, theres a chance that might show up. (this is often true for universities, I believe).
posted by offrecord at 12:06 PM on November 22, 2013

I thought I read somewhere that gmail is unique in that the IP address attached to gmail messages is completely uninformative as to the sender's whereabouts or the origin of the message. I think I've seen this touted as a feature of gmail.
posted by jayder at 12:15 PM on November 22, 2013

When I was in the local paper as a teenager, I got an anonymous obscene phone call for which they asked for me by name.

Unfortunately if your name is out there in public this is the sort of thing that happens. I doubt there is any real danger but it is best to stay alert in the meantime.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:44 AM on November 23, 2013

Is the way you reproduced it here the way it was formatted? Because the off-set "I promise" does not strike me as coming from a peer. It seems adult, and calculated to frighten. I too think this has more to do with the mother than realname.
posted by thinkpiece at 9:04 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

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