Brain hacks for the mildly stalked?
December 2, 2014 6:49 AM   Subscribe

OK, appears I may have acquired a stalker. A very lazy stalker who only pops up to make his/her presence known every couple of months or so, but a stalker nonetheless. I'm doing my best to ignore this and live my life, but I'm feeling very alone in this and would like to know how I can cognitively address the fact that I have no way to make this person stop. Any ideas?

Without getting into details, I've been receiving intermittent, vaguely creepy emails (all via 'anonymizer' services, e.g., emkei) for nearly a year now. They were mostly context-void nonsense (passing references to 80s movies and hentai anime?) but with just enough specific-to-me stuff (mention of places near my house, first names of people in my contacts list, etc.) to catch my attention.

I was happy to write all that off as "the noise that comes from having been on the internet for a couple decades" and cheerfully delete/spam-folder the messages -- but recently whoever is sending me this crap upped their game with a VERY personal "I know where you live...I know who you live with...etc." message. And that shook me up a bit.

Granted, it's easy enough for anyone Googling for five minutes to discover this information, but it's apparent someone wants to let me know that THEY specifically know it. Even though they've given me absolutely no indication of who they are, or what they want. And I truly have zero clue whatsoever who this person could be.

And while, again, none of this is really overtly threatening, it IS rather unsettling. I don't want to be unsettled, as that feels like letting the stalker(?) win. But I can't seem to make myself not think about what might happen next, or when I might hear from them again.

I realize plenty of people have dealt with worse, and that there's probably nothing to do here besides ignore all further communications and accept that I have this...thing, the way some people have to accept they've got chronic herpes. But it would be great if there was some way to "take the power back", even if only in my mind. Suggestions?

PS: Yes, I have read "The Gift of Fear"...great book, but it doesn't really get into "how to make yourself just not care". And I really hate this sensation of knowing that even if I refuse to overtly respond to the stalker, THEY get to sit there smugly imagining how they're creeping me out. Ugh.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Well, they can imagine all they want, but they don't really KNOW. This is why the game has been upped. Because the stalker wants a reaction, even a negative one.

Save the emails and talk to law enforcement about it. There's not much they can do at this stage, but if things escalate, you'll want to have it all being tracked. They may also have some ideas for you.

I'm sorry. This sucks. But do what needs doing and continue to ignore. That's all anyone CAN do.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:53 AM on December 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

This would unsettle me enough that I would go to the police. I don't think you're irrational at all for feeling creeped out, and I don't want you to not go to the police just because some part of you feels like that means the stalker wins.
posted by superlibby at 6:56 AM on December 2, 2014 [17 favorites]

The reason that the Gift of Fear doesn't have advice for making yourself not care is that the whole point of the book is that when something unsettles you, you shouldn't ignore that feeling, you should act on it. I agree with both commenters above -- I would absolutely not communicate with this person and I would file a police report.
posted by telegraph at 6:59 AM on December 2, 2014 [26 favorites]

Yep. Do not give them any kind of rise. You will have emotional rises from time to time but keep them in safe places. Stalkers of this ilk are total fuck ups... who fall into a few different groups. Study their psychology a tad.. making this person a bug to be studied may help you regain/maintain some sense of personal power. But don't give that too much of your time.
posted by tanktop at 7:01 AM on December 2, 2014

I agree with just alerting law enforcement, even if there is not much they can do.

Another thing that you might try that I've seen recommended places is to filter these emails and have SOMEONE ELSE check them for you. That way they are being monitored and you can contact law enforcement again if there is escalation, but YOU PERSONALLY aren't having to endure reading them and waiting for them to arrive.
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:35 AM on December 2, 2014 [8 favorites]

I had a very similar experience about a year ago. Some guy emailed me every couple of days for about six weeks, with the mails getting increasingly creepy/threatening and personal. (Like he'd say he was coming over, and give my address and describe the exterior of my building and the view into it from the street.)

I didn't know what to do. Going to the police just seemed absurd, like, WTF would they do? So I ignored it and it stopped, yay.

You'll remember in GOF de Beker talks about how certain types of stalkers are just seeking a reaction. I feel like that's what was happened to me -- the guy was probably hassling multiple people, and stopped whenever he didn't get anything back. And so for you: instead of imagining your stalker smugly thinking about how he's creeping you out, maybe the healthiest approach for you is to imagine him frustrated because he doesn't know if you're even seeing the stuff. And hopefully eventually, he will give up and move on.
posted by Susan PG at 7:47 AM on December 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would go to the police and ask about it. At a minimum you can start a record of documenting this in case it escalates. But hopefully the police can give you some advice on how to handle it or they can deal with it. Something doesn't need to be an overt threat to be illegal, at least where I am from. Harassing someone with unwanted messages with an intent to cause annoyance or alarm is illegal.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:47 AM on December 2, 2014

Sorry this is happening to you. You don't deserve to have your peace of mind violated like that.

I think you would feel better if you don't pressure yourself to "cheerfully" ignore these messages. Obviously, the thing to do is never ever respond, but. It's totally creepy and you have a right to be creeped out! And you don't have to be cool about it because not a cool thing. I know it must feel like you're handing the stalker a victory if he upsets you because that's probably what he's after, but you're human and you're entitled to your totally normal human reaction to this. You win, not he, because you are behaving as a person should, and he isn't.

Have you told anyone about this? I don't mean law enforcement, I mean more like a sibling or parent or good friend or work bud? Someone you can tell what is happening and how it makes you feel, someone who will listen and neither minimize it nor freak you out? I bet you would feel better. That way you can say, "ugh, heard from the stalker again," and vent a bit and not have to keep the feelings inside, so you can get on with your day knowing you're not alone. I'd certainly want to know if my sister or friend or coworker were going through this.

I think you and others are right, he might just be a "spammer" of sorts, broadcasting this bullshit to elicit some, any, reaction. But he also seems to be escalating, and you seem to be increasingly bothered by it and that's not something you should ignore. Trust your gut about this, and please speak up.
posted by kapers at 10:37 AM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

"How to make yourself not care" is, unfortunately, a very wrong tack to take: your stalker has already proven that to you, in the way that he's upped his game from 'content void' to 'VERY personal' messages. In other words, you are absolutely right to be unsettled by this: do not ignore that feeling or blow it off as nothing important, because unless he's stopped, he'll continue to escalate.

As everyone else says, talk to your local police; right now, they probably can't do more than make a note of what's happening, but they can probably give you some advice on what to do. And that what-to-do list includes never responding to anything the stalker sends, while keeping a file of all his messages.

Remember, never respond to his messages: it may feel unsettling to think of him smugly imagining you creeped out by his messages, but in reality not replying means you win not him --- responding to him gives him exactly what he truly wants from you: a reaction, something to show he has successfully gotten under your skin.
posted by easily confused at 10:42 AM on December 2, 2014 [8 favorites]

Also, if I were you, I would not delete any more of these messages. Keep them in a folder; you may never need a paper trail of his messages, but you will never regret keeping one. It sounds like they come from different or masked addresses so you might not be able to automatically filter them into a folder someone else can check (which is a great idea), but, you should still keep them in one place.
posted by kapers at 10:58 AM on December 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

Definitely keep these messages. Go to the police if the mails get at all threatening, or even if you just get a threatening feeling from one of them that you didn't have before. Also, let the people close to you (your family, friends, and co-workers) know that you have an internet stalker and to be on the lookout for anyone suspicious or anyone phoning up to ask about you or anything like that.

Also, it may be worth doing another Ask to see what MeFi's network security people can come up with. Post some of the e-mails' headers. Some mail anonymizer services have abuse policies and will investigate harassing messages for you so that's worth looking into also.
posted by signsofrain at 11:41 AM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I had a stalker I made sure my neighbors (I'm not very sociable, but I do know most of my neighbors. It's a start.) on both sides of me and my landlady knew that if anyone came around looking for me they should not give them any information. No details or drama, just a flat statement that someone I did not want to look for me, was looking for me and that no information should be released.
posted by intrepid_simpleton at 3:00 PM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Save emails - and have a plan in place for documenting any non-email contact if it occurs. (In other words, know how to take screenshots on your computer if you're contacted

Tell a VERY limited amount of people - only those you can be absolutely certain are NOT the creep. If they hear about it, they know they're having an effect.

Speak to multiple neighbors, as suggested. But when you do so, give the impression that person you don't want to hear from is an ex, or old friend, or someone else who has definitely never been a neighbor. This is just in case your creep is also one of your neighbors.

Talk to the powers that be at your work or school, too. Same sort of request - that they don't give out any information, in person or via phone, about you - including schedule, if it's at all possible. Especially not exact times - these should generally be avoided. If appropriate for your situation, when someone calls, if you're not the one answering the phone, name and contact info can be taken "in case the call drops while transferring". Again, limit this to those who MUST know - and imply that it's someone not from work/school.

If they want to know if you have a restraining order, tell them they haven't done enough yet to allow you to get one, and you wish to reduce the possibility of needing one.

Beyond that, run it by law enforcement. From your description, I suspect it's not yet anything they can effectively do anything about - but at least there would be a contact on record with them, and you'd have their advice for moving forward if it continues to escalate.

And I'm going to end with saying it again - since you don't know who it is, keep your cards close. Do make sure someone(s) know that something is going on, but keep those details to those that truly need to know. For others, do as described above - misdirect as necessary, and don't discuss it, because you don't want to risk "rewarding" the behavior with your reaction.
posted by stormyteal at 8:35 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure it would help, but it might be worth considering... Some email programs allow you to "fake" a bounced email back to the recipient. It might take the wind out of a stalker's sails if they were to believe that their emails were no longer reaching you.

I've done this occasionally with emails that I no longer wanted to deal with through conventional methods. (Not quite stalker-level, but I didn't want to have to tell them to F-off and leave me alone.)

I use Apple Mail and it has this feature -- perhaps you could see if your email browser can do the same? Or learn how to fake the headers and bounce the nasty emails back to sender?
posted by Jade Dragon at 9:30 PM on December 2, 2014

Contact the police today. You need to get this on record, and there may be ways they can help you now.

Change your email address. Be very selective about who gets your new primary email. Maybe even give it out in increasingly larger circles-first, close friends & relatives, a week or two later, less close friends, a few weeks later, acquaintances, etc. You may be able to get closer to who it is this way. Just tell people you've been hacked & can't recover your old email password or something innocuous & unrelated to the stalker.

Meanwhile, have someone else you trust check the old inactive email address occasionally. That person can let you know if there's still stalker activity & they can forward you the emails you may still want to your new address. Keep the police updated when or if new stalker emails come in.

Don't try to ignore it, you're correct to minimize it but I wouldn't ignore it completely. Good luck, this really stinks.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 8:52 AM on December 3, 2014

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