How can I keep someone from finding my home address?
December 1, 2007 6:05 PM   Subscribe

I've got a cyber-stalker. This isn't a case of "OMG, he won't stop reading my blog!" The guy's got a very clear obsession with me and has been sending me long, rambling messages for about a year. He often brags about the amount of work required to find me online, and I'm concerned, based on things he's said, that he will elevate his research to finding me in person. What can I do to protect my privacy?

These messages don't directly threaten physical harm, but they're frightening nonetheless. He becomes angrier and angrier with each message and seems to feel that my lack of response and my blocking him from my site, blog, etc is some sort of punishment. I do NOT know him and never respond to these messages.

Just to be clear, I never mention my address or phone number anywhere. The WHOIS data for my site private. I don't post photos of my neighborhood publicly. He does know my real name, unfortunately, and he knows what city I live in. The latter are something I couldn't possibly hide - he's a fan of an art series of mine, and that limited information has been very public for a long time (oh, what I would give for a time machine). With only my name and city, can he find my home address? If that information *is* accessible somehow, what steps can I take to protect it?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (42 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Depends on your name, but generally speaking a name a city are enough. Are you listed in the phonebook? Almost certainly then.

Contact your local police and ask for recommendations. Continue ignoring this person. Perhaps look in to self-defense, like pepper spray or a handgun.
posted by phrontist at 6:15 PM on December 1, 2007

Is there any reason you are not seeking a restraining order against him?
posted by TheOtherGuy at 6:15 PM on December 1, 2007

How to be invisible
posted by yoyo_nyc at 6:22 PM on December 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

Your address is acessible from several sources. One is voter registration, county recorder's office (if you own a home and have recorded it), your state's secretary of state's office if you own a business, your city or county's business licensing office (again if you own a business), other public records, and the online companies that offer to do these searches for a fee.

I think your best bet is to go to your local police department. Explain the situation. The DA will have to obtain a subpoena to the internet provider to track him down based on his ISP address if you do not already know his name and address.

Good luck to you. I know it's an annoying process but it's definitely well worth it. As the saying goes, better safe than sorry.
posted by dannon205 at 6:24 PM on December 1, 2007


Someone smart could probably use some social engineering to get the phone company or electrical company to leak information about you. If you own real estate, then it's on public record. Someone with access to some legal search engines (Lexus-Nexus, e.g.) could get a good bit of detail.

Have you told him not to contact you again? If you haven't used words very much like those, then you don't have a legal complaint yet.

You need a proxy to be a witness and insulate yourself from him. Talk to a lawyer. Have the lawyer send a letter that tells him not to contact you ever again. If he does, then you have grounds for a restraining order.

Restraining orders are only protection from people who don't mean you a lot of harm and have nothing to lose, but it's better than nothing.

Get a P.O Box or remailer service and change your address to that for everything.
posted by cmiller at 6:26 PM on December 1, 2007

I actually don't advise getting a hand gun. If confronted by this person you will almost certainly be afraid ( I sure would be ) and fear can cause you to irrationally shoot before necessary. I fully endorse the use of pepper spray though. It only will temporally harm the stalker, and you don't have to defend yourself in court for killing this guy then. And if you just killed a guy in self defense, having to defend yourself and provide evidence isn't going to be good for you emotionally.

Thats just my opinion.
posted by Nick Fisher at 6:31 PM on December 1, 2007

Nick Fisher: Totally agree, it depends on a lot of factors, and I personally don't think I'd carry one. No more talk of handguns in this thread, or we'll have a total derail.
posted by phrontist at 6:35 PM on December 1, 2007

yoyo_nyc : How to be invisible is a major letdown of a book. jj luna basically tells you to get a limited liablity company, register your car with it and give your landlord a wad of money so he doesn't run a credit check on you. complete waste of time and money. it does not help OP in the least, as it does not indicate where her information is stored or might be deleted/altered.

op: consider moving. you cannot know wheter this person knows where you live and if he is stable. consider a secure building (with a doorman if in nyc). consider a restraining order. talk to an attorney and to the cops to find out what you could or should do.
posted by krautland at 6:45 PM on December 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

do a zabasearch on yourself. if it can find you, your stalker definitely can. Unfortunately, the converse is not necessarily true, but it may give you some measure of confidence.
posted by ubiquity at 6:52 PM on December 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

You absolutely positively need to ask an actual attorney and go with her to the police.

A lot of askMe everyone says "OMG, why wouldn't you just go to your lawyer/doctor/etc?!" If you think someone is stalking you, this is not the time for half measures. Not knowing the city, it's hard to recommend a free or subsidized legal clinic, but you should look into one. If you have to spend some money, consider it well-spent for piece of mind.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:58 PM on December 1, 2007

Yeah, talk to a lawyer and get a restraining order. You shouldn't need to hide yourself for his sake.
posted by delmoi at 7:01 PM on December 1, 2007

Be aware that when serving a restraining order you have to disclose your home address and possibly your business address in order to make clear where he is not to go. You may also need to face him in a court room during the process.

I agree with the other calls to consult an attorney.
posted by geekyguy at 7:20 PM on December 1, 2007

agreeing with the advice above, but just curious - what would happen (do you think) if you asked him point-blank if he's stalking you? (ie, made him self-aware of the situation a little bit)?
posted by jak68 at 7:24 PM on December 1, 2007

@ Krautland
Luna show you very different options. It is a menu you can choose from, not a "one size fits all".
A LLC is one of the tools. It will cost you on his Website 100 US$ per month and is meant only for privacy reasons, not to do business with.
Conerning the phone. I only neet a cellular. It may also be a good idea to use for you phone.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 7:26 PM on December 1, 2007

Do most of the above. Also: make an appt. with a PI. Bring in a print out of the worst e-mail the stalker has sent you. Show the PI your blog, your full name, your artseries name, and your city name and see how many minutes it takes him/her to find you. Hire the PI to find the stalker's name, address, and most importantly a picture. If you see this guy at your front door, you're going to want to know it is him.

Who handles your art series? Who owns your pieces? Make sure they do not give any of your personal info out to anyone, ever, even in response to a request like "I'd like anon to draw a picture of my wife and I'll give him/her $100,000. Can you put me in contact with him/her?"
posted by Eringatang at 7:40 PM on December 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

Have you considered doing a little misdirection with the blog? Pretend you've moved, maybe to a town nearby so that it's believable? I don't know if it would work but might be worth a shot, throw him off a little.

I'd be a little hesitant to get a restraining order at this stage and honestly I think you'd be handing him a lot of the information that he wants and may not have yet. It's also a response, which is what he wants. Also, restraining orders don't have to be enforced by the cops, they just give you grounds to have him held in contempt of court should he violate it. IANAL
posted by whoaali at 8:05 PM on December 1, 2007

Perhaps look in to self-defense, like pepper spray or a handgun.
posted by phrontist at 6:15 PM on December 1

Please don't get a hangun.
posted by special-k at 8:16 PM on December 1, 2007

Please do NOT contact this person in any way. If contact with you is what he wants, then you do not want to reward him with any contact whatsoever. It just makes things worse.

Get a copy of The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker.

This is a terribly scary situation. You have my sympathy.
posted by winna at 8:22 PM on December 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

Not knowing the city, it's hard to recommend a free or subsidized legal clinic, but you should look into one.

No, she should not, unless she is actually poor. The income guidelines for receiving legal assistance from clinics is usually around 125% of poverty threshold or lower. There's is a chance the OP makes less than $13,000 per year, but it's not likely.

Bar Association low fee type plans run about 200% of poverty or under, which might be more appropriate, but that's still a pretty low threshold. Please don't recommend someone to free legal services without knowing their income or whether the service is really appropriate for their needs.
posted by The Straightener at 8:34 PM on December 1, 2007

If you are blocking him from your blog, how is it that you are still getting creepy messages from him? Can the blog administrator block his IP at the source and figure out where he is? Also, he might be in violation of the terms of service on his own email account so maybe file a complaint with the service he uses to harass you. You can contact that vendor directly and send them copies of the stuff he is sending you and they can consider doing something without revealing your personal info. He is above a regular stalker if he has continued for a year and you have never responded. How does he even know you are getting any of the messages? I want to throw out the very remote chance that this is someone you might have met once or is a friend of a friend of a friend who knows you are getting the messages and might be creeped out by them (through the grapevine) and that is what is getting him off.

I second that book The Gift of Fear. It really helps you put things in perspective and most of all it trains you to trust your gut. Good luck, I am sorry this is happening to you.
posted by 45moore45 at 8:35 PM on December 1, 2007

He becomes angrier and angrier with each message and seems to feel that my lack of response and my blocking him from my site, blog, etc is some sort of punishment.
That right there is plenty of concern and reason enough to contact the authorities. Yes, sometimes we're afraid to move forward with these things because we are fear that we may be overreacting. I don't believe this to be the case with you and you have every reason to be afraid. I really feel for you too, as I once had a stalker as well. Oddly it was a woman who insisted on being my "friend." Her friendship idea was more along the lines of Single White Female though. :(

Good luck to you and please post an update with whatever you decide to do. *hugs*
posted by magnoliasouth at 8:43 PM on December 1, 2007

If you can, track him down as well as he tracked you. Then, you'll at least know how far he is away, his name etc. Contact police in his area as well and let them know of the problems you've had. He may have done something similar to someone else.
posted by dkleinst at 8:44 PM on December 1, 2007

The original asker wanted to add this followup:
The stalker is in Canada, and I'm in the States. I haven't filed a restraining order - yet - because 1) I'm afraid that will give him exactly the information I don't want him to have 2) I'm worried it would set him off and 3) the laws get a little more confusing to me when it crosses the country line.

I haven't told him to stop contacting me. I've been trying to ignore him completely. He IS aware that what he's doing is stalking. He jokingly calls himself a stalker in many messages and then, in the same message, will defend himself and insist that he isn't obsessed - he just needs to talk to me. And still later on, he'll talk about how much he hates himself for the fact that he can't just stop. He's actually called himself a monster. Yeah... he's got a flair for the dramatic. Still, he's acknowledged that what he's doing is wrong but doesn't plan on stopping until I talk to him and allow him access to all the things from which he's now blocked.

Fortunately, I don't come up in zabasearch, so that's one less avenue he can use. I'm not in the phone book, either. Ain't no way in a hot place I'm getting a hand gun, but pepper spray's not a bad idea.
posted by mathowie at 9:33 PM on December 1, 2007

If he decides to track you down in person there's not much you can do short of changing your name and moving. The only exception is if you have a very common name and live in a very large city.

In the meantime your "ban and do not engage" strategy is reaching the end of its usefulness. If it's been a year and he's still getting more involved then it's time to move into a more aggressive stance.

I would start with a cease and desist boilerplate letter that you respond to his email with. You'll probably want to chat with a lawyer about the content.

As far as worrying about setting him off goes: by your description he's already working himself up. You can either live in fear for a few years until he goes off anyways, or you can shut this down now on your own schedule.
posted by tkolar at 10:04 PM on December 1, 2007

You need to talk to a lawyer to get a clearer sense of your available options. Ask for a free first consult, over the phone or in person; most lawyers give them. Also talk to the police and ask for their thoughts on your situation. I've been in a similar situation and the information I was getting from cops and lawyers was sometimes different. It helped me to talk to both about what the other was saying, and just knowing the legal realities helped get the problem in focus, rather than having it be some vague threatening blur in my life.
posted by mediareport at 10:12 PM on December 1, 2007

a general sort of intervention by a lawyer or official third party may ring some warning bells on his end. In many cases that may be enough for him to back off, cuz at that point he knows that others are aware of what is going on.
posted by jak68 at 10:35 PM on December 1, 2007

You might also consider contacting the FBI, since this is a trans-national issue.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 11:27 PM on December 1, 2007

I'm pretty sure to get a restraining order or otherwise proceed legally you'd have to have instructed him not to contact you. Ignoring is good but at this point he can still reasonably say he didn't know you did not want further contact.
posted by loiseau at 5:01 AM on December 2, 2007

I wish to remove an adjective from my statement earlier:
If you haven't used words very much like ["Don't contact me again"], then you don't have a legal complaint yet.

Okay, just ignore the idea of a retraining order. It's premature.

If Submitter hasn't told him to go away, then he's done nothing wrong. It could be game that he's playing, and from an observer watching Submitter's behavior, Submitter is assisting. It doesn't matter what he calls himself. Until he hears the magic words from Submitter ("Do not contact me again.") then this is all hot air.

Submitter: To keep him from winning a personal letter from you, hire a lawyer and have the lawyer write a letter that says that.
posted by cmiller at 5:38 AM on December 2, 2007

Does the stalker have a criminal record?
posted by LarryC at 6:59 AM on December 2, 2007

I like the misdirection idea-- posting on your blog that you've moved. I'd stockpile lots of fake images from google image search-- a house/apt full of moving boxes, the "new view" from your place, etc. Maybe introduce them slowly and subtlety-- even with a fake posting delay because "Sorry, I've been so busy lately! More info later..."
posted by sharkfu at 9:03 AM on December 2, 2007

I think there's a few good pieces of advice here. I really like the idea of trying to find out as much about this guy (or girl) that you can. Hiring an investigator would be a good idea, I think. I also like the idea of putting a message out there that you are relocating. And then, stop blogging and putting stuff on line. I think trying to block someone continually would be very stressful and really not worth it. I would leave up a "front" which indicates that you're relocating and will be back posting in a few months and then remove any kind of archives that give any personal information. Blocking him is a reaction. You may be ignoring his missives -- a very good thing -- but he knows that he's getting to you because you keep blocking him. It's very creepy but you have to not play that game.

It's really not fair to have to do that but I think that combined with finding out who this person is would be a very good thing. Odds are, you're not the only one he's fixated on. This has been going on long enough that you have good reason to be worried.

Good luck.
posted by amanda at 9:17 AM on December 2, 2007

I had to deal with something very similar a while back, but for obvious reasons am loath to discuss it publicly. Feel free to email me if you'd like.
posted by pineapple at 9:32 AM on December 2, 2007

Could you pretend to have an assistant? Whenever he emails again, reply with something like:
"I'm [insert made-up name here]. [Your name] has become quite busy and is unable to keep up with the volume of comments from his/her website. I'll be handling [your name here]'s online correspondence from now on. If you have any questions or comments on [your name]'s art, please contact me. However, I will not be able to respond to any comments of a personal nature.
Thank you,
[made-up name]
posted by fructose at 9:32 AM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

My own 2 cents:

1. I would not personally contact the person. If you want to deliver a "go away" message, it should come from someone else -- a lawyer, a PI, the police, etc. For example, you could hire a PI, ask him to find the guy, call him, and ask him to stop contacting you. I think any contact from you, personally, would just be feeding the flames.

2. One you figure out where he is, I would seriously consider calling his local police department (or the RCMP perhaps) and complaining, or having your PI/lawyer do the same. At a minimum, they will probably call him and/or drop by his house and ask him to stop. I'm no psychologist, but I would think that most people would be pretty shamed/scared by a police visit and would consider knocking it off.

3. If the guy lives far away and has never attempted to contact you in person or even on the phone, I agree that a restraining order is probably premature and not much use anyway. Also, I would take heart in the fact that he hasn't taken this beyond e-mail in the whole year he's been bugging you. As others are indicating, it's pretty easy to get phone numbers and addresses once you have someone's name and city. The fact that he's sticking with e-mail suggests to me that he doesn't really have the will/desire/guts/whatever to contact you more directly.

4. Contrary to all of the above -- what if you just put him on "permanent ignore?" Forget trying to block him from your site; instead just delete (or auto delete) every single thing he sends you without reading it. Your efforts to "block" him are a form of reaction/response that might be spurring him on. If he's leaving comments on your blog or something like that, perhaps turn off commenting entirely, but not specific to him.
posted by Mid at 10:02 AM on December 2, 2007

Disclaimer: I am not an expert by any means, and have never been stalked. Consequently, my advice may be way off mark, so don't act on it unless others validate what I'm about to say.

Suppose you replied to one of his messages with a, "Hey, what's up? I'm glad you like my work" type thing, leaving it vague. Ignoring him clearly hasn't persuaded him to leave you alone. We're viewing him as a dangerous predator, but I'm envisioning him as a pathetic, lonely guy with no friends. It would mitigate the need for him to dig for information on you if you sent him an e-mail.

fructose's idea of having someone contact him on your behalf is a good one, too.

Conventional wisdom is to ignore them and hope it withers from inattention. But it hasn't.
posted by fogster at 10:58 AM on December 2, 2007

um, i think i've suggested it before somewhere else.... but what about bouncing back his emails with mailwasher?

then he will think he has the wrong address.

and what about password protecting your website/blog?

how much of "you" do you still need to be public?
the fake move sounds like a good idea. if you still want to blog.

i'm not sure if your professional business is on the net, but is there some way that can be put in to a sister site that says you no longer work or that you're dead or you've moved to africa with your new husband to adopt children from every country?

a revolting situation. best of luck with it possum.

good luck possum.
posted by taff at 12:23 PM on December 2, 2007

You say you never wrote him back - maybe he's just getting "angrier and angrier" because he's upset he went to a lot of trouble to tell you how much he liked your art and then never got a response? Obviously he isn't "owed" any kind of response, but before freaking out, I would have just sent a quick, generic, "thanks for your interest, I'm super-busy" type of note.

I think stalkers get riled up by people who get scared of them and try to avoid them, more than anything - then it becomes a mystery, a game, something they have to seek out to find, to convince the object of their interest that they're not freaks (ironically proving themselves freaks in the process..) It also becomes kind of a forbidden fruit thing, and the obsession is ramped up instead of dissuaded.

I dunno, I've never had a stalker, so maybe I'm misguided here, but you're not in any real danger at this point, so I would start by relaxing and trying to be reasonable before calling in the police. If you're uncomfortable with what he knows about you, change your email address, and write a brief, generic email that clarifies that you don't interact with your fans, nothing personal. But I really think you make it worse for yourself getting obsessed with his obsession of you... you're way more likely to die in a car crash, y'know?
posted by mdn at 1:16 PM on December 2, 2007

1. Have you thought about posting very publicly on your blog about it, including everything you know about him?

2. DO NOT delete his messages unread or bounce them back. Set up a false system to make it look like this has been done, and maybe don't read the messages, but you should archive them somewhere (redirect anything from his address to a hard-to-get-to folder, or a different email account, so that you won't have to read them, but you have them on record as 'proof.'

3. I've been semi-internet stalked before, and after quite a while of non-responses on my part, the stalker started to email me, as well as friends with blogs, under different names (often pretending to be a long lost friend trying to get in touch with me, etc). If you put together a false front (i.e. a personal assistant), keep in mind that he may take on other identities as well.
posted by soviet sleepover at 2:06 PM on December 2, 2007

The Gift Of Fear by Gavin De Becker was mentioned in an earlier post, and I just wanted to echo that it is a great book for someone in your situation -- there is an entire chapter devoted stalking, and I think that section and the book as a whole will be very helpful to you.

I would also like to say that I think it is imperative that you not make any kind of contact with this person (like writing him to tell him that you are too busy to respond -- any contact from you is exactly what he wants and will only train him that continued persistence is necessary) and that you not do anything to escalate (like trying to publicly humiliate him by writing about him on your blog, which may both show him that you are thinking of him and make him angry).
posted by kitty teeth at 3:01 PM on December 2, 2007

I would also like to say that I think it is imperative that you not make any kind of contact with this person...

Just to be clear, I did not mean to suggest above that stalkers can never be dangerous, but just that a) in this case all that's been established is that a fan in another country sent some ranty emails, was ignored, and so sent some even more ranty emails - to me, that's not evidence enough to start carrying handguns, when a simple tension reducing approach hasn't even been tried yet - and b) even if he is a psycho, his main source of power is making you feel freaked out, so basically, don't freak out.

Be aware of what his actual capacities to hurt you are, and try to stay calm otherwise. Getting annoying emails is not that big a deal. Even getting approached in public wouldn't really be a big deal if you didn't care - the only thing that actually matters is if he has any intention of attacking you, which you have no reason to believe he does, would be a big, complicated undertaking on his part, with major repercussions, and really, there are plenty of other things more likely to cause you physical harm.

So sure, look where you're going, carry mace if you like, but at the end of the day, whether he causes you psychological pain is in large part up to you.
posted by mdn at 5:59 PM on December 2, 2007

They're not exaggerating about The Gift Of Fear - if you can't buy it, try to get it at the library.

Do NOT contact the person. You will be teaching him that it takes 87 tries to get you to reply, so next time he'll try 150 times.

There is an interesting story in The Gift Of Fear about a guy who contacted the police about his stalker and that escalated things. Now I'm not saying you don't want to contact the police - you may need to. But read the book.
posted by IndigoRain at 6:01 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

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