IntroductionGet out of here
Domestic abuse and stalking can both take place online. This could happen by a perpetrator monitoring you on your social media, on the internet, accessing your email and connecting to devices in your home. This could also be a perpetrator maintaining complete control of your online presence and accounts. Domestic abuse, stalking and unauthorised access to computers and other electronic devices are criminal offences.
This page is intended for an individual seeking support. If you are an organisation supporting survivors of domestic abuse, you can find tailored content for you on our pages for:
If you are experiencing domestic abuse or stalking online, it is important to inform the police or a support service listed on the right hand side of this webpage for your particular area.
To support survivors of domestic abuse, stalking and any other person who feel they could benefit from reducing their online vulnerability, we have created several tips to assist you in improving your online security.
Our first priority is to protect you and your children. If you are a victim of domestic abuse, stalking or know someone who is, and there’s an emergency, call 999.
This guidance is designed to help you understand your options online and signpost you to people that can help you in your local area.
You can access support from your local support services, even if you decide not to report to the police.
Find a safe environment, a trusted contact, a reliable internet connection and time to read, understand and follow this guide. Open this check list which will help you list all your social media, Email, Bank, Online payment methods, shopping, cloud storage, exercise apps and any other accounts that you may have, as well as auditing your devices.
If you have been the victim of domestic abuse, stalking or are concerned for someone, you can report this in various ways: in person at your local police station; by calling 101; or online. If you require a translator, we can provide someone initially by phone and later in person.
If you need to report a fraud or online crime, follow our steps here.
Evidence of the incident can be vital to support an investigation and this should be captured wherever possible. Keep copies of emails and other communications. A simple way to capture the contents of a computer screen is by pressing the [PrtScr] button. An image of the screen will be placed into the clipboard and can be pasted into a document for preservation. A similar function is available on mobile devices and tablets. OneDrive and Dropbox users can opt to save these screen prints automatically to their online backups or you may wish to print a copy for safekeeping.
Be sure you are storing this evidence safely from any perpetrator.
How police can help straight away
Officers will seek to understand the nature of what is happening. It is important that we work out a safe way of contacting you, please consider how you can be contacted: a safe contact number, a trusted friend, or a secure email account, and a safe time to contact you. There are many ways we can help to deal with the effects of domestic abuse and stalking online, and we will discuss these options with you.
Staying in touch
We will stay in contact with you throughout the investigation. We need to know a safe way to keep in contact with you. Your case will be allocated to an investigator, and you will receive contact and a dedicated phone number, so you can call us directly to find out how your case is going or talk about anything that might be worrying you.
We work alongside many other staff and organisations that we will signpost you to, who will support you and assist with aftercare for you and your family. If you need to attend court for any reason there are also services available to support you through the legal process.
Find Your Nearest Police
If you are not sure which Police service covers your location, please visit the police.uk website to search for your local service.
Domestic Abuse and Stalking Advice
Are you in an abusive relationship? Have you left an abusive relationship?
- Always consider your safety
- You know the perpetrator and their online knowledge, think how best to use the this guide to your best advantage
- Seek advice
- Is it safe for you to break all contact? Or how can you best protect yourself and maintain safe contact?
Do you think you are being stalked?
- Seek specialist advice – use the links at the side of this document
- Do you know the person?
- Do you know their online skill and knowledge?
- Use this guide to secure yourself online
Stay Safe online – General Advice
If you are victim of domestic abuse or stalking, use your knowledge of your situation to decide how best to manage your safety online. Always do what is safe for you and consider devising your own safety plan. If you would like some assistance on how to create a safety plan, have a look at the supports services on the right hand side of this webpage.
NCSC Topic Guides
The National Cyber Security Centre has produced a number of topic specific guides which you can download from the links below:
- Key Points
- AirTags & Bluetooth Trackers
- Bank Accounts
- Video Calling
- App Protection and Settings
- Safeguarding Devices
- New & Second-Hand Devices
- Phone numbers, home Wi-Fi and public Wi-Fi
- Internet of Things & Smart Devices
- Getting Help
The use of social media platforms has exploded over recent years and it is rare to find anyone without an online presence. Without appropriate safeguards, the nature of social media means that personal information can be accessed by a global audience – including perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking. Privacy settings have become a key component of most social media platforms and it is vital they are set to the most secure option for your set of circumstances. Care must be taken when sharing information – especially with ‘friends’ that may have been ‘friended’ without knowing anything about them.
Here are a few tips to immediately consider for your social media accounts: –
- Access your social media security and privacy settings to ensure you are not unintentionally sharing information with others that have no right viewing your material. Staying Secure Online 2019 is a booklet that contains a wealth of information relating to social media privacy settings.
- Whilst there, change your account passwords if you think they are compromised. Use our advice on passwords to create a fresh and more complicated passphrase.
- Repeat steps 1 & 2 for your email accounts.
- Check all the devices that have been authorised to connect to the platform are yours. Remove any devices or active sessions that you do not recognise. This will ensure that perpetrators cannot access your content with their devices.
- Consider changing your username, e-mail address or telephone number if your current one is compromised and you want a fresh start. Preventing perpetrators from accessing your content is an important step in reducing vulnerability and visibility.
- Consider changing your profile name, profile picture and removing any historic compromised names. Keep personal data (including contact information) at the highest security setting – ‘only me’.
- Review your friends lists and determine if they really are friends and remove those that are not. Take time to approve who follows you and what you get tagged in. Block any friends that may be associated with a perpetrator and keep your friends list private to avoid fake friend requests.
- Review your participation in groups – make sure that member details and activity are not posted publicly. Take care when using platform messaging systems as perpetrators may be able to passively monitor as a member. Consider when making associations with particular groups. For example, if you choose to “like” or “follow” a larger sporting team or event, i.e. a famous football club or the rugby world cup, then this is unlikely to cause any significant issues owing to the scale of the organisation. However, at the other end of the scale, if “like” or “follow” a village fete, or any other event / group within a small community, this may put you at risk as it would be easy to identify that you may be at that event and therefore traceable by any would be person.
- Report abuse incidents to the social media company and / or the police when required.
- Consider undertaking a search of yourself using search engines like Google or Bing. Search for your name, contact numbers and usernames. This will tell you what is publicly available about you, then you can take the steps above to ensure your details are removed from online accounts and the public arena. Consider adding yourself to the closed voters’ registers and deleting any unused accounts and content on the Internet Better Privacy Online. You have the right to have information held about you removed.
Modern Internet browsers often provide a private browsing capability. This is known as privacy mode or incognito mode and is a privacy feature to disable browsing history and the caching of web pages – click here for a detailed explanation. This allows a person to browse the Internet without storing any data that could be retrieved later. Where others may have access to your devices, consider familiarising yourself with these features and understand the protection they offer. Always consider a ‘quick escape’ from web sites being visited and remember that some web pages deliver a dialog asking, ‘Are you sure you want to exit?’ that may prevent immediate closure.
Advanced users may opt to use a Virtual Machine using ‘Live Mode’, or launch an operating system from a bootable USB or DVD. Running an operating system directly from a USB stick or a DVD doesn’t alter your computer’s configuration in any way, and a simple restart without the USB stick or DVD is all that’s needed to restore your machine to its previous state.
Remember that e-mail and web traffic will inevitably include your IP address. An IP address is a unique address for every device connecting to the Internet and can be traced if necessary. It’s not possible to access the Internet without an IP address however users can hide their IP address or make it appear to be from another country / place by using specialised software called a Virtual Private Network – or VPN.
Microsoft and Google account users can opt to have their activities (including Internet browsing history) stored on the cloud. Be careful who your devices are linked with.
Remember, when you have finished your session, it may be worth considering deleting your internet search history so you don’t expose your browsing history or any personal details.
Passwords are an important part of your online security. As computers get quicker, passwords become easier to crack and care must be taken to ensure they are as secure as possible. If you have multiple online accounts, consider using a password manager. This software can store all your passwords across all your devices.
Follow our password advice to create a fresh complicated passphrase.
Many accounts use personal questions for password resets – consider changing the answers to these. Remember to store the new data somewhere secure so you can remember them when needed! Perpetrators will often know, or try and guess your passwords from the information they know about you, so following this advice will ensure they cannot access your accounts.
We recognise that removing all access to accounts may escalate risk in certain circumstances – particularly if perpetrators fear they may be losing an element of control. If you think this may apply to you, then the creation of new accounts and passwords may better reflect your personal safety plan.
Software & App Updates
It is important to keep your software and apps updated. These updates often patch security vulnerabilities which criminals will try to exploit if they are not fixed. Patching is quick and easy and shouldn’t interfere with your day-to-day use. Click here for more information on patching.
Survivors can be targeted with spyware which may enable a perpetrator to keep tabs on movement and activity. It is therefore equally important to have up-to-date internet security software on all your devices – including your mobile devices. Modern operating systems often have built-in software which should be switched on and operational. Most security software suites include a firewall (for stopping unauthorised access), anti-virus software (to prevent, detect, and remove malware and spyware) and other functions to protect you from malicious e-mails and web sites.
Use two-factor authentication or 2-step-verification as an additional layer of security to the authentication process by making it harder for perpetrators to gain access to a person’s devices or online accounts. Visit our 2FA page for further information.
Wi-Fi & Bluetooth
Public or free Wi-Fi may not be secure. Criminals may set up Wi-Fi hotspots to deliberately capture information being transmitted. Avoid using public Wi-Fi for transmitting confidential or financial information. Bear in mind that even if you take care with your browsing and e-mail, apps may be communicating with the Internet and unwittingly transmitting credentials in an insecure form. A VPN (as described above) is the only secure way of using public Wi-Fi.
Survivors with Wi-Fi at home should consider changing the password and ensure it complies with WPA2-PSK security standards. A perpetrator with access to the same Wi-Fi network can intercept transmissions of any device using the network. To reduce this vulnerability, always use websites with a URL starting ‘https://’. This means that communication between the device and the website is encrypted and cannot be viewed if intercepted.
Consider removing (or forgetting) any Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections that may be associated with the perpetrator to prevent any unexpected connections.
Device & Data Security
Perpetrators may try to gain or maintain personal access to devices – whether it is by using a survivor’s password, or by setting up another account. Protect access to your devices – change passwords as described above and set up new authentication methods (fingerprints / facial recognition) to access them. Remove additional users – particularly if those accounts belong to a perpetrator or their associates. Where you think a device may have been compromised with malware, consider a factory reset to be sure there is nothing on it to cause a problem. Be advised that restoring data from online backups could reinstall malware – so ensure that all restored data is subject to a rigorous anti-virus scan or discarded. In exceptional circumstances, survivors may consider it necessary to replace the device entirely and set up brand new accounts to resume their online activities. Always remove unwanted or unrecognised apps.
Many mobile devices offer location services which transmit the location of the device at any given point in time. Be advised that some apps that use this feature may provide real-time updates of your location which can be used by perpetrators. Survivors should consider disabling any unnecessary location transmissions on apps, software, fitness monitors, vehicles, phones etc. Location services can be turned off entirely – instructions for Android devices can be found here and instructions for Apple devices can be found here.
Mobile device providers generally provide a service enabling you to find your device if it’s lost. People often use this to ensure their children are safe. If you use a family account then anyone with access will be able to locate the devices registered on the system so ensure you are familiar with removing your devices if necessary. Instructions for Android devices can be found here and instructions for Apple devices can be found here.
Some data is very precious, and this can be lost in a variety of ways – computer malfunction, natural disaster, virus’s & malware or even by a perpetrator destroying it. Always make sure you have a backup. Microsoft and Google account holders can benefit from cloud backup storage options (Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive). Other backup methods can also be considered – USB sticks, external hard drives being examples. Always remove your backup device from the computer and store it safely. Learn more about backing up here.
Lastly, consider any device at home that may connect to the Internet – e.g. IP cameras, thermostats, lights and doorbells. Such devices are often referred to as being part of the ‘Internet of Things’. A lot of these devices will allow users to connect from the Internet so consideration must be given to changing passwords and / or usernames where necessary.
Occasionally, cyber security measures that have been implemented may not prevent the continued use of financial transactions or credit use. Banks and financial institutions have several measures designed to support survivors in this regard. Subscribing to CIFAS can assist in preventing credit being taken out in your name. Regular checks of your credit score can determine any unusual activity that should be reported. Some credit reference companies will add a ‘Notice of Correction’ when they receive a password submission form. If a lender receives an application in your name and runs a credit check, they will see this notice and should contact you for your password. Banks and building societies may be able to provide additional advice and security.
Either at the side or below (on mobiles) are links to a number of organisations that may be able to offer support in relation to domestic abuse or stalking. A search on the Internet may also yield further support platforms. Please contact us at CyberProtect@serocu.police.uk if you would like your organisation to be listed below