Most people are familiar with stalking: the act of spying on a person without their knowledge or consent. At some point, a person may become aware he or she has acquired a stalker; they are notoriously tenacious and can be hard to shake off.

Celebrities who have stalkers are often in the news. They draw people who admire them, dislike them or want to rob them, or who may be mentally unbalanced. Those in the public eye pay professionals to make sure their whereabouts are difficult for a would-be cyberstalker to discover.

How stalking becomes cyberstalking

In the age of advanced technology, there are many ways stalkers can follow a target online. People can legally use a Tor browser to lurk inside the dark web or, if they prefer, the deep web, to hide their identities until it is nearly impossible to discover them. It is perfectly legal to do so unless someone uses the cloak of anonymity to commit crimes.

Some forms of cyberstalking are legitimate, if annoying—but personal cyberstalking is a crime. The law considers it to be bullying, harassment or even a deliberate attempt to intimidate or threaten. These activities are punishable at both the state and federal levels.

How not to cyberstalk the Department of Homeland Security

Crimes typically activate sanctions that increase according to the amount, type or offensiveness of the behavior — extreme online stalking results in an unhealthy interest from the DHS.

A man living in New York framed numerous people in several egregious ways. His cyberstalking vendetta included reporting an innocent woman to the government. He manufactured convincing “evidence” that seemed to support his accusation that she was involved in drug smuggling. Her life turned into a nightmare. The DHS is not fond of drug smugglers.

Next, the man went directly after a DHS agent. He created several false messages to make it appear that the DHS agent was cyberbullying him. His ploy to discredit the agent failed. The DHS had no trouble reverse-engineering his fraudulent emails. They set a hound on the man’s electronic trail and nailed his identity. The inept fraudster received a federal cyberstalking conviction and faced a potential five-year term in prison. He was fortunate that he received a reduction in penalty and only spent 12 months in jail.

People caught in the act of cyberstalking should know that penalties, while harsh, are still defensible, and often individuals may have their charges dismissed altogether or at least lightened.