I have been fortunate enough to have never been a victim of a Stalker, but I know those who have. It's a frightening, nerve wracking experience at the best of times and a dangerous, even life threatening experience at the worst. The following 'tips' were originally published by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in 1995 but were updated in February of this year. Though they were designed specifically for residents of California, I think they are invaluable, whatever your location. It's the little things that we can do, and don't, that we regret. Just take a few minutes to read over these everyone. It couldn't hurt.
1. Use a private post office box. Residential addresses of post office box holders are generally confidential. However, the U.S. Postal Service will release a residential address to any government agency, or to persons serving court papers. The Post Office only requires verification from an attorney that a case is pending. This information is easily counterfeited. Private companies, such as Mail Boxes Etc., are more strict and will require that the person making the request have an original copy of a subpoena. Use your private post office box address for all of your correspondence. Print it on your checks instead of your residential address. Instead of recording the address as "Box 123," use "Apartment 123."
2. File a change-of-address card with the U.S. Postal Service giving the private mail box address. Send personal letters to friends, relatives and businesses giving them the new private mailbox address. Give true residential address only to the most trusted friends. Ask that they do not store this address in rolodexes or address books which could be stolen.
3. Obtain an unpublished and unlisted phone number. The phone company lists names and numbers in directory assistance (411) and publishes them in the phone book. Make sure you delete your information from both places. Don't print your phone number on your checks. Give out a work number when asked.
4. If your state has Caller ID, order Complete Blocking (called "Per Line" Blocking in other states). This ensures that your phone number is not disclosed when you make calls from your home. (California phone companies will to offer Caller ID June 1996. See PRC fact sheet 19 on Caller ID.)
5. Avoid calling 800, 888 and 900 number services. Your phone number could be "captured" by a service called Automatic Number Identification. It will also appear on the called party's bill at the end of the month. If you do call 800 numbers, use a pay phone.
6. Have your name removed from any "reverse directories." The entries in these directories are in numerical order by phone number or by address. These books allow anyone who has just one piece of information, such as a phone number, to find where you live. Reverse direct-ories are published by phone companies and direct marketers.
(See PRC fact sheet no. 4 on "junk mail.")
7. Let people know that information about you should be held in confidence. Tell your employer, co-workers, friends, family and neighbors of your situation. Alert them to be suspicious of people inquiring about your whereabouts or schedule.
8. Do not use your home address when you subscribe to magazines. In general, don't use your residential address for anything that is mailed or shipped to you.
9. Avoid using your middle initial. Middle initials are often used to differentiate people with common names. For example, someone searching public records or credit report files might find several people with the name, Jane Doe. If you have a common name and want to blend in with the crowd, don't add a middle initial.
10. When conducting business with a government agency, only fill in the required pieces of information. Certain government agency records are public record. Anyone can access the information you disclose to the agency within that record. Public records such as county assessor, county recorder, DMV and business licenses are especially valuable finding tools. Ask the agency if it allows address information to be confidential in certain situations. If possible, use a post office box and do not provide your middle initial, phone number or your Social Security number. If you own property or a car, you may want to consider alternative forms of ownership, such as a trust. This would shield your personal address from the public record. (For more information on "government records and privacy," see PRC fact sheet number 11.)
11. Put your post office box on your driver's license. Don't show your license to just anyone. Your license has a lot of valuable information to a stalker.
12. Don't put your name on the list of tenants on the front of your apartment building. Use a variation of your name that only your friends and family would recognize.
13. Be very protective of your Social Security number. It is the key to much of your personal information. Don't pre-print the SSN on anything such as your checks. Only give it out if required to do so and ask why the requester needs it. The Social Security Administration may be willing to change your SSN. Contact the SSA for details. (See PRC fact sheet number 10 on "SSNs.")
14. Alert the three credit bureaus--Experian, Equifax and Trans Union--to your situation. Ask them to "flag" your record to avoid fraudulent access. (See PRC fact sheet number 6 on "credit reporting" for addresses and phone numbers. See also fact sheet number 17 on "identity theft.")
15. If you are having a problem with harassing phone calls, put a beep tone on your line so callers think you are taping your calls. Use an answering machine to screen your calls, and put a "bluff message" on your machine to warn callers of possible taping or monitoring. Be aware of the legal restrictions on taping of conversations.
(See PRC fact sheet number 3 on "harassing phone calls." See also fact sheet number 9 on "wiretapping and eavesdropping.")
16. If you use electronic mail and other online computer services, change your e-mail address if necessary. Do not enter any personal information into online directories. (See PRC fact sheet number 18 on "privacy in cyberspace.")
17. Keep a log of every stalking incident, plus names, dates and times of your contacts with law enforcement and others. Save phone message tapes and items sent in the mail.
18. Consider getting professional counseling and/or seeking help from a victims support group. They can help you deal with fear, anxiety and depression associated with being stalked.
19. Make a police report. Consider getting a restraining order if you have been physically threatened or feel that you are in danger. When filed with the court, a restraining order legally compels the harasser to stay away from you, or he/she can be arrested. Be aware that papers filed for a restraining order or police report may become public record. Put minimal amounts of information and only provide a post office box address. You should contact an attorney or legal aid office if a restraining order becomes necessary. (Note: Some security experts warn that restraining orders sometimes lead to violence. Before obtaining a restraining order, consider your options carefully.)
20. And these final tips from someone who was stalked for over three years: For your own protection, carry pepper spray. Get a car phone and/or a beeper. Carry a Polaroid or video camera. Never verify anything, like your home address, over the phone.