What to do if you think you're being stalked

Experts: Stalking often leads to other crimes

ORLANDO, Fla. – Being stalked is scary situation to be in, but often needs to be addressed before matters get worse.

About 18.3 million of U.S. women are victims of stalking, according to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention. With the technology changing and growing every day, your privacy can seem more at risk. Victim advocates said it's important to know your rights and what you can do to protect yourself.

Experts say the most important step is to address the situation. If you have a co-worker that seems to know too much about you, someone who is getting a little too close too often, even when you ask them for personal space or a person who messages you via social media despite you ignoring them, chances are you have a stalker and it's OK to address it.

Advocates say ignoring a stalker can be dangerous.

Clinical police and forensic psychologist Kris Mohandie previously told CBS News that ignoring a stalker's uncomfortable behaviors is common. He said the ignore-method doesn't work with people who are already violating the boundaries of normal behavior. 

He recommends not engaging with a stalker directly, but rather to be alert and proactive and avoid all contact. He said potential victims should also save and document all messages, voicemails, letters and the like if they choose to take their case to law enforcement.

Mohandie said the key is early intervention and to not be afraid to call 911.

Experts say there are four kinds of stalkers.

Public Figure Stalker

This is a stalker who has not had any prior relationship with their victim-- likely a stranger or someone you had little interaction with. 

Private Stranger Stalker

A person who crosses paths with the victim in some way. The person then becomes a target.

Acquaintance Stalker

A person who follows a co-worker or classmate, someone they cross paths with frequently as opposed to a random passing. They're more likely to know more about their victim's interest or schedule. Mohandie said this type of stalker has about 50 percent risk of violence.

Intimate Stalker

Mohandie claims this type of stalker is the most common and most dangerous. He said the risk of violence sits at around 74 percent. Violence could be anything from pushing and shoving to a more violent assault. Stalking incidents that include violence tend to escalate to domestic abuse or even domestic homicides.

All types of stalkers show similar signs and about 4 in 5 victims of stalking are stalked by someone they know, according to the CDC.

Signs of stalking could be someone pressing for information about you from a family, friend or co-worker. Someone who has been in or near your home, car or workplace while you weren't there could also be a sure sign they are stalking you. A common form of harassment and stalking is a person who consistently messages you or makes unwanted phone calls, especially if you've asked them to stop. Stalking cases tend to escalate when a person seems to always be just around the corner or in your neighborhood or workplace even when they have little business being there.

In Florida, stalking is a crime. Florida Statute 784 defines stalking as harassment, a particular course of conduct, a credible threat and includes cyberstalking. A person who falls under the following four definitions and willfully, maliciously harasses another person under the statute's definition can face felony charges.

Domestic violence victim advocates recommend those who believe they are a victim of stalking look into address confidentiality programs. It allows potential victims to receive mail at a substitute address and prevents offenders from locating the victim through public records.  

A victim may also request a protective order. These are typically issued by a state court and demands a person to stop harming and/or contacting another. There are several types, include one specific to domestic violence and broader ones that cover stalking and harassment.

Safehorizon.com said with one's online presence revealing more than what a user may realize, its important to take appropriate precautions. The domestic violence resource website recommends constantly reviewing all of your location settings on all electronic devices, limiting the personal information you share about yourself online, setting up two-step verification on all your personal accounts and constantly updating antivirus software.

As a resource, Safehorizon.com also recommends contacting your phone service provider to see what information they have about you on record whether that be location settings, data or other personal information. They note hackers can likely access this information as well, and you can take the time to ask your phone carrier to increase security regarding your account. 

The final tip is to make sure someone else knows about your suspicions of being stalked. It is in your best interest of your safety. 

If you think you are a victim of stalking or domestic abuse, advocates with the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence have resources available across the state. Click here to learn more.