Stalking is serious, and it can happen to anyone. At least 3 million to 4 million people in the United States are victims of stalking every year, according to a U.S. Department of Justice study in 2009. If you quickly recognize the actions of a stalker, you can respond appropriately and perhaps avoid an escalation to physical violence. As soon as you become aware of potential stalking behavior, keep a written record of any contact whatsoever with this person. 

How to identify stalking

Watch for any unwanted contact or pursuit that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. Typical stalking behaviors include phone calls at all hours of the day or night and anonymous calls in which the caller just hangs up.

Be attuned to repeated but seemingly casual meetings. A friend, an ex-partner, or a stranger waiting uninvited outside a home or workplace is a typical stalking behavior.

Listen for threats, even heavily veiled ones, against someone specific, including friends, family members, pets, or possessions.

Consider unwanted written messages and unexpected gifts as possible signs of stalking.

Be aware of defamation of character, another tool in the stalkers arsenal. A stalker may spread rumors in social circles or post lies online.

Stalking is a crime. You do not have to put up with behavior that makes you feel afraid or uncomfortable. If you believe you are being stalked, report it.

What to do if you're being stalked

Tell the stalker once and only once to stop the behavior. Be firm and direct. Do not try to be nice or spare the feelings of the stalker.

Avoid all contact with the stalker. Any response you make, positive or negative, may be perceived as encouragement.

Behavior that is ignored is more likely to stop. However, it may get worse before it stops completely.

Turn to family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers for support. Do not listen to people who think you are inventing or exaggerating the stalking events or that the stalker is merely an overzealous romantic.

Let people know about the situation so they can help you. Provide them with a photo and/or a description of the suspect.