I’m being abused by email. What do I do?

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I gave my email to someone and now, I’m being abused both verbally and emotionally. From my email address, they were able to get my domain sites and that gave them my phone number and my address from Whois. I have since made the domain sites private, but the cache on Google has a snapshot of that page. Even though Whois has removed my information, what’s cached is still live and streaming daily. I was stupid to give my email address although I thought it would be safer than giving my phone number. This man has several porn sites and is now stalking me. The police have said that there’s nothing that they can do unless the man physically puts his hands on me. Thanks, Leo, for any help you can give me.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve received questions like yours fairly regularly. Unfortunately, there’s very little that I can do.

Let me begin by talking about information sharing and the potential for abuse.

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Talk to a lawyer

Going to the police was the right thing to do even if they can’t help you. Hopefully they have your information on record, so if things do escalate, they have a history.

Now, I’m not a lawyer.  I’m not giving legal advice, so please don’t interpret anything I say as that.

That said, I strongly suggest that you talk to a lawyer who is familiar with abuse and technology. They may be able to look into things like a restraining order, a no-contact order, or something else to help you.

I don’t know where you’re located in the world (laws are different from country to country), but talking to a lawyer would be the first step step I would recommend.

With that out of the way, this happens so frighteningly often that I want to use this as a cautionary tale for everyone.

Be careful what you put out there

When you post something on the internet, it becomes public information. Many people don’t realize that it means your information becomes easy to find.

That’s why you need to be very careful about what, where, and when you publicize something.

Domain registration is a problematic hole in what we would consider to be our privacy. When you register a domain (something like askleo.com), you’re actually required to provide an email address, a postal mailing address, and telephone number.

In the past, many people have tried to remain anonymous by throwing in bogus contact information. But as it turns out if any of that information is invalid, you actually run the risk of losing your domain.

You must provide functional contact information.

Nonetheless, there are two ways to (sort of) get around this.

What you can do

As you’ve pointed out, some domain services offer a third-party company which is listed publicly as the owner. This company fields any requests to contact you on your behalf.

When someone does legitimately contact you, this company simply passes the message on to you without revealing your contact information to the person asking. They’re the only ones who know who you are for sure and they just keep the information from being published in these public Whois records.

The other approach is to anonymize yourself.

For example, I use a post office box, not my home address. I have a voicemail phone number, not my home phone number. I use an email address… but that’s okay; I have so many email addresses in so many public venues that trying to hide my email address wouldn’t really help very much. The truly private information that people might care about are not part of my domain registrations.

Cached information

The other thing that many people find frustrating is that Google caches information.

When Google snatches a copy of a page to index it, they keep that copy for awhile. Even if that page goes away or if it’s somehow changed, then the cache of what the page used to be a week, month, six months, or a year ago may still be available.

If your information ever was public and clear on a web page, it’s possible that the old version of the web page with that information is still in Google’s cache.

People sometimes get really angry at Google for doing this. But as popular as Google is, hundreds of search engines do the same thing. There are even sites that specifically archive the internet: their servers’ job is to keep old copies of web pages.

So, you can’t blame a specific company. Just understand that once you put something public on the internet, it’s almost impossible to completely remove it.

In the end, I can’t say it enough. You need to be very careful about what you put in public places. Do your best to understand what that means and make your decisions knowingly.

In your case, I honestly wish you the best of luck and safety.

2 comments on “I’m being abused by email. What do I do?”

  1. It’s pretty ignorant to give some stranger an email address they can track.
    But sometimes you do that in good faith.
    But as the victim already mentioned he or she was shy to give a phone number then somewhere some alarm bells were already sounding.
    I’m very fond of my privacy and have one (email-address) that I even don’t contact from my regular IP address.
    And “I don’t have a phone” is always a good excuse.

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