Stalkers hacked into smart devices including video doorbells to target their victims in their own homes during the Covid-19 lockdown, police chiefs have said.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said methods include targeting their victims on social media, using spyware or tracking apps and hacking into online accounts or platforms.
“This also includes accessing internet-connected devices in victim’s homes, such video doorbells, assistants like Alexa, Google Home or Siri, and home security systems,” the NPCC said.
It echoes similar tactics used by divorced couples where one partner has used devices to spy on the other or make unwarranted contact with children in the household.
Wiltshire Police Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills, the NPCC’s lead for stalking and harassment offences, said: “Our evidence shows that the risks to victims of stalking have continued during the coronavirus pandemic, in particular we know that stalkers have turned to online and digital methods to stalk their victims.
“We are also now likely to see a further rise in such offences as the lockdown period starts to lift and stalkers are able to use more traditional methods to target their victims.”
Stalking charity the Suzy Lamplugh Trust said online and digital stalking increased during the pandemic, with some offenders using coronavirus as a threat.
Victims have been threatened with infection or had rumours spread about them having the disease in a bid to damage their businesses, the charity said.
Suky Bhaker, chief executive of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust said: “Stalking is a crime of psychological terror that impacts on all aspects of a victim’s life, often in ways that are long-lasting and traumatic.
“We know from the calls we have received to the National Stalking Helpline over the past few months that stalking victims need support as much as ever and we want to reiterate our message that we are here to support you.”
Katy Bourne, chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) added: “Whilst many criminals were thwarted by the lockdown measures, stalkers continued to fixate and obsess and the way many have adapted their cyber-skills to reach their victims, concerns me deeply.
“We know all too well that this behaviour causes extreme distress and can quickly escalate into physical activity and harm.
“We want to offer reassurance that you do not have to suffer in silence so please do report.”