How to protect yourself from a stalker

First and foremost, the moment you sense someone is overly persistent in pursuing you, take it seriously. Denying the problem only makes the stalker try harder to get your attention. Instead, do the following:

I Sever all communication. Don't try to let him or her down easy. Be firm and be specific. "I am not interested in having any type of relationship with you, now or in the future." I know it sounds harsh, but it's important to extinguish even the faintest glimmer of hope.

I Change your regular routine. If you usually leave for work at 8:15 to catch the 8:30 bus, carpool it some days, or get to the office early.

I Don't react. If the person who's been following you suddenly shows up in the cafeteria at school, try not to look scared or shocked. That's exactly the reaction they want. Instead, ignore them entirely and sit with a group of friends.

i Let people know what's happening. Tell your co-workers, teachers, friends, parents, doormen — anyone you trust who sees you on a regular basis. When you're being stalked, everyone needs to be on the lookout for your safety.

l Carry a cell phone. You want help to be three numbers away: 9-1-1.

l Plan ahead. Know where police stations are. Park only in well-lit areas. Hang with friends more than alone. Don't give a stalker any opportunity to have some private time with you.

l Keep your old phone number but get a second number. Experts suggest getting a second phone number and hooking an answering machine up to the first. That way, you can document threatening phone calls and you never have to answer no matter how many times the stalker calls.

l Never meet the person for one last time. It could be your last date ever with anyone if the person feels there is no hope and therefore nothing to lose by harming you.

l Finally, if the stalking seems to escalate rather than dissipate, call the police. Ask to speak with one of their stalking specialists who is trained to evaluate cues to determine if the threatened violence is indeed real.

Stalkers don't necessarily look like something out of a horror flick or wear T-shirts saying I'M CREEPY, so you need to be aware of the warning signs:

^ Someone who wants to spend every waking hour with you

^ Someone who calls or e-mails you dozens of times a day

^ Someone who demands to know where you are and who you're with every moment

^ Someone who waits outside your job or home for you all the time ^ Someone who monitors your cell phone bill ^ Someone who wants to know your password

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