Real Stories: Tagging that Instagram Photo Might Not Be as Safe as It Seems

The Real Stories blog series features OneRep users who have experienced online privacy violations and shared how serious the consequences can be. This story focuses on how a photo posted on social media turned one customer into a stalking victim.

Stalking is a growing menace that has never been as real and easy to accomplish as it is today. Social media, people search services, and mobile apps offer endless opportunities for stalkers to pursue their victims. All it takes is your name, email address, a random photo, a geotag, or a combination of these things to build up your profile and enable bad actors to analyze your habits, watch you on and offline, and physically threaten you. 

We hope to highlight the not-so-obvious cybersecurity threats associated with seemingly innocent online and social media habits. 

Janet C., a OneRep customer from Athens, GA became a stalking victim after posting a photo on Instagram. This is her story.

Janet’s story 

“Earlier this year I went to visit my family in Florida for a week. I was really excited about the trip. I was going to meet my cousin’s newborn daughter for the first time. We had fun activities planned, including a trip to Disney, and everything seemed perfect – until the day we went to Disney World.

We arrived early and spent the whole day at the Magic Kingdom. We ate at amazing restaurants, walked around the park, and rode roller coasters. I had always dreamed of getting a picture next to the fairytale castle. Obviously, I was taking lots of photos, posting them on Instagram and tagging my family members and our location.

That same day, out of nowhere, an unknown man started following me on Instagram and Facebook. I was a little confused but also interested. He left a few sweet comments to my photos and liked a bunch of them. We naturally started talking. It felt like we had a lot in common. I’m single and this seemed harmless. He also turned out to live pretty close to where I was staying. What were the odds? 

After a couple of days of non-stop texting, he offered to meet in person and I agreed. The first time we met I told him that I was visiting my family in Florida and had to fly back home soon. He seemed a little bit disappointed, and said that he knew I was a tourist when he saw me at the park. The whole thing gave me the creeps. The man was watching me taking pictures at Disney and then found me through a tagged location. He’d never mentioned this until that moment. I felt violated. The realization that I’d been stalked scared me to death. Somehow, I managed to play it cool and said that I had a family dinner to go to. He offered me a ride, which I refused, and then tried to check on me asking how I got home. I told him we had to stop communicating. He didn’t take that very well and sent me dozens of angry messages. I knew I had to cut off contact and blocked him on social media. The phone calls followed. I felt vulnerable knowing that all it takes to find literally whoever you want is a photo and tagged location published on Instagram. Eventually, I blocked his number too. The day I was leaving he showed up at my cousin’s door. I had been physically followed and made it unsafe for my cousin and her daughter to stay at their own place.

“I felt vulnerable knowing that all it takes to find literally whoever you want is a photo and tagged location published on Instagram.”

When I asked him how he found me, he laughed and said it was easy to do through a public search. I told him to leave before I called the police. It worked. My visit was over and I went back home that day but was still getting his disturbing emails a couple of months after that.

To say that this incident changed my life is an understatement. I was cyber-stalked and physically followed by a guy I barely knew. I also put my family in danger. This experience taught me a bitter lesson about online privacy. I’ve stopped oversharing on social media and all of my accounts are private now – only my friends can see my photos and videos. I also signed up with OneRep. They help me take care of my contact details and other sensitive information exposed on people search engines. Having done all of that, I finally feel in control of my own information and my life.  

Becoming responsible for your own data

The absence of online privacy is a big problem that gives rise to numerous threats including stalking, harassment, and abuse. 

Getting rid of personal information on the internet is a must for anyone who doesn’t want random people with bad intentions showing up at their door one day. You can take back your online privacy. OneRep can help.

Maria Shishkova

Digital Marketer & Privacy Expert at OneRep | LinkedIn