NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Social networks have made it easier than ever to connect with others online, but not all of those connections are wanted. In fact, one survey suggests that online stalking is more pervasive than most people realize.

The survey was conducted by Zogby on behalf of the National Cybersecuity Alliance and McAfee, and was meant to coincide with National Stalking Awareness Month, which takes place in January. It found that nearly one in five people (19%) have found themselves the victim of some kind of online stalking or “aggressive outreach,” a category which includes repeated, unwanted emails.

“Cyber criminals are more resourceful than ever,” said John Thode, an executive at McAfee, in a statement that cites stalkers’ use of computers, GPS devices and hidden cameras. “This data supports an ever-increasing need for online users to be vigilant in their actions each day.”

Interestingly, most Americans don’t feel that the police are equipped to deal with cyber-stalking cases, with 65% saying that their local police department would not be able to help them in such a situation. As such, consumers need to take steps to protect themselves from online stalking.

While MainStreet frequently provides tips to protect yourself from cybercrime, those are usually aimed at avoiding identity and data theft from large-scale scammers and phishers. Avoiding the individual attention of a determined stalker is a different ballgame, but there are still ways to protect yourself. McAfee provides a number of tips in this regard, including only connecting with people on social networks that you know, keeping your address and phone number out of your online profiles and keeping your email address off your personal website. It also recommends against using location-based services like Foursquare that publicly announce your location to the world.

Matt Brownell is a staff reporter for MainStreet. You can reach him by email at, or follow him on Twitter @Brownellorama.