WATCH YOUR BACK

Stalking is an age-old crime, but now financial execs are more frequent targets. Here’s how to stay safe.

By Paul Michael Viollis

In the first two months of this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg obtained a restraining order against his stalker, Pradeep Manukonda, while Brian Cashman, general manager of the New York Yankees, turned to the police for help after nearly a year of alleged harassment, stalking and extortion by a woman named Louise Neathway. These are high-profile examples, but they’re not isolated incidents: At my firm, we handle perhaps 15 stalking cases a month. Most of them, fortunately, never make the news.

Anyone can become the victim of a stalker, but thanks to growth in popular anger over economic disparity in the United States, I’ve seen a rise in stalking cases involving executives and the wealthy. With bankers and investors in the spotlight of (mostly bad) publicity, they’ve become more visible targets for the resentful, the bitter and the unhinged. Most execs don’t pay attention until the stalking has grown dangerous, affecting their families, homes, property and reputation. But the better you understand the crime and its perpetrators, the quicker you can identify a problem and prevent it from escalating.

Generally speaking, stalkers come in two types: the ones who know their victims and the ones who have delusions of intimacy. They operate differently but have the same goal — to inflict mental anguish upon their victims. That isn’t to say that stalkers don’t become physically violent. Many do. But more typically, they want to cripple their victims emotionally.

What are their methods? First consider the stalker who knows her victim, like Louise Neathway, who reportedly had a relationship of sorts with Brian Cashman. In this pattern, the stalker starts by seeking attention, approaching the victim in some capacity — a date, a meeting, even a brief conversation. Eventually that encounter is met with resistance, which sparks the next phase: antagonism. Angered by the rejection, the stalker unleashes a barrage of texts, emails and phone calls. These correspondences can be substantively threatening, but often the more worrisome part is the volume of them. (Neathway allegedly sometimes called and texted Cashman more than 10 times nightly.) Such harassment can escalate to physical stalking, which frequently means imminent violence.

Then there’s the delusional stalker. Often a sociopath, this stalker is spurred by some event that leads him to believe that the victim and he have a special connection. (John Hinckley Jr., for example, grew obsessed with Jodie Foster after watching Taxi Driver.) For the stalker, that nonexistent connection mushrooms into a sense of entitlement and ownership. The levels of stalking that follow are the same as with the first type — electronic correspondence to physical stalking to violence — but the escalation is much more rapid and more dangerous.

The key to dealing with stalking is to address it as quickly as possible. Identify unacceptable levels of communication from an individual. It could be one email, it could be repeated texts — whatever makes you uncomfortable. At that point, contact the police; more often than you may think, the law is on your side.

Next, reach out to your security advisor, who can gather information on the stalker and ascertain if he has infiltrated your life in any other way — such as placing eavesdropping devices or cameras in your home, car or office. That information suggests the level of protection that you and your family may need.

There are no preventive measures for this crime. Stalkers are disturbed people who’ve chosen to damage, at the very least, the emotional well-being of their victims. But while you can’t prevent a stalker from targeting you, arming yourself with this knowledge can help protect you.

Feedback? Write This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Paul Michael Viollis can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Paul Michael Viollis, PhD, is the CEO of Risk Control Strategies, a New York-based security firm.

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