Stalkers turn to cheap cell phone spyware to track victims

SACRAMENTO, CA - The availability of cheap cell phone spyware is making it easier for stalkers to track their victims.

And they can do it for as little as $50.

Linda knows what it's like to have someone tracking her every move.

"Fear is the first thing that comes to mind," stalking victim Linda described. "Just living in fear, a constant feeling I have to look over my shoulder."

As a victim of stalking for the last four years, Linda has been forced to live in the shadows. She is so afraid for her safetythatNews10 is hiding her identity and using the name Linda torefer toher in this story.However, she agreed to tell her story because shewants the terror associated with cyberstalking to come to light.

In a recent case, Jose Moreno was recently sentenced in Sacramento County for nearly 20 years for breaking into his ex-girlfriend's home, videotaping her and installing spyware on her computer.

So called "stalking apps" have also caught the attention of law enforcement. Roseville police nabbed Daniel Whited.

"[Whited] installed spyware on a girlfriend's phone," said Sgt. Darin DeFreece. "He did that because of a real possessive nature."

You don't have to look hard to find it. A quick web search pulls up a slew of companies. They claim to "catch cheating spouses," "track your kids" or "monitor your employees." You can do this all for as little as $50. For a little more, you can listen in on conversations and use the phone to bug a room.

You don't have to be a genius to figure it out. It takes minutes to install and operates invisibly on your phone.

"This will run in the background. People won't even know the software is running," DeFreece said. "As the software is running, it will send the information to the person who installed the software.

News10 decided to purchase the software for $85. What we discovered after that was frightening to say the least.

MORE: 8 tips to prevent stalking via Smartphone

All phone calls are recorded. Once you log into your account, you can see when the call was made, the number associated with the person on the other side and even listen in.

The same goes for text messages. Even more shocking, if a phone call wasn't taking place but the phone was on, it could be used to bug a room and even record video. The GPS also allows someone to track where you are at any given moment of the day.

Clearly, it's an invasion of privacy. So, how legal is this?

There are already laws against listening in on people's phone conversations and there are specific laws against cyberstalking in a few states, including California.

But the GPS on your cell phone is a different story. It's the target of a federal bill to close that legal loophole that allows these apps to operate secretly on a cell phone and transmit the user's location information without their knowledge.

Companies behind the software claim the program is for the lawful monitoring of a cell phone the buyer owns and has a right to monitor, like their child's cell phone.

But there is no way to ensure the rules are followed.

"You know, it's all the same tool and put in the wrong hands, they are doing damage to victims," Beth Hassett said.

Hassett is the executive director of WEAVE, which helps victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Increasingly, Hassett said technology is being used to harass victims. She fully supports any legislation that cracks down on cyberstalking.

"I think it's terrible there are people out there thinking up ways to help people who are engaging in illegal activities to do a better job of it," Hassett said.

For victims like Linda, these apps are putting more than just her location and privacy at risk, but also her life.

"My biggest fear is she would find me and kill me," Linda said.

The federal bill opens companies that make spyware up to civil liability if they don't get permission from the cell phone owner to share their location.

Companies would also be liable if they don't notify someone within seven days if the app is running on their cell phone.

The bill includes an exception for parents who want to place tracking software on the cell phones of minor children without them being aware it is there.

Companies could also face criminal charges if they knowingly operate an app to facilitate stalking.

MORE: 8 tips to prevent stalking via Smartphone


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