Police across the county have recently investigated reports of stalking where perpetrators have installed hidden devices in children's toys to track their victim's movements, and where private information has been accessed through spyware installed on mobile phones, smart speakers and even electronic doorbells.
This advance in technology, together with stalker's physical movements being restricted over lockdown, has changed perpetrator's behaviour and as a result, the number of victims who are being stalked online through social media or by stalkers accessing smart devices, has increased across some parts of Yorkshire.
North Yorkshire Police has seen the number of stalking cases with a cyber element reported them more than double in the last 12 months . Figures show there were 202 reports of stalking with a cyber connection reported in the year April 2019 to March 2020, compared to 426 reports between April 2020 to March 2021.
Inspector Clare Crossan, who leads the North Yorkshire Police Stalking Support Team, said: "In the past, it may have been that stalking victim's felt vulnerable when they were outside their own home and that their home was a safe haven. Now, however, we are surrounded by devices that connect us and sadly this gives stalkers the opportunity to try and exploit these devices and attempt to exert their control inside victim's houses."
Humberside Police say a third of stalking and harassment crimes reported to the force are committed online.
Detective Inspector Mark Skelton said: "Most of what we are now seeing reported to us is online and virtual harassment and stalking which some people might just brush off and say ‘oh just ignore it’. We know it’s not always that easy and so I would always advise people to call us and report their cases to us.
"In lockdown, we have seen an increase in perpetrators of stalking and harassment using phones and social media sites to target their victims, so people feel they just can’t escape the abuse."
Hundreds of people across Yorkshire have already been charged with stalking and harassment offences since the start of 2021 with police encouraging victims to come forward and report the crime.
Detective Superintendent Paula Bickerdike, of West Yorkshire Police, said: "Stalking and harassment are really impactive crimes and can live with people for a long time after a perpetrator has been brought to justice.
"The force takes any report of stalking or harassment extremely seriously. It is a very significant crime and it doesn't matter whether its domestic abuse related or not. We encourage anyone who thinks they may be a victim to report it to us.
"Our officers are given specific training surrounding stalking and we have specialist dedicated teams who can help. Victims can also report the crime in a variety of ways and we have a whole online section devoted to this."
Anyone who thinks they have become a victim of stalking or harassment can contact their local police force on 101, or in an emergency 999.