SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- Technology can be very helpful and can also be very dangerous and scary.

You can bet at any point during the day, most people are only an arms reach away from some sort of electronic device.

However, it is how people use or misuse their technology that can have a lasting effect.

"Technology is a tool that we use for multiple things and unfortunately, some folks have decided to misuse that tool," said Laura Penney-Edwards.

Penny-Edwards is the director of community engagement for Safe Passage in Northampton. She told Western Mass News that a lot of their programs focus on educating victims of domestic abuse on ways to safely use technology while escaping their abuser.

"Folks have brought up concerns about their former partner or abuser knowing where they are located, so any GPS or tracking. We have also heard from folks that are reporting their abusers know who they're talking to and when they talk to them and are concerned they might have access to either records of their phone or spyware installed," Penny-Edwards added.

There are several key steps everyone can take to better protect themself online.

  • Put a passcode on your cell phone, laptop, and tablet
  • Turn off your location services on platforms like Facebook
  • Make sure your privacy settings on social media pages are strong
  • Update your password every few months for things like your email and social media pages

The YWCA of Western Massachusetts said that they go over these steps through a safety plan with all of their clients.

"Just basically sitting down with them and making them even aware that there could be a GPS on their car, that anything that is on their computer could be used against them, asking them not to use social media as much, asking them to talk to their kids about social media," said Elizabeth Dineed, executive director of YWCA of Western Massachusetts.

However, protecting yourself goes beyond what people can or can't see online. Tech experts said that it's also important to know what kind of location services you have enabled on your devices.

"All apps vary for how secure they are. One of the least secure out there is the Flashlight app and that's the one usually that gets hacked in to. so if you have location tracking enabled on Flashlight and somebody wanted to stalk you, if they were geeky enough, they could find a way to hack into your phone, get into your Flashlight app and track you from there. Today, you could be followed from 100 miles away or 1,000 miles away or across the continent. Nothing needs to be always. Everything should be while using or not at all. I really recommend everybody do this because there's things you should never have on. There's no advantage to you and it reduces your security," said Stan Prager with GoGeeks in East Longmeadow.

Jessica Hernandez, a domestic violence counselor at the YWCA added, "I think the most important advice I can give is trust your instinct and listen to your gut because stalking is a really difficult thing to prove is happening. We don't always have that tangible evidence, so your biggest survival skill is going to be your instinct and something telling you that something is not right, so if you do have a feeling that something's off, get your car checked out. Shut off your location settings for a little bit and see if that makes a different. Sometimes, it's hard to pinpoint exactly how people are accessing that information, but kind of by process of elimination, we can figure it out."

If you or someone you know has experienced domestic abuse or violence, there are several 24/7 hotline numbers you can call for help.

  • SafePassage: 413-586-5066
  • YWCA: 413-733-7100

Copyright 2019 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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