After suffering cyberharassment, one California woman has to pay to keep her stalker from contacting her.
Discussing consumers' legal rights, M. O’Neal, who asked to keep her full name private for safety purposes, shared with the Northern California Record how she must pay $5 per month to block her cyberstalker, a small-business owner she met once when having a gift custom-made for her father, through her Verizon Wireless service.
“There are no laws or policies in place to prevent cell companies from exploiting victims in this way, which I think is something both women and men would be shocked by and interested to learn more about, especially in this #MeToo landscape,” O’Neal said.
“With more people owning a cellphone than a landline nowadays, the fact that we as consumers have no legal protections to our safety on our cellphones is alarming, and this policy should be discussed by the law community."
O’Neal simply blocked her cyberstalker's number at first but found after a few months he broke through via text or a phone call. When she called Verizon, the company informed her that a free blocking service was only available for 90-day periods, and if she wanted to permanently block the number, she had to a pay a $5-per-month fee.
Every four months, like clockwork, O’Neal said she would get some type of message from a person she saved as a contact in her phone as "Creepy Guy Oceanside" to prompt her to re-block his number, which she said she has had to do three to four times a year since 2013.
“One Verizon customer service rep suggested I look into filing for a restraining order and prevent my cyberstalker from contacting me through that route,” O’Neal said.
However, that was not an option O’Neal since she did not know the actual full name for this person or his address since she met him once at a flea market to pick up the gift after ordering it off his website, which was deleted.
“Second, though not required, I feel I’d need to spend my savings on hiring a lawyer to argue on my behalf in front of a judge to win my case, which per law in California would only last up to five years,” O’Neal said.
The third reason a restraining order was not an option is the most upsetting, she said.
“My stalker is required to be present,” O’Neal said. “I can't help but pre-emptively feel exhausted and disheartened by the extreme waste of resources — especially when the problem could theoretically be fixed with a simple click of a button by my cell carrier.”
As the regulation is currently, Verizon is not breaking any laws, she added, so she has been unable to find legal remedies with Verizon through the state, which is why she contacted Georgetown Law adjunct professor David Goodfriend who is also a former legal adviser to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). He told her it wasn’t until 2015 that these cell companies were, by law, expressly treated as utilities and not private carriers.
She said Goodfriend explained that with the current FCC recently eliminating net neutrality rules, customers are in limbo with respect to wireless data services.
“The bottom line is that large cell carriers face limited competition, light regulation, and therefore have less incentive than they should to do what’s right by their customers,” O’Neal said Goodfriend told her.
Less incentive is costing O'Neal more each month, totaling $60 a year to keep her from harassing communication.
"How there are no laws in place to protect cyberstalking victims from being exploited in this manner?" O'Neal asked.