Here’s how to know if you’re being stalked, because there are real-life Joe Goldbergs out there

Stalking: We joke about doing it online before a blind date, pop culture portrays it as strangers in hoodies hiding in the bushes, and we probably don’t think it would ever legitimately happen to us. However, stalking is far more common than you might realize. According to SPARC (the Stalking Prevention Awareness and Resource Center), 7.5 million people are stalked each year in the United States, one in six women have experienced stalking in their life, and 57% of victims were stalked during a romantic relationship. Plus, the site also states that 81% of women who were stalked by a current or former partner were also physically assaulted by them, and 31% were sexually assaulted. Stalking is no joke.

One of the most recent portrayals of stalking in the media is the character of Joe Goldberg from the Netflix drama You. Although you might view Goldberg as a strictly fictionalized character for several reasons—his extreme violation of privacy, lack of a moral compass, intense violent tendencies, and pure obsession with specific women—many of his traits are based off of real-life stalking behavior. To keep you from experiencing your own Joe-Beck situation, we tapped an expert to discuss how to spot the signs of stalking, and how to stop a stalker from taking control of your life.

First thing’s first: What is stalking?

We’ve all seen the common portrayals of stalkers: Men lurking around street corners, keeping a close but safe distance behind their victim, wearing a hoodie or hat to shield their face.

While some of these behaviors don’t actually happen, stalking is technically defined as: “A pattern of repeated unwanted contact, attention or harassment that often co-occurs with other forms of abuse in unhealthy relationships,” according to CEO of The One Love Foundation, Katie Hood.

We’ve heard about celebrities being stalked by strangers, but the truth is that the majority of victims are stalked by someone they already know, which makes the signs harder to pinpoint. Also, stalking signs can often be difficult to distinguish from signs of romantic interest, so, to help you determine the difference, Hood broke down the tell-tale signs of stalking for us.

The most common signs of stalking in a current relationship:

1Behaving intensely

In a new relationship, frequent communication and intense emotions can be seen as flattering and good signs that your crush is interested. “Many of us experience intense feelings at the beginning of a relationship that eventually settles into a more comfortable pace,” Hood tells HelloGiggles. However, one of the first signs of stalking is intense behavior from your partner. Constant contact and repetitive questioning can be a sign that your partner feels the need to always know your whereabouts, and therefore have control over you, rather than simply meaning they’re super into your conversations.

2Knowing things before you tell them

We’d be lying if we said we didn’t browse people’s social media accounts and learn some deets about their personal life before meeting them. But if your current partner knows intimate details about your life before you’ve shared them, then that should be a red flag. These details include things that they likely wouldn’t be able to discover through your social media channels, like where you live, your commute to work, and people you often hang out with. If your partner knows these facts without you telling them, that should make you raise an eyebrow.

3Showing up unexpectedly

Although an unannounced drop-by your apartment or a surprise coffee delivery on your way into the office can be thoughtful and appreciated, frequent unexpected encounters can be a sign that your partner is keeping tabs on your schedule too closely. If they show up unexpectedly at places where you’ve told them you’re meeting friends to hang out with you afterward, or “coincidentally” run into you, those are red flags too, according to Hood.

4Giving unwanted gifts

Typically, a surprise bouquet of flowers from your partner is seen as romantic and spontaneous, but if continuous gifts are sent for no reason, this might be a sign that your partner is seeking attention or a response from you. If the unwanted gifts turn inappropriate, take extra caution. “Stalking is all about power and control, and stalkers will often resort to manipulation to keep it,” Hood says. Giving gifts might be your partner’s way of manipulating you to believe they have good intentions.

How to stop a stalker:

If you notice these warning signs of stalking, the best thing to do is let the people in your life know immediately. Give them all of the details of the circumstances so they can help you take control of the situation, and so they’ll know how to react in case the stalker shows up unannounced. If the relationship feels dangerous, cut all ties with your partner.

Next, take precautions on the technology front. Turn off location services on all of your apps, erase your browser history, change your passwords frequently, and set up an emergency SOS on your phone. Also, start gathering evidence in case you need to prove that you’ve been stalked legally—screenshots, phone records, and photos of damages are all useful proof.

Consider reaching out to an advocate to understand your options for preventing the situation from getting more dangerous. Victim Connect is a helpline where victims can learn about their rights in confidentiality. If you think you’re being stalked, you can call Victom Connect at 855-4-VICTIM for anonymous assistance. For immediate help, contact the Stalking Resource Center or call 800-FYI-CALL (800-394-2255). Finally, if you feel like you’re in immediate danger, contact the police. Above all, trust your gut—if something feels off, it probably is.