Anyone who has been deluged with angry messages can attest to the high emotional cost of cyberbullying. But there is also a cost in real dollars for some to clean up their online reputations, including legal fees, security measures and even counseling.

For the 40 percent of adult Internet users who are dealing with this issue, according to 2014 Pew Research Center data, and numerous school-age children, there is a new insurance policy to help mitigate the financial repercussions.

Chubb Ltd. recently began offering optional cyberbullying coverage for its homeowners insurance clients. The coverage is included in the company’s Family Protection policy, which costs around $70 a year.

It covers up to $60,000 in compensation to clients and their families to pay for services including psychological counseling, lost salary and, in extreme cases, public relations assistance.

Nicole Prause, a neuroscientist from California, learned the costs of cyberbullying the hard way.

After publishing a 2013 peer-reviewed paper that suggested sex addiction is not a clinical diagnosis, Prause said she was subjected to online insults from people she believes oppose her work.

The abuse varied in scope, from repeated claims that she faked her data to comments about her appearance.

Prause filed a cease-and-desist order against her harassers, and said those people are no longer allowed to contact her directly. But Prause said she spent around $5,000 to mitigate the damage over the years, hiring an attorney and someone to take screenshots of the abuse lobbed at her online.

Rich Matta, the chief executive of ReputationDefender, an online reputation management firm, says that the average consumer dealing with this problem can spend around “a few thousand dollars” a year to combat cyberbullying.

“It’s no surprise that remediation of cyberbullying is now insurable,” Matta said, referencing the Chubb insurance policy.

But Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and a professor of criminal justice at Florida Atlantic University, said insurance for cyberbullying reinforces a victim mentality and is “tapping [in to] the fear.”

“You can do a lot on your own to safeguard your reputation,” Hinduja said.

Experts said it is important for consumers to be proactive in protecting their online reputation by taking a few simple steps.

Here are a few tips to avoid the cyberbully trap:

1. Keep it private. Hinduja recommends setting social media profiles to “private” to avoid writing posts that are too frequent and opinionated, and to block or mute accounts that go too far.

2. Be proactive about your child’s online presence. While more schools are educating kids about cyberabuse, Matta said parents still need to set boundaries for how and when their kids use social media.

3. Get help when you need it. For those who feel overwhelmed managing their online presence, resources like ReputationDefender can offer a reprieve — for a price. ReputationDefender typically charges private clients between $3,000 and $20,000 per year, while Reputation 911 offers monthly packages for personal reputation management between $195 and $995.

 

Amy Tennery writes for Reuters.