With so many of our daily activities happening online, identity thieves have more and more access to our personal information. But for people in abusive relationships, the biggest threat to their identity and personal information could be their abusive partner.
From our experience at The Hotline, we know that an abusive partner often has access to or control over their victim’s bank accounts, credit cards, passwords and other sensitive personal information. There are many ways an abusive partner might use this access for harm. For example, an abusive partner might threaten or coerce a victim into opening a new credit card in the victim’s name and then max it out, leaving the victim with ruined credit. Some abusive partners might use personal information to stalk, harass or intimidate their partners.
LifeLock, a leading provider of proactive identity theft protection services for consumers, offers some basic tips that may help protect a victim of abuse from stolen identity or fraud:
1. If you can safely do so, change your passwords. Be mindful that this sometimes sends a “flag message” to the email accounts listed in their system. If your partner has access to those, it could give them a heads up that you’re taking measures for your safety. If you’re concerned that your partner will be made aware of the change, or if you are concerned that this could escalate your level of danger, you may want to create new accounts that are not linked to the old ones that you can move your business to discreetly. If you currently reside with your partner, consider not accessing these new accounts from devices that they would have access to. Consider using an incognito window when accessing these accounts, so that your browsers do not share your search/ passwords to connected devices. For more information on private/incognito browsing, check out our post, Reducing Tech Footprints.
2. If your Social Security number has been taken, order your credit report from all three credit reporting agencies:
Equifax: (800) 525-6285
TransUnion: (800) 680-7289
Experian: (888) 397-3742
When you call each credit reporting agency, you’ll have the opportunity to place a fraud alert on your report. If you think that your partner may notice this fraud alert, consider possible explanations (“I left my wallet out at work and was worried that someone may have copied my card information”) that may lower their level of concern, or call our Hotline to discuss whether this preventive step could lead to a heightened escalation of threat from your partner.
3. Call the Identity Theft Resource Center at (800) 400-5530. They can answer many of your questions and help you determine additional actions you should take to help protect yourself. Keep in mind that you are the expert in your situation, so follow your instinct. General tips do not work for every circumstance, so consider whether you may be able to adapt a suggestion to increase your safety without escalating risk.
4. Monitor your transactions by keeping an eye on your credit and debit card accounts, looking for any transactions that you didn’t make. If you feel that it is safe to do so, report suspicious transactions using the phone number on the back of your credit or debit card. If you do believe that your accounts are being accessed by your partner and it does not seem safe to address this, consider opening a new account that they are not aware of and have the information sent to a safe email and location that they will not be able to access (e.g. work, PO box, trusted family or friend). You may be able to discretely transfer funds to this new account by changing your direct deposit at work, or writing a check from the old account to a trusted friend or family member, and having them write you a check that you can deposit into the new account so there is no record of transaction between the accounts.
5. If a retailer or employer offers you free credit monitoring as a result of a breach, find out if there is a way to access this service without alerting your partner. It is possible that this could be used to document your partner’s financial abuse.
6. Secure your mobile device with a passcode. If your partner is concerned about this, you can share that you are worried about forgetting your device and a stranger accessing it. If your partner demands access, consider keeping a safe device that your partner does not know about and using that to access your support and safe accounts. Keep your old device as a prop to help prevent them from suspecting that you have a safe device.
7. Keep computer systems up to date so you have the latest patches to protect from viruses and other malware that may have been installed. Be mindful that any devices your partner has access to could potentially be used to track your activities. Many browsers now allow you to share your activities on multiple devices. Be aware of which browsers do this and learn about how to avoid accidentally linking safe accounts to an unsafe device. Explore NNEDV’s Safety Net Project for more information.
These tips are meant to be general and may not apply to everyone’s situation. Remember, don’t take any actions that make you feel unsafe. If you would like to discuss more specific ways to protect yourself, please call us at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or chat online everyday from 7 AM-2 AM CT.