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ID-Theft

Identity Theft in Abusive Relationships

ID-TheftWith 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.

behindthescreens-spyware

Behind the Screens: Spyware and Domestic Violence

behindthescreens-spywareThis is a post in our Behind the Screens series, which explores issues related to digital/online abuse.

Technology opens up so many possibilities to connect with people around the world, but unfortunately the other side of the coin is the potential for abuse. As we’ve been discussing in our Behind the Screens series, mobile devices and computers can become tools for an abusive partner to manipulate, control, and shame a victim. They can also be used to spy.

According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, “spyware is a computer software program or hardware device that enables an unauthorized person (such as an abusive partner) to secretly monitor and gather information about your computer [or cell phone] use.” Spyware can track everything you do, from keystrokes, to the sites you visit, to documents you print, to messages you send. In some cases, a person does not need physical access to your device to install spyware, and it can be very difficult to detect.

Spyware is starting to play a larger role in cases of digital abuse, thanks to easy-to-install and inexpensive technology. Much of the spyware software and apps available today are aimed at parents for monitoring kids and teens, but there are companies that market their products specifically for spying on spouses or partners. This issue has become so prevalent in domestic violence cases that Senator Al Franken (D-MN) has introduced legislation that would ban mobile spying apps.

How can you tell if spyware is being used on your devices?

As we previously noted, spyware can be difficult to detect. However, if you think your activities are being monitored by your abusive partner, there’s a good chance you are correct. For example, your partner might:

  • know your whereabouts when you haven’t told them specifically where you’ve been

  • know things about your online search history even after you’ve deleted it

  • know about conversations with or messages you’ve sent to others

  • question you about topics you have personally researched but never discussed

Additionally, on a cell phone you might notice that the battery drains quickly or data usage spikes. These can all be signs that your devices are being monitored.

What can you do if you discover (or suspect) you are being tracked by spyware?

You might be tempted to get rid of your device or try and remove the spyware, but be aware that your abusive partner might retaliate as a result. Do not use a computer or cell phone that your partner has access to in order to research shelters, escape plans, or to call/chat with hotlines. Use a computer at a library, at a friend’s house or at work, or borrow a friend’s cell phone or work phone to make calls. Use your own devices for innocuous tasks (such as looking up the weather) so that your partner does not get suspicious of inactivity.

If you believe you are being monitored, or even if you’re not sure, try to find a safe phone or computer and call us at 1-800-799-7233 or chat online every day from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CST. We can help you safety plan and direct you to local resources.

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