Abusers are cunning individuals bent on exerting power and control in all areas of a survivor’s life. This can extend to their bank accounts through the tactic of financial abuse, which can range from forbidding a partner to hold a job (and make their own income) to controlling the spending, forcing a survivor to beg for money for basic necessities, or giving the survivor an allowance.
Another, possibly more destructive, tactic is to completely ruin a survivor financially by stealing their identity, either for an abuser’s own financial gain or for the simple reason of making sure the survivor is dependent on them financially in the future. This might mean an abuser opens a credit card in a survivor’s name with the goal of running up the bill and not paying it, or may fraudulently use a survivor’s social security number to stalk or harass them.
Protect Yourself By Laying Low, Shredding Everything
Such was the case for survivor Donna Anderson who told DomesticShelters.org that her abuser stole nearly a quarter-million dollars from her in just two years of marriage by stealing her identity and defrauding her and other women simultaneously. Luckily, there are ways you can protect your identity, which is especially important to do before or as soon as you leave an abusive partner. Start with these six:
1. Open a P.O. box in your name. This can prevent an abuser from locating and stealing your mail, and gaining personal information. Open a new bank account at a bank other than the one your abuser uses, and get a new credit card in your name that your abusive partner cannot access.
2. Shred your mail before throwing it out, especially credit card offers and anything that has your social security number or bank account information on it. You can also call 1-888-5OPT-OUT to stop receiving credit card offers in the mail.
3. Make sure to check your credit report at least once a year for fraudulent activity. Access a free credit report at annualcreditreport.com. You can set up a fraud alert on your credit report by contacting the credit bureaus directly. If you suspect fraudulent activity on any accounts, close the account immediately and file a report with the police or call the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-ID-THEFT.
4. Be very selective about any personal information you give out. Never give out your social security number or any account numbers over the phone unless it is a call you initiated.
5. Online, the best way to protect your information is simply to not share it. That means staying off social media sites like Facebook or Twitter. Even if you think your account is hidden or protected, there are still ways for people to find you. If you do keep an online presence, avoid publishing personal information like your home address, place of work or daily whereabouts. It’s easy for someone to stalk you if you “check in” online at a restaurant or publish that you’re heading to a particular person’s house. Revealing you’re going on vacation lets people know your home is unoccupied, which can also be dangerous.
6. Enter you full name on Google to see how “searchable” you are. If you find personal information about yourself on a website, contact the site’s administrator and ask that they remove it. Remember: Nothing is truly private on the Internet.