Editor’s Note: This article was created by Aura in partnership with DomesticShelters.org to help educate domestic violence victims, survivors, and professionals about how to stay safe when using technology. DomesticShelters.org partners only with companies creating products we’ve vetted.
The internet is a crucial source of information and connection, but for survivors and victims of domestic violence, it can also present an opportunity for abusers to control, manipulate and endanger their victims.
The typical consumer today has an average of 90 online accounts and spends almost seven hours online each day. But still, few people are taking even the most basic steps to protect themselves online. Most (80 percent) U.S. adults know they should be doing more to protect their personal information, according to a recent survey by Aura and Harris Poll, but 68 percent continue to use public Wi-Fi and the same password for multiple accounts. Both are behaviors that make it easier for cybercriminals, abusers, and controlling partners to gain access to data they ultimately use to finetune attacks.
Victims and survivors of domestic violence report cyberstalking and financial fraud as frequent forms of abuse. Unfortunately, given abusers typically already have access to a great deal of their victim’s personal information like Social Security Numbers, dates of birth, mailing addresses, and more, succeeding in these tactics is often easier for a partner than for a hacker or faraway cybercriminal.
Aura, an intelligent safety company, is teaming up with DomesticShelters.org to share advice for survivors and victims of domestic abuse to stay safe online.
Passwords and pins are used by an infinite number of websites and accounts as the first barrier to entry with most, making strong passwords incredibly important. However, roughly 65 percent of people reuse passwords across sites. A secure password is not just a word – but a passphrase. Also use multiple digits, a mix of upper- and lower-case letters, and special characters such as @, # and %. Don’t use anything an abuser could figure out, or anything that a stranger could decipher by looking at your social media history or other publicly available information – like a pet’s name, hometown, or a favorite sports team. Do not write your passphrase down digitally or on paper.
If you can’t remember your passphrase, consider exploring a password manager, which manages different, complex passwords for each account you have. However, make sure to create a complex passphrase for the password manager itself, as that will serve as the gatekeeper for all your other passwords.
Perhaps the single most effective way to protect your finances digitally is to give up your debit card entirely. The benefits of paying with a credit card have nothing to do with the card’s security defenses—but rather what happens to the user when a breach happens. Thanks to Zero Liability policies created by banks many years ago to encourage shopping online, resolving issues of credit fraud are often painless. In the instance of fraudulent charges, the bank issuing the card will typically provide the customer an immediate, temporary credit for the fraudulent charge, cancel the card itself and issue a new card immediately. Then, a month or so later, that temporary credit usually becomes permanent. This process means the user can proceed with making charges regardless of fraud.
With a debit card, however, this scenario is different. A debit card accesses cash directly from a bank account, meaning a successful debit card attack will often wipe out the user’s entire bank account. Most banks, if they verify that a charge was indeed a fraud, will replace the money, but that process can take months. In the meantime, any transactions made before the fraud that had not already cleared will fail, and most businesses will charge the fraud victim a penalty—that they may no longer be able to afford—as a result.
When preparing for or after leaving an abuser, it’s critical that you have access to your finances. Using a credit card rather than a debit card better ensures that you have funds in your account and your money is protected, even if a breach or fraudulent charge does occur.
Use antivirus software, anti-spyware, and a firewall on your computer. Be sure to install your computer’s updates quickly—or automatically if possible. This will help ensure no ill-intentioned individuals—abusers or otherwise—can access or infiltrate your device.
Whenever possible, don’t leave behind documents with personal information. In the event of a move or relocation, set up mail forwarding so that credit card offers and other sensitive data reach only you and your family. If you’re preparing to or have recently left an abuser, contact credit agencies and other companies with which you have accounts to notify them of the individual who should no longer have access to your information or account.
In the case of a lost wallet, for example, you might be suspicious that identity theft will occur—even if it hasn’t, yet. Contact one of the three credit bureaus and ask them to set up a free fraud alert—the bureau you contact will notify the two others.
It’s not uncommon for an abuser to access his or her victim’s credit—whether to monitor reports for insights on financial or other recent activity or to open new lines of credit on the victim’s behalf as a power and control tactic.
While it can be inconvenient to freeze your credit, this is a great way to prevent identity thieves—or abusers—from opening new lines of credit using your SSN. Given that nearly 30 percent of those experiencing identity crime are repeat victims, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center’s 2021 Consumer Aftermath Report, this is especially important for past victims. You can contact any of the three credit bureaus and do this for free, and like the process with fraud alerts, the one you contact will notify the two other bureaus.
Virtual private networks (VPNs) have been used in corporate environments for decades. Today, however, they are essential for consumers to protect communications, whether on a desktop, laptop, or mobile device. For victims or survivors of domestic violence, VPNs offer a safe, secure, and anonymous way to browse the web, access accounts, and make purchases.
VPNs provide a secure encrypted tunnel between the user’s device and a web server or an email host. While a VPN does not protect the data on the user’s device, nor that at the recipient’s end, it protects data while in transit, which is when most cybercriminals steal sensitive data.
At Aura, we understand firsthand how daunting it can be to take control of your digital life, especially when attempting to protect yourself from a potential abuser or controlling partner. That’s why we created easy-to-use, all-in-one intelligent security protection to keep you and your family’s personal information, devices, and finances safe from online threats.
It combines everything you need to proactively control your digital lives—credit monitoring, lost wallet recovery, antivirus, VPN, multi-device protection and monitors financial transactions, bank accounts, SSN, the dark web, home, and title use, and criminal and court records to keep your finances and your identity safe and secure. And in the event of an issue, Aura’s U.S.-based customer service team is available by phone and email to help you resolve problems 24/7.