Victims of domestic violence are especially vulnerable to identity theft because the abuser typically has access to confidential information. Identity Theft can be a form of retaliation, and once your identity has been compromised and your credit ruined it can take years to recover. It can affect your ability to gain credit, have access to financial resources, get a job, and obtain an apartment – and all of these factors are critical for a victim trying to escape abuse. Victims of identity theft often feel powerless. In a domestic violence situation the abuser can use this power over the victim, and as a ‘pretexter’ they have the ability to harass their victim by closing accounts, canceling credit cards, and shutting off utilities such as electric and gas. Pretexting involves impersonating another person under the ‘pretext’ of being that person. This is commonly done to gain personal information and can be difficult for the victim to detect. Identity theft can also be a form of stalking, because the abuser can use the information gained for surveillance purposes.
If you are in an abusive relationship and intending to leave, it is extremely important that you include steps to avoid identity theft in your overall safety plan. This should include things like:
Safeguarding Mail – Your mail can include pre-approved credit card offers, bank statements and other items that contains personally identifying information. These items should be safeguarded while using and the shredded for your protection. A victim should also send all mail from the post office, not at home. If you suspect that your mail has been compromised by your abuser, contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. To find your nearest USPIS Office visit https://postalinspector.uspis.gov/
Protecting Your Social Security Number – Do not disclose your social or use any form of it as a PIN or password. If you suspect your social security number has been used, contact the Social Security Administration Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271.
Restrict Access To Information – A victim of domestic violence should change passwords and PIN numbers frequently and to something that their abuser cannot guess. Do not share this information with anyone and keep them in a safe place.
Consider Opening a Post Office Box – This can help prevent an abuser from gaining access to mail and other information.
Review and Monitor your Credit Report for Suspected Fraud – Contact the three credit bureaus to obtain a copy of your credit report. You can also get a free annual credit report at: www.annualcreditreport.com
Use An E-Mail Address That You Consider To Be Safe – Use an e-mail address that your abuser cannot access. If you believe your account is secure, make sure you select a password that they will be unable to guess and change your password often.
Identity theft is the nations fastest growing crime. You should always safeguard your personal information so that you can avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.