At the Identity Theft Resource Center, we often receive a phone call from someone who has made the brave decision to remove themselves from a situation involving domestic violence and abuse, only to discover their abusers have stolen their identities. Whether these victims have physically left the shared residence or are still planning their escape, they realize they need independent financial resources. Sadly, that is when far too many victims discover they have been a victim of identity theft at the hands of their abuser.
How does identity theft play a role in domestic violence? Opening a credit card in the victim’s name, stealing a partner’s identity and using it illegally and other forms of coercion are all types of domestic violence, according to New York-based Vera House.
The decision to escape is hard enough. Discovering that they now carry insurmountable debt, an ongoing connection to their abuser and even potential criminal charges (for things like passing bad checks) can become a breaking point for some victims. Worse, it can cause them to reverse their decision because they mistakenly believe they cannot escape with identity theft hanging over them.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and as part of the initiatives to help the public access information and resources, the ITRC is speaking out about support that is available for victims who also face identity theft. Remember, domestic violence can encompass financial fraud and identity theft; in fact, one study in Texas found that one out of every three residents who called the National Domestic Violence Hotline in 2018 had already experienced economic or financial abuse.
A study by the Allstate Foundation Purple Purse found that:
- Fifty-five percent of respondents reported being or knowing a victim of domestic violence or financial abuse, but less than half (44 percent) have talked about the topic with a family member or friend.
- Seventy-one percent of those who have experienced financial abuse think the most effective way to keep victims from returning to their abusers is through financial empowerment.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive situation and believes they may also be victim of identity theft, we recommend the following steps:
Get a credit report immediately
You can do this for free at annualcreditreport.com, and it can be done from any computer with internet access. Look to see if there are suspicious charges or outstanding debt related to your Social Security number.
Be prepared for retaliation
If your credit report does not show signs of fraud, that does not mean it cannot happen after you leave. Monitor your report and your accounts frequently to look for anything out of the ordinary.
Place a freeze on your credit
You can freeze your credit report for free in order to prevent anyone from opening new lines of credit in your name, but remember, it takes a little time to “thaw” it. If you are going to need your credit to find a new place to live, purchase your own vehicle, activate utilities at your new address or other similar purposes, you will need to leave it unfrozen. Also remember that any minors who are coming with you may be victims as well, so placing a freeze on their credit can protect them from someone else’s fraud, too.
Contact your financial institutions and make them aware of the situation
It can be hard to tell others about your situation in cases like this, but it is important that certain entities know. Your financial institution will handle the information sensitively, and you need to inform them of major changes concerning who can access your accounts or information.
File for separation and a restraining order
Filing for separation helps you begin to legally unbind yourself from your former partner. This is especially important if they have committed any kind of financial or identity fraud with your name. Without filing, you are still legally considered to be the debt holder and responsible for the charges. The restraining order is to protect both your physical person and your identity, and it gives you legal recourse if your former partner targets you or your data. For more help with domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit https://www.thehotline.org/
For more information on how you can recover from identity theft and how you can take action to protect yourself, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center’s toll-free hotline or contact an agent via chat on idtheftcenter.org.
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