1. Select a discrete app icon.
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.
While technology can make life easier and more innovative, it can also be misused by abusers to cause harm. That’s why DomesticShelters.org has tracked instances of smart home technology being used against survivors, cyberbullying and online abuse and abusers monitoring their partner’s email use.
For those of you considering, planning to leave or who have recently left a controlling partner or abuser, we teamed up with intelligent safety company Aura to share some steps you can take to secure your digital lives, prevent cyberstalking, identity theft, and other digital tactics abusers use to exert control and intimidate. Together, we hope to offer advice that enables you or your loved ones to safely reclaim your digital life in preparation for and after leaving an abusive partner.
How to Prepare Your Digital Footprint Before Leaving an Abuser
Creating independence and protecting your safety when preparing to leave an abuser can be a challenging balance, especially when considering that certain actions can alert an abuser to the fact that you’re preparing to leave, thus putting you and your loved ones in further danger.
Below are some recommendations that aim to set you up for independence and a successful escape, without putting you in a potentially life-threatening situation.
- Create a new email address unknown to an abuser or partner.
- Consider getting a new phone number, as well. While smartphones are convenient, they are also equipped with technology that enables tracking. Consider a pay as you go phone for privacy. Explore the FCC’s Lifeline program for financial assistance security mobile or broadband access.
- Do not link or use an existing account for confirmation/backup to avoid sending notifications to an abuser that would alert them of the new account’s existence. Alerting an abuser of something like this can further endanger the victim of abuse.
- Change your passwords to complex passphrases an abuser would not guess.
- Use a virtual private network (VPN) to remain anonymous while browsing the internet, signing a new lease or applying for a new home loan. This will also keep your location anonymous from anyone who has gained access to or infiltrated your device.
- Apply to the address confidentiality program in your state to set up a confidential mailing address. Check this list to see if you are eligible. Some states offer motor vehicle registration and health insurance confidentiality, as well. If you’re not eligible or your state doesn’t offer this program, open a post office box to receive mail.
- While it may seem counter-intuitive, don’t close accounts that you both have access to. This could alert your abuser to the fact that you are planning an escape. Learn more details on how to prepare your finances when leaving an abuser here.
- Be aware of location tracking in apps and set privacy settings on devices and social media accounts to the most secure option.
- Whenever possible, avoid networks that you share with your abuser, especially when taking the aforementioned steps. Use a computer in a public library, internet cafe or a VPN on your device. Open a new line of credit and let the creditor know of your situation, tying your new line of credit to your new email address and phone number. Notify the company of your abusers information to prevent their access to your account - even if you are still legally married or in a partnership.
After Leaving an Abuser
After you’ve left an abuser, you can take additional steps that may have otherwise been dangerous before escaping their control or presence.
Protect your devices.
- Restore to factory settings or replace all computing/mobile devices.
- Turn off all location-tracking services.
- Keep your security software up to date.
- Use a VPN to hide your IP address and keep your browsing history hidden. And consider using a library computer or other public wifi network with the VPN for added anonymity.
Protect your home network.
- Use a router with network-level protection including automatic updates.
- Protect your wifi network with a hard-to-guess passphrase containing upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters.
Use a VPN at all times, but especially when browsing on your home network.
Other steps to take:
- Create new email addresses and contact information. Do not connect new accounts to old accounts for backup or password recovery purposes.
- Consider deleting your social media accounts, and don’t share personal information on social media.
- Update your security software regularly or turn on automatic updates.
- Change all of your passwords to complex passphrases that include a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters.
- Now it’s safe to close any joint accounts.
- Turn off any location-tracking services.
- Block the abuser on phone, email and social media.
- Consider deleting or reducing your online presence entirely.
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Consider Using an Intelligent Safety Tool
We understand 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. Intelligent safety tools like Aura offer easy-to-use, all-in-one digital security protection to keep you and your family’s personal information, devices and finances safe from online threats and ill-intentioned individuals. Aura combines everything you need to proactively control your digital lives—credit monitoring, lost wallet recovery, antivirus, VPN, multi-device protection—and monitors your 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 to help you resolve problems 24/7. This is all backed by a $1 million dollar identity theft insurance policy for eligible losses for every Aura customer.
Aura has created a special offer for DomesticShelters.org: access a free two-week trial of Aura's all-in-one intelligent digital security solution, and if you like it, purchase a subscription at 40 percent off. Use these links to try the Individual Plan, Couples’ Plan or the Family Plan with this special offer. DomesticShelters.org does not receive any compensation for purchases through this offer.
Photo credit: @vlada-karpovich on pexels.com
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