By Guest Writer Octavia Brown,
Content warning: This article discusses aspects of domestic violence and abuse.
The digital age has empowered us in countless ways. Unfortunately, it’s also given others new ways of controlling us. In 2019, domestic abusers can use technology to gain even more power over survivors.
If you’re a domestic violence survivor, it’s important you know about technology-related threats. Having your device bugged or your online banking hijacked is scary and dangerous. Knowledge of these risks and how to counteract them will help you along the path to greater digital autonomy and personal safety.
It might not be safe to reveal to your abuser that you’ve accessed these materials. I recommend using your browser’s Incognito mode or immediately deleting it from your browsing history after reading. If you can’t view content freely at home, try going to the local library and using a desktop there.
Check if your devices are bugged
In the age of Internet, abusers have new and innovative ways of controlling others. One of them is installing a spyware program on a victim’s device. Spying software can give the abuser remote access to your phone or computer. Some of the features include GPS tracking of your location and intercepting messages, emails, and texts.
For a layperson, it’s difficult to tell for sure if their device had been tampered with. However, you can look out for one of these red flags:
- Your abuser took your device from you and you didn’t see what they did with it
- Your abuser knows things that they shouldn’t know, such as who you’ve been communicating with or what were the details of those conversations
- Your device behaves differently than it used to
- Your device’s battery life is a lot shorter than it used to be — the explanation might be the tapping software consuming extra battery power
- There is unusual background noise when you’re on the phone
Don’t forget that your phone and laptop are not the only objects that could be bugged. Your abuser could plant a GPS tracker in your car, your jacket, or your bag. Stay vigilant at all times.
Regain control of your devices
So you think you spotted some of the red flags for a bugged device? If it’s your phone, you should restore it to factory settings. For most phones, doing so enable you to wipe the device of all its contents, including hidden spyware.
Removing spyware from your phone is not the end. Now you need to make sure your abuser won’t be able to install malicious software again. Set a new screen lock on your phone, one that you hadn’t used in the past. Be careful no to use your phone’s fingerprint or face scanner. Someone could bypass this security measure by using your finger when you’re sleeping. Try not to unlock your phone when your abuser is nearby, they might be watching you.
If you think it’s your computer that had been tampered with, check for keyloggers. Keylogger records all your keystrokes, making it possible to steal your passwords but also to monitor your online correspondence. It might come in the form of software or a physical hardware device.
To check for hardware, follow the cable of your keyboard to the point where it reaches your desktop computer. If you find a small device plugged between the keyboard cable and the computer, it could be a keylogger. Unfortunately, more advanced keyloggers are placed inside the computer’s case and are difficult to spot by a layperson.
If you’re not sure whether you removed spyware from your device or not, you can use the library computer. Alternatively, use Incognito mode to browse from your own device and change all your passwords.
Backup your data
You need to prepare for having your documents taken away by your abuser. Make digital copies of all your important documents, such as a passport, birth certificate, marriage certificate, your children’s documents, medical records, insurance policies, driving licenses, and so on.
If worst comes to worst, it will be easier to get your documents re-issued if you have copies. You can simply take a photo with your phone or use a scanner at your local library.
You should store your digital copies securely and keep them secret from your abuser. Upload the files into cloud storage only if you are certain you can trust your devices. Otherwise, buy a USB stick, back up the files there, and keep it as hidden as possible.
Secure your finances
Economic abuse is one of the one forms of domestic violence. It happens when the abuser uses financial dependence as a means of control or blackmail.
It’s important that you secure your finances as much as possible to prevent economic abuse. If you have a bank account in your own name that’s a great start. Now you need to prevent your abuser from taking control of your funds.
Visit your bank in person and request that they permanently disable phone and internet banking for your account. Online and phone banking are easy avenues for your abuser to impersonate you — after all, they have all your sensitive data. By disabling these options, you make it harder for the abuser to spend or freeze your money.
Secondly, secure your credit cards. Your abuser probably knows your credit card details, which gives them the power to conduct online transactions. Cancel the card you’ve been using so far and get a new one sent by the bank to a secure address (not your home address if you live with the abuser under one roof). Keep the new card hidden or perhaps even leave it with a trusted friend or relative.
Whenever possible, try to ensure you have emergency funds on a secret account or safely stored with your relatives. This money might be handy if your abuser manages to get hold of your main source of funds.
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