woman's hands with laptop and cellphone and paperwork

We are all familiar with the tactic of financial abuse during a relationship. This abuse can continue and take on new forms after separation.

One of those new forms is identity theft, in which the abusive partner steals his partner’s identity and uses it to run up debt or engage in illegal or otherwise problematic activities. This can lead to years of trouble for the woman, as she attempts to clear up her credit rating and/or extricate herself from financial responsibility for debts she knew nothing about. She could even be arrested for something she did not do.

Identity theft is relatively easy in intimate relationships, since both people usually know the details of one another’s personal information. It would unusual if one partner did not know the date of birth, middle name and social insurance number of the other. Even if the spouse does not know the information directly, they would most often be able to find it easily, since people in intimate relationships do not generally hide documents like their driver’s licence or passport.

Reduce the risk

When you work with a woman who is dealing with financial abuse, you can make some suggestions to her to help her protect herself against the possibility of identity theft by her partner (or anyone else).

The Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario suggests that people keep these five Ws in mind when providing personal information in any context:

  • WHO wants it and WHO will have access to it?
  • WHY do they want it?
  • WHAT will it be used for?
  • WHERE will it be stored?
  • WHEN will it be used and WHEN will it be discarded?

In addition, a woman can reduce the risk of identity theft by:

  • Controlling and minimizing the amount of personal information she gives out
  • Shredding all personal and financial information rather than just tossing it in the recycling box
  • Not using her social insurance number as a password or giving it out unless it is absolutely necessary
  • Keeping items like passports and citizenship cards in a secure location, possibly outside the family home
  • Using social media with privacy in mind
  • Not providing personal information over the telephone or online without first knowing who she is talking to and why they need the information. A good tactic is to call the institution to confirm it is really asking for the information
  • Being conscious of passwords: make them strong, keep them private, change them regularly
  • Paying attention to credit card bills and statements to spot inappropriate activity quickly
  • Reviewing her credit rating every year

What to do when identity theft happens

If a woman believes she may be the victim of identity theft, she should let the police know right away. After this, it is important for her to let all relevant individuals and businesses know she suspects her identity may have been stolen.

She should cancel all credit cards and apply for new ones, with different identifying information. For example, if her credit card now says “Sally Jones,” she could have her new card issued with her middle name “S Mary Jones.” Of course, she should also use a new password that is not something her former partner might think of.

She may need to talk to the post office if she has concerns her mail may be being diverted. If she is employed and her pay is direct deposited into her bank account, she may need to speak with her employer and open a new bank account.

And, she will want to make sure her family law lawyer is aware of her concerns.

Share information about identity theft with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. This is an operation of the federal government that collects information about identity fraud as well as internet and mass marketing fraud.