Knowledge is power if you’re a victim of coerced debt.
Victims of this form of financial abuse, which studies have found can coincide with domestic violence, often are blindsided when they learn their abuser has run up tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid debt in their name, ruining their credit in the process.
If you’re suspicious of what’s going on, you need to monitor your financial affairs. But that can be a challenge if you’re still living with your abuser.
Laura Russell, supervising attorney with The Legal Aid Society in New York, cautions, “Whatever she does, she has to do it safely.” She suggests going to the local library to do your digging so there’s no record on your home computer.
You’re entitled to a free credit report from the three main credit reporting agencies each year at AnnualCreditReport.com, so Russell suggests pulling a different report every four months to make sure there are no credit cards you’re not aware of, and no missed payments, under your name.
Also check bank accounts and county records to make sure your name is on the deed to your home, she says.
While it may be hard to imagine that your spouse or partner has stolen your identity, in reality it’s not uncommon.
Nikki Junker, victim adviser and social media manager with the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center, often advises domestic violence victims. Her first suggestion is to take out a restraining order against your abuser.
Then file a police report that your identity has been stolen and report credit cards that have been taken out in your name. “Leave a legal trail,” she says.
Other important steps are:
- Putting a fraud alert on your credit report. Contact one of three main credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax or TransUnion. If you contact one, they’re required to contact the other two.
- Calling and notifying banks and credit card companies about fraudulent activity and close accounts.
- Putting a freeze on your credit, if your state allows it. That restricts access to your credit report, unless you temporarily lift it, making it tough for your partner to open a new account in your name.
- Opening a post office box to prevent your abuser from getting his hands on credit card offers sent to you.
- Changing PIN numbers and passwords associated with your accounts.
- Considering requesting the Social Security Administration to change your Social Security number.
For more information on steps you can take if you’ve been the victim of domestic violence, you can order the Guide to Consumer Rights of Domestic Violence Survivors for $15 from the National Consumer Law Center.
You can also contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for advice.
Tips are also available online from the Federal Trade Commission and the New York Department of State Division of Consumer Protection.
See related:, 10 things you should know about identity theft