We recently wrote about protecting yourself at the start of your marriage by taking advantage of all of the benefits and protections that institution provides. A great many of those of advantages are conferred by comingling assets and consolidating bills (among others). Unfortunately, the protections and benefits of a relationship can become liabilities when that relationship ends – none more so than your digital life and the accounts and expenses that you shared.
It’s hard enough to deal with separating your life from your relationship when things end amicably. When a break-up ends on bad terms, you need to move quickly to protect yourself from someone who has a significant amount of information about you as well as unfettered access to your digital life. This recent article from USA Today is full of excellent advice about removing your ex from your accounts and explains just how vulnerable you can be after a breakup.
What should I do first after a break up?
The first step to take when your relationship ends is to block your ex on social media. Combined with blocking texts and phone calls, this is a critical step to begin to separate from someone. While these practices don’t guarantee that you won’t be harassed or stalked by an obsessive ex, they certainly help to solidify a clean break and help you deal with your new reality.
Unfortunately, simply blocking contact isn’t the end of the road. You’re likely more entangled with your former partner than you realize. If you’ve ever logged into accounts on each other’s devices, it’s possible that you each have access to all of the accounts and passwords that you’ve created together and individually. USA Today provides guides and walkthroughs on how to:
- Find out if your ex installed spy software on your devices
- Change every password stored in your web browser
- Change your major account passwords (Apple ID, Google, work, etc.)
- Check your bank account for subscriptions and shared charges
- Change smart home device and network passwords
- Create new device passcodes and PIN numbers (smartphones & tablets)
- Change your laptop and desktop passwords
- Lie about your past (when setting answers to security questions)
It’s worth taking a minute to address the last item on the list. As a general rule, we don’t encourage anyone to lie. However, you may not be aware that even a cursory Google search of your full name can turn up a surprising amount of information, including past addresses (think “The name of the street you grew up on”). In this case, it’s better to change those answers to something inaccurate, but memorable.
How can I protect my identity (online and in real life) after a breakup?
As a general rule, very few people are aware of just how much personal information is easily accessible online. Identity theft is a widespread problem simply because of how easy it is to access vital information relatively easily. We wholly recommend at least running a Google search on your full name just to see what’s out there. Keep in mind that whatever information is available for free, there’s always more for those willing to pay.
This isn’t to say that you should ignore the rest of the items on the list; each of them represents a serious security risk. For example, knowing your laptop password (or camera-enabled smart device) can enable just about anyone with a motive to literally spy on you in the comfort of your own home. Access to any device that you carry with you can allow someone to track your every move. Worse, access to your main accounts (Apple, Google, etc.) can incur steep financial costs that take time and effort to recover.
We know that this seems like a lot of work, but it’s a good idea to clean up your digital presence periodically anyway to keep yourself safe; the end of a relationship is a good an excuse as any to finally go through all those old accounts. You may even discover services you no longer use and save a few dollars along the way!
Going through this while dealing with the emotional burden of a breakup or divorce certainly isn’t easy, but failure to take these basic preventative measures can have serious consequences for you. A malicious former partner can be an absolute nightmare; one with access to your digital life can be catastrophic.
It’s important to note that if you’ve recently left a relationship that was particularly nasty (i.e., your partner was abusive), you may need to take things a step further. This excellent tool from The National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) can help you find resources in your area and create a personalized Safety Plan to help keep you and your family safe after your relationship ends. In addition to the basic recommendations above, the NDVH recommends these steps:
- Blocking your ex on social media
- Saving screenshots of harassing or threatening texts to document your abuse
- Taking steps to secure your home
- Keeping a stalking log
- Staying with a friend or family member
- Filing a police report or seeking a protective order to remove weapons from their possession
Whether the end of your relationship was amicable or not, two fundamental things apply as time goes by. First, it’s crucial that you do your due diligence and sort through every part of your life that was entangled with your relationship. Second (and this is good practice in general), if you do have any suspicion that your ex may try to hurt you or your reputation, document any and all interactions, messages, letters and any other form of communication. If you have to seek an injunction (like a restraining order) or pursue other legal recourse, documentation of your interactions is an absolute must.
Many relationships go their natural course and end relatively amicably. When they don’t and you find that you or your loved one has been defrauded, libeled, slandered or worse, physically injured, the experienced family law attorneys at the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates can help protect you through a difficult time. Our firm fights hard for our clients from start to finish to ensure the best possible outcome. To speak to an experienced family law attorney today, call us at 615-977-9370 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment at one of our offices in Franklin, Columbia, or Brentwood.