Technology is making spousal financial abuse easier, especially in the USA where it is becoming a problem particularly among affluent Americans. Smartphones and tracking devices have given abusive partners more tools to track and control their spouses.
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Banned in Ireland
In Ireland, it is now a criminal offence to use financial coercion as a means of controlling or abusing a spouse or partner since 2018. However, this does not mean that some people won’t attempt it.
The warning signs
Spousal financial abuse involves one partner attempting to control, manipulate or intimidate the other through money. In the past, abusers may have put a partner on a strict budget and kept bank accounts and assets from them.
Now, they can also install keystroke-monitoring software on a victim’s laptop to see if a spouse is seeking help, financial information or opening their own accounts.
Hidden cameras are another common tool used to monitor a spouse’s daily activities. Additionally, GPS tracking devices also aid surveillance. With some of the latest car technologies, it is possible to track the car’s location. For example, Tesla markets car tracking technology as a benefit, but it is a technology that can be used negatively also.
Keeping up appearances
Experts point out that affluent women are often at more risk than many people may think. They are less likely to report abuse to law enforcement if their family has ‘social standing’ within the community. Often, they fear family expenses, such as a child’s tuition, won’t be paid.
If one is living in a position of status, or have status symbols that are represented by cars, homes, lifestyle, social connections and of course, money, they can often go to great lengths to protect it, including tolerating abusive and coercive behaviour.
Protecting what is important
A big issue for anyone that may be a victim of financial abuse or coercion is learning how to become financially independent. This includes learning how to budget and build (or rebuild) a personal credit report. In a broken relationship, the controlling partner will often take over full management of household bills while keeping the partner ignorant of critical financial matters, including a mortgage, Life / mortgage protection policies, investments and savings. All of this means that the dependency of the partner is pushed to such a point, they live in fear of even speaking out when a relationship begins to break down.
Personal credit reports are another powerful source of access to the world of credit that may be blocked. It is not uncommon where those suffering abuse or coercion will have little or no credit history or even know where to begin to develop one. This can be critical in the event they want to apply for a personal loan, car loan or even a mortgage at some point in the future. Additionally, in some broken relationships, an abusive partner can use a personal credit report to intimidate the other by threatening not to pay critical loan repayments which will have a negative impact on any person names on the loan application
Technology and personal information is being used as a quick and easy way for one partner to abuse and coerce another.
- Cryptocurrency (such as Bitcoin) can also be used to hide assets from partners and since this is not money that is placed in a regulated industry, it can be really difficult to track in the event of a relationship breakdown. In such cases, the abusive spouse or partner will be looking for ways to minimise payments to their partners during the separation or divorce proceedings.
- Encryption – modern technology has also seen the rise of encrypted technologies. Where a husband or wife owns a business, they may use their company virtual private network to encrypt communications, which makes it more difficult to track online activity.
Build financial security… and a financial identity
It is important for those that are financially vulnerable to understand how they can set about to establish financial security. The starting point would be a try build a small emergency fund. Even if they could save a few Euro each time they shopped, in cash, this can accumulate over the course of a year or several years to a meaningful amount of money. It can provide the financial confidence to escape an abusive or coercive relationship.
Another important step is to get begin a process of budgeting and understanding what a typical household budget includes. A useful MoneyWhizz personal budgeting form is available free of charge along with a range of other free resources.
Personal credit profile
It is important to protect your personal credit profile. However, it is also possible to repair or start one by either opening up a credit union ‘share’ account or borrowing against it (the monies in the ‘share’ account act as collateral). If the loan amount exceeds €500, it is recorded with the Central Credit Register and as such, will help establish (or re-establish) a personal credit history.
Think small steps for the big win!
As with all matters financial, small steps, the first steps are really, really important. Finding smart ways to budget, same money, even building a personal credit report can make all the difference later and also, provide the critical first steps to financial independence.