Divorce and Identity: New Security Measures

By Tara Lynne Groth

Special to DadsDivorce.com

divorce identify theftYour mother’s maiden name. The name of your first pet. The city where you were born.

These are ubiquitous security prompts used by email and financial institutions.

What if you’re divorcing and the person you shared your life with — who knows the answers to these questions — uses this information to hack into your accounts, email, and maybe even steal your identity?

There are steps you can take when your divorce is imminent, if you’re navigating divorce and after all the paperwork is finalized. Whether you were married for 10 months or 10 years, re-establishing yourself as a single parent means you will be dependent on your own credit rating.

What if your former spouse stopped making payments on a car loan in your name, even though the court ordered the payments?

“The credit bureau, the car loan company and the judge don’t care,” said Jeffrey Stout, mortgage broker and owner of Fink & McGregor in Salt Lake City, Utah. “They just care about getting their money.”

Stout’s first book The Credit Games will be released in late 2011; he wrote it to answer the questions his clients asked over the past 25 years.

He recommends getting a copy of your credit report and using it as a road map. Your goal will be to eliminate all joint accounts.

One late payment stays on your credit report for seven years. Also, use it as a checklist for updating security information on each account.

Although it’s a violation of federal law, many married couples check their spouse’s email. Even if your spouse doesn’t know your password or the answers to your security questions, they can still hack into your accounts.

Keylogging software records every keystroke made on a computer and produces a report. Typed passwords, written emails, everything requiring a keystroke will be summarized for the user.

For those that do discover suspicious activity or adultery, many family attorneys suggest hiring a Private Investigator (PI) and immediately cease unauthorized email access. Tipping off a PI will provide evidence for the court and no one will question how the PI got the information.

If you’re using an independent computer your spouse doesn’t have access to you may think you’re safe. (Although for those married to tech-savvy partners, even some Wi-Fi and home networks are insecure.)

The girlfriend of Gregg Gottsacker, principal of North Star Business Systems in Minnesota, operated her email under her former spouse’s AOL account. Her husband labeled himself a guardian on her account and received a copy of every email.

“The court allowed the emails to be entered into evidence,” Gottsacker explained. “He wasn’t punished for claiming to be her guardian. However, the judge allowed it to ‘color’ the final decision.”

Cathy-Sue Emerson, a Realtor in New York, had her email compromised while she was divorcing.

“AOL kept changing my security questions, but when you’re married to someone for 17 years they know the answers,” she said.

Eventually she created bogus answers to the security questions that only she knew. She called all the utilities companies, banks and her cell phone provider to add extra security questions.

Cell phones are a delicate matter. Spouses suspicious of their partner can easily check texts and call history if the phone is left unaccompanied. It’s even easier to access information if the cell phone account is in your name.

Is your spouse’s text folder always empty? Most providers offer a reporting feature where you can receive a copy of all the user’s text messages; even if they have been deleted from the phone the information is housed on the provider’s server. If your cell phone is in your spouse’s name, be aware of this and purchase a separate phone.

Outside of emails and phone calls, the draining of bank accounts is most devastating. Access to funds is imperative, especially to retain an attorney. Financial advisers recommend having access to $5,000 in cash.

Read Related Article: “5 Ways To Prevent Identity Theft In Your Divorce


Tara Lynne Groth is a full-time freelance writer residing in Cary, North Carolina. Her work has appeared in places such as GO (AirTran Airways’ in-flight magazine), the Providence Journal and Chesapeake Family. Learn more about Tara by visiting her website www.taralynnegroth.com.

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