Devices in Divorce: The Apps are Traps

Devices in Divorce: The Apps are Traps

Right now, if my partner threw me out of the house, I could make him crazy   I could turn on the speakers in three rooms of the house, delete everything he wants to record on TV, delete all his upcoming travel information, charge movies and special events to his account, turn the house alarm off and on at random (and make the siren go off anytime), turn the thermostat up to 90, turn interior and exterior lights off and on, order strange things from his Amazon account, order anything I want from various other accounts, turn Alexa on in a variety of ways, ruin the music he’s trying to listen to, or have food sent wherever I want (charged to his accounts).   This doesn’t even start to cover what I could do with financial and credit cards.

And this doesn’t cover what could be done with cameras or recording devices installed in the home.

When couples separate, the digital controls are often overlooked.  The NY Times addressed the issue recently in Thermostats, Locks & Lights: Digital Tools of Domestic Abuse by talking about how abusers can make their victims think they’re going crazy.

I’ve had cases where an ex:

  • Ordered a bunch of stuff on Amazon, including gift cards, using the other party’s credit card
  • Erased the other party’s entire Dropbox account
  • Posted his Netflix sign-on information online
  • Added another delivery address to the Postmates account and had numerous meals delivered to herself on the other’s credit card
  • Transferred out airline miles to a new account.

And I’ve seen many, many cases where an ex continued to monitor or use personal bank or financial accounts or email accounts long after the separation.

I also can’t tell you how many cases I’ve seen where a person forgot that his or her texts were going not only to a cell phone but also to an iPad or other device that was left behind at the house after moving out.    Or the people that handed down an old cell phone to a child and forgot that texts and emails were still going to the phone.  All your linked devices need to be un-linked, and when in doubt, take all the devices with you until you can get to a service provider to make sure they’re un-linked and wiped.

To properly change everything you need to change, first set aside a good amount of time to change passwords and track down accounts.  I can’t overstress here to set aside PLENTY of time. The things you need to do to protect all your accounts can’t be done on the fly or while you have a spare 20 minutes.  You need to be at a computer and be able to concentrate for at least an hour or two.  You need time to come up with new passwords and your new personal bio (see Security Questions below).    If you don’t take enough time, you’ll set new passwords and lose them.   You’ll need to do these things on a computer, but also have your cell phone handy, because you might be receiving texts with verification codes.

Two Factor Authentication (TFA)   Consider two-factor authentication for all your important accounts.  Essentially, this sends you a text to your personal cell phone number every time someone signs on to your account (even you).  When you get the text, you enter the verification code in order to proceed. If you receive a verification code text when you’re not signing on to something, it means someone else is trying to sign on your account.

Definitely use TFA with your Amazon, Google, Apple and iCloud accounts.

Passwords.    Decide on new passwords, and how you’ll set them and keep track of them.  You can use a “base” password with different variations, endings and characters, so you’re not using the same password on all accounts.

Advice on setting a good strong password.

Password Manager.    Decide to use a password manager (or change the one you’re using now).

Lastpass still has a free version of a password manager, but you’ll want to upgrade to the premium service to make it work on your mobile device (only the computer version is free)

Security Questions.   Remember that your ex is likely to know the answers to most standard security questions asked by websites.   You need to invent a new persona:  The new you will has a new hometown, streets, different pets, grandparents or parents with new maiden names.   So, make up a new person with information your ex doesn’t know about, and commit your new bio to memory, and write it down in whatever place you’ve determined is safe for emergency passwords and that kind of information.

Change Things.     Make a list of everything you have to re-set.   Your ex is likely to know all your most commonly-used passwords, so change your access to all social media and emails immediately and set TFA where available.

Next, go thru your phone and check your apps.  Any app or website might have personal information and/ or your credit card information, and if you use apps or websites to run things in your household, your ex may have access to and be able to operate:

  • Alexa
  • Google
  • Home security
  • Home thermostat
  • Garage door opener
  • Sonos/ speakers
  • Ring/ doorbell
  • Lights – Hue/ Nest

All your entertainment:   Direct TV, Cox Cable, Netflix, Showtime, HBO Go, Kindle and Audible accounts

Verizon/ Spring/ AT&T/ whatever your cell phone account is.

Photos:  remember the Shutterfly, Vimeo or other online apps where your digital photos are stored.

All your food ordering services:  Postmates/ Door Dash/ grocery store delivery services

Do you want to share your OpenTable and pizza/ takeout accounts with the ex?  If not, change all access.

File-sharing services:  Dropbox

Travel services:   All airline and hotel apps and websites should be changed (and check your frequent flyer miles while you’re doing this, so you can establish how many of those miles are community which might need to be split with the ex)

Household utilities:  If you pay your household utilities online and you’re staying in the house, change the passwords to keep control of your own utilities so you know they’re paid and not shut off.

Medical:  doctor’s offices and pharmacies.

Unless you change the passwords to all these things, AND make sure devices left in the home or with your ex don’t have auto-signon to all these things, your personal information is hanging out there to be used, or misused.

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