By Mx. blair dorosh-walther, MSW
April 12, 2023
The month of April, Financial Literacy Awareness Month, is an opportune time to increase the public’s awareness of economic abuse and how it affects survivors of domestic violence. This unseen form of domestic violence, similar to emotional abuse, is a form of control used by the person causing harm to keep survivors trapped in an abusive relationship and solely financially dependent on them. Whether it’s preventing the survivor from being employed or removing all access to bank accounts and credit cards, survivors are often taken advantage of and can end up in financial ruin.
The following provides information on how to identify economic abuse and steps for survivors to regain financial independence.
What is Economic Abuse?
Economic abuse is when a person controls a person’s money, ability to acquire money, use, and maintain their economic resources, such as, but not limited to access to money, credit cards, ownership of assets, or governmental or private financial benefits, including defaulting on joint obligations (i.e. school loans, credit card debt, mortgages, or rent). It also includes id theft, fraud, or coercion. Nearly 99% of all domestic violence survivors experience economic abuse.
Forms of Economic Abuse
The most common forms of economic abuse are:
Coerced debt: Any financial account that has been opened without consent within an abusive relationship. Harm doers often use threats of violence or sabotage, manipulation, or force to pressure a survivor.
Identity (ID) Theft: When an individual’s personal identifying information is used illegally by someone else. This includes theft of their social security number or credit information to have control over the person’s financial accounts (i.e. banking, credit, tax documents).
Tax (IRS) Fraud: When a person takes over a survivor’s ability to file tax returns or obtain access to refunds (see examples below):
- Refusing to give access to your tax returns
- Filing a joint return without your consent
- Using coercive tactics to claim your children as dependents on your tax return
- Hiding your W-2 or 1099 documents to prevent you from filing taxes
- Stealing your tax refund
- Falsely claiming you as a dependent on their tax return
Warning Signs of Economic Abuse
Tactics used by the person causing harm:
- Forbidding employment; sabotaging work or employment opportunities or forcing a survivor to work, then keeping the earned income
- Controlling how money is spent; refusing to pay bills; no access to bank accounts
- Hiding financial assets and withholding funds for basic needs (food, medicine, transportation, clothing)
- Preventing higher education opportunities or forcing survivors to take out student loans while not allowing them to attend class
- Stealing a green card or social security card; Running up large amounts of debt on joint accounts
- Opening credit cards or utility bills in the survivor’s name or their children’s name or coercing a survivor to lease or buy a car in their name
Tips for Rebuilding Financial Independence
For tax filings:
- File taxes early to prevent ID theft; you may request a 6-month extension
- Establish a separate checking account and request direct deposit
- Apply for an electronic filing PIN with the IRS
- Everyone has the right to file a tax return, even if your income is below the IRS limit. Plus, you may still qualify for a tax credit
- Even if you are married, you have the right to file a separate tax return
- You have the right to refuse to sign a joint tax return; request copies of prior year’s tax returns from the IRS
For credit repair:
- Do not share credit cards, banking information or co-sign loans and check your credit report regularly; sign up for free Credit Monitoring services
- Ensure you recognize every debt on your report. For each debt you do not recognize, file a dispute or write and mail a verification letter
- When filing a dispute, gather as much (if any) supporting documentation as possible; keep a paper trail of all interactions with lenders
- Call the original lender and the collection agency to inform them that this is fraudulent debt and you are disputing it
- File a report with the Federal Trade Commission
- Put a freeze or an alert on your credit cards through the three credit bureaus
Financial Safety Planning Tips
When safety planning, be sure to weigh the potential response to your physical safety when implementing the suggested steps.
- Open a separate bank account at a different bank and change your mailing address
- If you have a joint bank or savings account, remove half of the funds or 75% if you are leaving with your children
- Keep a record of how these funds are spent in case a court ever requests this information
- Consider changing your social security number, obtaining a new phone number and a new phone carrier
- Close all shared accounts in your name, including utility bills, family phone plans, and any shared information for your children
- Close or change passwords to sharing apps. For example, Lyft, Uber, UberEATS, Seamless, Amazon, any shared music programs like Apple music, Spotify, etc.
For survivors of economic abuse, you are not alone. Resources and agencies such as Safe Horizon are here to help.
Annual Credit Report
Mx. blair dorosh-walther, MSW, program manager of economic empowerment,