How a Smartphone can be a Domestic Violence Tool

How a Smartphone can be a Domestic Violence Tool

Technology has changed the rules of violence. We see it in how countries approach each other on the international level. We also see it in personal relationships, where smartphones can now be a domestic violence tool.

Authorities recently arrested a Rochester, N.Y., policeman for cyberstalking his ex-girlfriend. They say the defendant targeted the victim with harassing text messages, emails, and phone calls. According to news reports, investigators also allege the officer tried to access the woman’s work email and online medical accounts.

Using technology to harm from afar
The tools of domestic violence were once limited to the physical kind—fists or weapons. They’re now often replaced by mobile devices and computers. These relatively new tools—Apple introduced the iPhone just ten years ago—allow perpetrators to not only cause irreparable harm to their victims, but to do so at a distance and, possibly, escape detection.

And with each of us doing more and more activities online, everything from banking to dating to staying in touch with friends, we run the risk of someone we trust taking advantage of us through these online accounts and channels. Overseas hackers aren’t the only perpetrators of cyberattacks. The criminal could be an estranged spouse or former friend.

LifeLock’s partnership with NOVA
Those of us at NOVA, the National Organization for Victim Assistance, who provide support to crime victims have to familiarize ourselves with these new tactics. For that, we turn to the folks at LifeLock, who gave us just such an opportunity this month. Some of the company’s cybersecurity experts provided hands-on training for a handful of us.

In the daylong session, LifeLock’s chief of identity education, Paige Hanson, and director of security communications (and “hacker for good”) Joe Gervais took us on a deep dive into the basics of identity theft and fraud. This is particularly useful information, as we work daily with people who’ve suffered from such crimes—sometimes at the hands of family or friends, but also, by unknown thieves and criminals.

The more we know, the better we can help
The more we at NOVA understand about how a particular crime is perpetrated, the better able we are to help the victims who turn to us. We can sometimes tell them how we think the crime may have occurred and how a victim can take steps to protect him- or herself going forward. It could be as simple as reminding them about the need for strong passwords on financial, email and social media accounts—and not sharing those passwords.

LifeLock’s Joe Gervais discusses the “dark web” with NOVA victim advocates and, far left, Executive Director Richard Barajas.

The LifeLock team also taught us about how the so-called “dark web,” an area typical search engines, such as Google, don’t crawl and where criminals thrive, selling stolen data and even illegal materials. And we learned about “skimming” of debit and credit cards to make copies that thieves can use at a victim’s expense.

NOVA victim advocates learn, firsthand, how easily checks can be altered.

What’s on your check?
In a particularly interesting session, Paige reminded us how much personally identifiable information is printed on a common personal check—full name, home address, account number and routing number. And we used some simple materials, found in most households, to easily alter handwritten checks, changing such information as the payee’s name and check amount.

If you’ve never been a victim of a crime, consider yourself fortunate. If you’d like to understand how we at NOVA, with support from championing associates like LifeLock, help victims of both crime and crisis, please visit our website. And if you’re a crime victim, or know one who might benefit from our services, we can be reached on our website or by calling, toll-free, 800-TRY-NOVA (800-879-6682).

Not an idle threat
In the domestic violence case involving the Rochester police officer, he allegedly told his victim he could “destroy every aspect” of her life. From the experience of many of the victims we serve and support, I know that this is not an idle threat. The criminals’ tools have evolved, and the better educated we are about how those tools are used, the better we can support those whose lives are being destroyed. I hope you’ll join us in this noble effort.

Posted by Chief Justice Richard Barajas (Ret.), executive director, National Organization for Victim Assistance

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