How to Protect Your Finances From an Abuser During the Pandemic

A woman is sad as she is stuck in a bird cage in this illustration.
Getty Images

Note: This article does not contain any depictions of physical or sexual violence.

While leaders around the country encourage us to stay “safer at home” in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, we realize not everyone actually is safe at home.

About 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men will experience severe intimate partner violence in their lifetime, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. Of those, 94% to 99% experience economic abuse, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV).

We have some recommendations to protect your financial health if you’re stuck at home and experiencing domestic violence during the pandemic. But we can’t tell you what’s best or what’s safe for your individual situation.

You’re the best at assessing your own safety. Listen to your instincts, get help from trained professionals in your area and only take steps you know are safe.

Protect Your Income

Here are a few steps you can take from home to protect the money you have coming in.

Open a New Bank Account

Set up a new bank account your abuser can’t access and, if possible, doesn’t know about. You can do this entirely from home.

  1. Create a new email account only you know about.
  2. Set up a P.O Box or virtual mailing address to receive mail securely. A virtual mailing address lets you receive and view snail mail online, and a P.O. Box lives at your local post office. Both charge a fee to use.
  3. Open an online bank account using your secure email and mailing address. Most online accounts include a debit card (which you’ll get in the mail and also have access to through your account online) and let you receive direct deposits, schedule bill payments, transfer money and deposit paper checks with an app on your phone.

Update Direct Deposit Information

If you have direct deposit set up for a paycheck from work, SSI income or unemployment benefits, funnel some or all of it into your private bank account.

You can probably update your direct deposit information for a paycheck online, or reach out to an HR rep. Update unemployment deposit information through your state’s unemployment website.

Redirect Your Stimulus Check and Tax Refund

If you’re still waiting for your Economic Impact Payment (stimulus check) and tax refund, update your direct deposit information through the IRS’s Get My Payment website. Check your status first; if the payment is pending or processed, you can’t update your deposit information.

To change the bank account or routing number for your tax refund for a tax return you’ve already filed, call the IRS at 800-829-1040.

If you want some of your tax refund to show up as normal, you can split your refund between your old and new bank accounts.

If You’re Prevented From Working

When you don’t get the respite of leaving home to go to work, abusers might try to interfere with your work day. Even if they don’t make a specific effort to disrupt your work, being at home with them all day likely takes a toll on your mental health and ability to focus and get work done.

Talk to Someone Safe

Talk with your boss or a trusted co-worker about your situation if you feel safe doing so. Discuss how to mitigate productivity loss or access to communication tools during this time.

They may want to help you get away from home or out of the relationship, which is kind, but be clear whether or not it’s safe for them to intervene right now.

Everfi created a list of ways managers can support employees who aren’t safe at home that could help guide your conversation.

Take Time off

If you can afford it, consider requesting time off of work, so you can focus on keeping yourself safe without the added burden of working from home.

Look into expansions of paid sick leave and family medical leave at your company to see whether those could offer some relief. If you aren’t eligible, the grants and tips listed below, or expanded unemployment benefits, might help while you take time off during the pandemic.

Ask for Grants and Tips

Whether you’re out of work or don’t have access to your income, virtual tip jars could help you collect money only you know about.

Leveler, COVID-19 TipJars and Tip Your Server all let you list your name and PayPal or Venmo information to collect virtual payments from donors. Set up a PayPal or Venmo account with your secure email address, and connect it to your new bank account to keep the money safe.

You can also apply for emergency funding from organizations that support people in your industry who have lost their jobs:

Related: 12 Steps to Protect Your Finances When Leaving an Abusive Relationship

Protect Your Online Communication & Activity

A person works on their laptop.
Getty Images

If you’re communicating with friends and family or searching for information online on a shared computer or device, take care to hide, protect or erase your history.

Read in a Private Browser Window

Most internet browsers automatically save your history, so it’s easy to see which websites you’ve visited. They also include private browsing options you can turn on so the websites you visit during that session aren’t saved.

To turn on private browsing mode:

  • Chrome: Under File, click “New incognito window.” On mobile, click the three vertical dots button, and select “New incognito tab.”
  • Safari and Firefox: Under File, click “New private window.” On mobile, click the square icon to open a new window, then click “Private” in the bottom left.
  • Microsoft Edge: In settings, click “New InPrivate window,” or type CTRL+Shift+P.

Call or Chat With a National Hotline

You can get information securely from the National Domestic Violence Hotline:

  • Call 800-799-SAFE (7233) / TTY: 800-787-3224.
  • Chat securely online without downloading an app or creating an account.
  • Text LOVEIS to 22522.

Connect With Family and Friends Privately

These options could help you communicate with family and friends about your situation and your safety without being detected:

  • Circle of 6: This free smartphone app lets you designate up to six emergency contacts. With a tap, you can send them a text that lets them know you need them to text you back, call you at a moment that needs to be interrupted or come get you (with your GPS location).
  • CoverMe: This free encrypted chat app offers private texting and phone calls with no record on a phone bill; private, self-destructing messaging; and the ability to disguise the app as a news reader app.
  • Use a non-chat app to chat: An abuser might not monitor all apps, like game apps, that include chat features and could let you chat with friends or family.

Related: Tips to Get Through the Coronavirus Crisis With Slow Internet

Work With a Victim Advocate

A trained advocate can help you find information and local resources and guide you through difficult situations or leaving an abusive relationship.

They can help you develop safety plans and point out pitfalls you might not have thought of to make sure you, your children  and your finances are safe.

To connect with a local advocate, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline (above) or your state’s coalition of the NCADV.

Free Online Mental Health Care

This illustration shows a woman dealing with mental health issues.
Getty Images

After a victim advocate, a mental health professional could be the most important person you talk to during this time. Free or low cost mental health care can help you cope with the added psychological and emotional abuse you suffer while stuck at home.

Try these online mental health care resources:

  • Talkspace is offering a free therapist-led public support Facebook group and live Q&As on Instagram to manage coronavirus-related anxiety.
  • Check with your local YWCA to see if any direct services or support groups have moved online.
  • Woebot is a personal chatbot designed to help through cognitive behavioral therapy. It won’t give you personalized advice like a live person would, but it’s a place to talk and get direction to manage stress, anxiety and depression.

Free community support groups are hosting online meetings, including:

In a crisis, turn to these suicide prevention resources:

Take Advantage of Free Services

Support for your physical, mental and financial health likely exists in your area. Check out these resources to learn more:

If you or anyone you know needs help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline to speak with an advocate or be connected with someone in your area: 800-799-SAFE (7233) / TTY: 800-787-3224.

In the U.K., the 24-hour domestic abuse helpline number is +44 808 2000 247. You can also find a list of global resources and numbers here.

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) has been writing and editing since 2011, covering personal finance, careers and digital media.