Dreamstime_2074199 Jeanne Hannah of the Updates in Michigan Family Law Blog has posted a wonderful list of tips for something many people fail to consider when they are researching online for information about a divorce and their spouse has access to the same computer:

Whether you are researching the Internet while doing pre-divorce planning, in a relationship with an abuser, or discussing divorce strategy with your lawyer or a friend, you need to take precautions or avoid exposing your plans and strategies to your spouse or abuser. Otherwise, you risk danger of injury by an abuser or interference with the settlement of custody, parenting time, or property issues.

One of the first things I ask a new client is: "Does your spouse know your email account password?"

The communications you have with your divorce lawyer are intended to be confidential. This is particularly important when you and your lawyer are doing strategic planning. And nowadyas, client-lawyer communications often occur via email, as they do with my practice when my clients live far from my office.

The following are some tips for using email and the Internet safely and securely, while preventing your spouse from reading your email or seeing what informational websites you access online:

This page includes general information on internet security, such as:

    * An overview of internet security
    * Safety when using email
          o Can my abuser access my email account?
          o What steps should I take even if I think my abuser does not have access to my email account?
          o What if I think my abuser can access to my email account?
          o How do I know I am sending email from my account when I click on a link?
          o What if I receive threatening or harassing emails?
    * Safety when browsing the internet
          o Can an abuser see what websites I have visited?
          o How do I remove files from my history and cache?
          o How do I remove items from my temp files?
          o What about cookies?
          o How do I turn off AutoComplete?

An overview of internet security

Computers use hundreds of ways to record what you do o0n the Internet. Consequently, an abuser may have multiple access sites to your email and to determine what sites you’ve visited. It is impossible to to hide all your tracks.

If you are in danger, please try to use the safest computer possible, ones that an abuser is least likely to have access to. You can go to a public terminal at a library, community center, or domestic violence organization. There is a national directory of community technology centers at www.ctcnet.org. If your abuser has had access to your home computer, there’s a real danger that he has installed spyware on your computer that will automatically send him screenshots of every web page that you access and copies of every email that you send and receive. This is why a public computer is the safest way to use the Internet. The most popular program to help an abuser monitor your Internet activity is make by a company called "Spectorsoft." The only way to protect yourself from such surveillance is not to use a home computer when accessing the Internet.

You can find additional information on internet security at www.shelternet.ca/en/women/internet-safety/. You can also find further information and assistance on cyberstalking from The National Center for Victims of Crime here:
www.ncvc.org/src/main.aspx?dbID=DB_Cyberstalking814.

The information below provides some ways that you can cover some of your tracks. It is not possible to delete or clear all computer "footprints".

To get help over the phone, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or (TTY) 1-800-787-3224 and they will help you find the help you need.

Safety when using email

Can my abuser access my email account?

Maybe. If you’re not sure whether your abuser has access to your email account, for your safety, act like he does have access! Your abuser could have access to your email account if:

  • You share an email account with your abuser. Whenever you share the same email account, he will be able to read any of the emails in your account.
  • You use Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora, or a similar program to check your email. These programs allow anybody who has access to your computer to read your email.
  • You check your email on the internet. Your abuser may have access to your email account if he knows your email address and password. Also, some people have their computers set up to save their email address and password for them. If your computer has your email address and password saved, anyone with access to your computer can read your email.

Some computers, especially computers running Windows XP, have a function called "AutoComplete". When AutoComplete is on, as soon as you begin to type something — a Web site in Internet Explorer, for instance, a credit card into an online form, or several other items — a little box will appear, listing things you’ve typed in before. If AutoComplete is on, your abuser could access your email account. For information on turning off AutoComplete, see How do I turn off AutoComplete?

What steps should I take even if I think my abuser does not have access to my email account?

If you believe your email account is secure, make sure you have a password your abuser will not be able to guess. Pick a password that does not contain obvious information, like your name, birthday, social security number, pet’s name, since people you know could guess your password. It may also be a good idea to change your password often. For many email programs, you can change your password by clicking on OPTIONS then on CHANGE PASSWORD. If you need more information, go to your email account, and then click on HELP for further instructions.

Do not write your password down. Do not set your computer save your username (email address) and password. Your computer may ask you if you want to save your password after you enter it. Make sure to click on "no".

When you are done using your email, always log out or sign out. If you do not hit "log out" or "sign out", your email account may still be open, even if you close the window.

You may also want to follow the steps in What if I think my abuser can access my email account? in case your abuser has access to your email account without your knowledge.

What if I think my abuser can access my email account?

If an abuser has access to your email account, he or she may be able to read the email you send and receive.

If you receive an email that you do not want your abuser to read, be sure to delete it from your Inbox. Keep in mind that just deleting an email from your Inbox isn’t enough. Go to the "Trash" folder. The email you just deleted will probably be in your Trash. Be sure to delete the email from your Trash.

If you send an email, it may be saved in your "Sent Mail" folder. Go to your "Sent Mail" folder and delete any messages you do not want your abuser to see. Then go to the "Trash" folder and delete these messages again.

Some email programs automatically save the email addresses of someone you sent an email to in your email address book. After you send an email, check your address book to make sure there aren’t any email addresses in there that you wouldn’t want your abuser to see.

You may also want to set up an alternate email account that your abuser doesn’t know about. There are a number of Web-based free e-mail services that you can use. When signing up for a new email account, do not use any of your real information if you wish to remain private and anonymous. There are many, many free web-based email providers. Here are a few:

    * Fastmail: www.fastmail.fm/
    * Hotmail: www.hotmail.com
    * Hushmail: www.hushmail.com
    * Mail City: http://mail.lycos.com/
    * Yahoo!Mail: http://mail.yahoo.com

For more listings of free web-based email providers, go here: www.emailaddresses.com/email_web.htm

Pick a password that does not contain obvious information, like your name, birthday, social security number, pet’s name, since people you know could guess your password. It may also be a good idea to change your password often. Do not write your password down.

Do not set up Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora, or a similar program to check email from your secret email account. If your abuser has access to your computer, he can easily read any email in these programs.

If you don’t want your abuser to find out about your new email account, be sure to remove the web address of your email provider from your history/cache. See How do I remove files from my history/cache? For increased security, check your secret email account from a safer computer, like a public terminal at a library, community center, or domestic violence organization.

How do I know I am sending email from my account when I click on a link?

As you are browsing the internet, you may come across an email address that you can click on– something that looks like this: info@domain-name*123.com. (Please note that this is not a real email address)

If you share a computer with your abuser and click on an email link, you may be sending the email from your abuser’s email address. This could put you in danger, since whoever you wrote to might write try to write you back — but write your abuser’s email address instead.

If you decide to send an email by clicking on an email link, make sure that your email address is in the "From" box, not your abuser’s. If you are not sure how to do that, it is might be safer to copy the email address and paste it directly into a new message in your email account.

What if I receive threatening or harassing emails?

If an abuser sends you threatening or harassing email messages, they may be printed and saved as evidence of this abuse. Additionally, the messages may constitute a state or federal offense. You can report any threatening or harassing emails to the District Attorney in your county or your local United States Attorney’s Office.

You may also want to contact:

Stalking Resource Center of the NCVC
For Victim Assistance, call 1-800-FYI-CALL, M-F 8:30 am -8:30 pm, EST.
Email: gethelp@NCVC.org
Website: www.ncvc.org/src/
The Stalking Resource Center, run by the National Center for Victims of Crime, offers harassment and stalking-related state and federal statutes and other related info.

Or contact your local domestic violence center for more information or assistance. For Michigan shelters and assistance, see the Law Links page of my website, in the Domestic Violence section.

Safety when browsing the internet

Can an abuser see what websites I have visited?

Yes. There are a number of different ways your abuser can tell what websites you have visited.

    * Your computer automatically saves a list of pages that you have visited in your history and cache files.
    * Your computer may save copies of some of the pages you have visited in a temp file.
    * Some websites save cookies to your computer, which can show your abuser some of the sites you have visited.
    * If it has AutoComplete, your computer may save things you have typed into your web browser.

We have information on ways to help increase your safety below. But this information may not completely hide your tracks — especially if your abuser knows a lot about computers, since there are other ways internet activity can be tracked. Many browser types have features that display recently visited sites. The safest way to find information on the Internet is at a computer that your abuser cannot access. Try a local domestic violence organization, a local library, a community center, a friend’s house, or at work.

If you are concerned for your safety, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-779-SAFE (7233) or (TTY) 1-800-787-3224.

How do I remove files from my history and cache?

If an abuser knows how to read your computer’s history and cache files (automatically saved web pages and graphics), he or she may be able to see information you have viewed recently on the Internet. You can remove individual files from your history; or you can clear your history and/or empty your cache file in your browser’s settings.

Be very cautious about clearing all of your cache or history files. Your abuser could become suspicious and upset if he sees all files have been cleared. It may be better for you to remove individual files from your history, or use a computer that your abuser doesn’t have access to. If you decide to clear your history or empty your cache, you should visit a few "innocent" websites, like your local weather page, a website about kid’s activities, a recipe list, or any websites your abuser already knows you routinely visit. This may make it less obvious that you’ve recently cleared your History or Cache.

How to remove files from your history/cache or empty of of the files in your history/cache will depend on what browser you use. Some common browsers are Netscape, Internet Explorer, Firefox, and AOL. If you’re unsure of what type of browser you use, open up your internet. Then click on "Help". This should give you a drop-down menu. Look at the last option in that drop down menu. It should say "About ____". That will tell you what type of browser you are using. For example, if you’re using Internet Explorer, it will say "About Internet Explorer". If you’re using Firefox, it will say "About Mozilla Firefox".

Netscape

    * Deleting individual files from your history
      Pull down the GO menu then click on HISTORY. A list of the pages you have viewed should appear on the left-hand side of your browser. Right click on the individual page you wish to delete, then select DELETE.
    * Clearing your cache on newer versions of Netscape
      Pull down TOOLS menu, select OPTIONS. Click on PRIVACY. Click on the button marked CLEAR ALL. This will clear your cache, history, and cookies.
    * Clearing your cache on older versions of Netscape
      Pull down EDIT menu, select PREFERENCES. Click on NAVIGATOR and choose CLEAR HISTORY. Click on Advanced then select Cache. Click on CLEAR DISK CACHE.

      Additionally, make sure that the "USE INLINE AUTOCOMPLETE" box is NOT checked. (If checked, this function will complete a partial web address while typing a location in the address bar at the top of the browser.)

Internet Explorer

    * Deleting individual files from your history
      Click on the HISTORY icon from the toolbar at the top of your browser. A list of the pages you have viewed should appear on the left-hand side of your browser. Right click on the individual page you wish to delete, then select DELETE.
    * Clearing your cache and history
      Open the TOOLS menu, choose INTERNET OPTIONS, then choose the GENERAL tab at the top. In the section called TEMPORARY INTERNET FILES click on DELETE FILES to clear your cache. On the same screen, in the section called HISTORY, click on the CLEAR HISTORY button to erase your history list.

      Additionally, make sure that the USE INLINE AUTOCOMPLETE box is not checked. (If checked, this function will complete a partial web address while typing a location in the address bar at the top of the browser.) Click on the TOOLS icon at the top of your Internet Explorer Page, then click on INTERNET OPTIONS, and then click on the ADVANCED tab. About halfway down there is a USE AUTOCOMPLETE box that can be checked and unchecked by clicking on it. Make sure it is unchecked.

Firefox

    * Removing individual files from your history
      Open the GO menu. At the bottom of this drop-down menu, click on HISTORY. A list of the pages you have viewed should appear on the left-hand side of your browser. Right click on the individual page you wish to delete, then select DELETE.
    * Clearing your cache and history
      Pull down TOOLS menu, select OPTIONS. Click on the PRIVACY tab on the left side. Click on CLEAR ALL on the lower right hand side. This will clear your history, cached files and cookies.

AOL

    * Deleting individual files from your history
      AOL software does not currently allow you to remove individual files from your history or cache. Check with a member of AOL customer service for further information.
    * Clearing your history and cache on newer versions of AOL
      Click on the MY AOL icon at the top of your screen. Click on PREFERENCES, then click the button marked WWW. A pop-up menu will appear. Under TEMPORARY INTERNET FILES, click on DELETE FILES. Also click on CLEAR HISTORY.
    * Clearing your cache on older versions of AOL
      Pull down MEMBERS menu, select PREFERENCES. Click on WWW icon. Then select ADVANCED. Click on PURGE CACHE.

      Additionally, make sure that the "USE INLINE AUTOCOMPLETE" box is NOT checked. (If checked, this function will complete a partial web address while typing a location in the address bar at the top of the browser.)

If you are using a browser that is not listed here, or if these instructions are confusing for you, please consult your browser’s help files or customer service department. Also, consider using a safer computer (one that your abuser does not have access to). You can also Contact Us for more information.

How do I remove items from my temp files?

In some cases, your computer will automatically save certain websites and files you have downloaded in your TEMP folder. If you view any forms or other PDF files, these will probably be stored in this folder. In many cases, clearing your cache will remove files from your TEMP folder — but here’s how to double-check or remove individual files from your TEMP folder on a PC.

Go to your computer’s desktop. Click on MY COMPUTER. Then click on LOCAL DISK (C:). Look for a folder called TEMP. Once you find it, double-click on that folder. If you don’t see a folder called temp, click on the folder marked WINDOWS, then look for a folder marked TEMP and double click on it.

Once you have opened your TEMP file, you should see all of the files that are stored in there. Choose a file that you want to delete. Right click on that file and select DELETE. Repeat this process until you have deleted all of the files you don’t want your abuser to see. Once you’ve finished, close this window.

There’s still one more step. The files you just deleted may be stored in your RECYCLE BIN. Go to your computer’s desktop and double click on your RECYCLE BIN. Select the files you just deleted from your temp files, and delete them from your recycle bin, too.

What about cookies?

Some websites will install "cookies", or a small piece of information that is stored on your computer. Cookies can allow your computer to save your preferences or reload a website quickly. Websites also use cookies to track where you travel within a particular site. If your abuser is comfortable with computers, he may be able to identify some places that you have visited on the internet by viewing your cookies.

You can delete the cookies off of your computer, however you should be cautious before you do it. If your abuser is monitoring your computer use, he may see that you deleted all of the cookies and get suspicious or angry. Remeber, the safest way to browse the internet is by using a safer computer that your abuser doesn’t have access to.

Here’s how to delete cookies on a PC. Close your internet and go to your desktop. From the Windows Start Menu, click on CONTROL PANEL, then click on INTERNET OPTIONS. Select the tab marked GENERAL at the top. Go to TEMPORARY INTERNET FILES then click on DELETE COOKIES.

You can also set your computer to warn you in the future about, and allow you to reject, cookies that are being installed into your computer. This may not be a safe option for you if you share a computer with your abuser. If your abuser is surfing the internet and receives a pop-up message telling him that cookies are being installed on his computer, he could figure out that you’ve changed the settings on your computer. For more information on setting your computer to reject cookies or warn you before installing them, go to Internet JunkBusters cookie page at www.junkbusters.com/ht/en/cookies.html or Cookie Central at www.cookiecentral.com.

For information on deleting cookies if you’re using a Mac, go here: www.aboutcookies.org/deletecookies.asp.

How do I turn off AutoComplete?

   

* Deleting individual entries from AutoComplete

      When you fill out a form, Windows XP’s AutoComplete feature drops down a list with information you’ve previously typed into the form. You may want to delete individual entries that your abuser would find suspicious.

      

Individual AutoComplete list entries are fairly easy to delete:

      1. Click in the form’s box, and press the down-arrow key on your keyboard to view the previous entries.
      2. Keep pressing the down-arrow key until you’ve highlighted an entry you want to delete.
      3. Press the delete key on your keyboard to delete the entry.
      4. Repeat until you have deleted all the entries you need to delete.

      Please note that this won’t work for Web addresses typed into Internet Explorer’s address bar. To clear those, you need to delete your browser’s history. For more information, see How do I remove websites from my history and cache?

   

* Turning off AutoComplete completely

      You can set your computer to turn off AutoComplete entirely. This will keep anyone from seeing your user names, passwords, and other information in drop-down windows. However, your abuser may think it’s suspicious if he uses your computer and notices you have turned off AutoComplete. Remember, the safest way to browse the internet is by using a computer your abuser doesn’t have access to.

      

Here’s how to turn off AutoComplete:

      1. Open Internet Explorer.
      2. Choose Internet Options from the Tools menu.
      3. Click the Content tab.
      4. Click the AutoComplete button.
      5. Click to remove checkmarks from these items:
          o Web addresses
          o Forms
          o User names and passwords on forms
          o Prompt me to save password
      6. Click the Clear Forms button.
      7. Click the Clear Passwords button.
      8. Click OK.

Much of the information on AutoComplete came from www.andyrathbone.com/tips/autocomplete.html

Special Thanks to Women’s Law for the above information.

SOURCE FOR POST: Updates in Michigan Family Law Blog