Written By: Security.org Team | Published: April 20, 2021

Key Takeaways

  • Men and women are victims of financial and cybercrime in post-breakup scenarios at roughly equal rates.
  • The most effective strategies for mitigating post-breakup security concerns are changing online passwords, replacing payment cards, and filing for a restraining order.
  • Social media accounts are the type of online account most often targeted by malicious exes: 65% of people who had an unauthorized person use an online account after a breakup report their social media account was violated.
  • Among those losing money when a financial account was breached after a breakup, the average amount lost was $1,519.

After going through a tough breakup, it can be difficult to focus on anything outside of the pain or sadness that often accompanies big life changes. But, as mental health professionals can attest, there are important factors to keep in mind when it comes to securing your privacy, safety, and financial well-being when malicious exes may be motivated to act in bad faith. In some cases, abusive exes have even been known to use the court system to harass their victims. 

Knowing that a bad breakup can lead to potential security risks, it’s important to determine which strategies to mitigate those risks are most effective. We conducted a survey to gauge the most common forms of financial and other online transgressions that occur in the wake of bad breakups, and we uncovered interesting insights into the strategies that people have found to be most effective in ensuring post-breakup security.

How Many People Experience Bad Breakups?

If you’ve ever experienced an awful breakup, you’re not alone. More than 8 in 10 Americans reported having experienced harassment or security infractions from their ex following a breakup. While the end of a relationship always causes emotional strife, these responses demonstrate the prominent chance of an ex-partner posing a security threat.

In fact, one-third of people believed a former partner would harass or threaten their safety after a breakup. If their ex previously used their social or financial accounts, they are even more likely to view them as a security threat.

Often, we might not even recognize if an ex still has access to our accounts. Around 1 in 5 of those who experienced unauthorized use of a financial account believed their ex was responsible but couldn’t prove it. Still, the majority – nearly three-quarters – knew their former partners accessed their accounts. The numbers are similar if their ex accessed another account, like social media, with 27% unable to prove their ex did it.

Gender made little difference here: Both men and women experienced post-breakup harassment at approximately equal rates. The National Domestic Violence Hotline corroborates this point and notes that 48.4% of women and 48.8% of men – nearly identical rates – experience psychological aggression from their partners.

Whether we’re dealing with breaches of financial security or other online privacy invasions, this survey clarifies we need to protect ourselves in the event a relationship fizzles out. If you and your partner were to break up tomorrow, would you feel safe? If not, you need to take immediate steps to ensure your financial and physical security.

The True Cost of Bad Breakups

How much are you willing to pay to end a relationship? According to the survey, people who experienced unauthorized use of their financial accounts by exes lost an average of $1,519.

More than half of victims of unauthorized financial access reported their exes used either their bank account or credit card without permission. While countless relationship websites will discourage you from seeking revenge on an ex, many can feel betrayed enough to hurt their former partners financially.

And with the rise of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and payment apps like Venmo, exes now have more ways to harm their partners financially. In fact, nearly a fifth of victims noted unauthorized use of these financial accounts. For those who invest and have an extensive portfolio of stocks, a former partner’s anguish can cost you tens of thousands of dollars.

Female ex-partners were more likely to use financial accounts without permission. Although this may suggest those with male exes have less to worry about, the dangers of financial manipulation are still present regardless of gender.

So, what can you do? First, change passwords to your accounts and contact representatives from your bank or other financial institutions. If you’re unsure if you made your ex an authorized user, double-check to ensure they are removed. While you need to take care of yourself emotionally, the stress of an ex invading your financial privacy will only cause more problems.

Online Account Access and Shared Passwords

If an ex-partner has unauthorized access to your financial accounts, you could lose a lot of money. But they can cause further damage to you if they still have access to your online accounts, including social media and entertainment apps. 

Maybe you logged into your Instagram using your ex-partner’s phone. Perhaps you used Facebook Messenger once on their laptop. Whatever the case may be, they may be able to post and message others to hurt your reputation and future relationships. According to the survey, about two-thirds of people who had ex-partners access their online accounts reported it happening through social media.

While access in and of itself might not concern you, the majority of victims stated that ex-partners primarily used social media to make posts, send messages, and comment. By pretending to be you, they are opening you up for some serious reputational risk. What if they message someone you’re dating and tell them off? If you have your boss on social media, your ex could even damage you professionally.

Additionally, if you have Netflix, you likely share it with several others within your family and friend group. After all, what’s the point in paying more when you all can split the bill? But keep in mind your ex-partner could mooch off of your subscription. About half of those with online account access issues reported their ex-partners continuing to use their streaming services. If you ever saw a random series pop up under your watched shows, your ex might be the culprit.

Trust Issues and Moving On

Whenever a relationship comes to an end, both parties eventually look toward the future. They take what they learned from the experience, put it in their back pocket, and hope the next one turns out better. But did you know your ex-partner’s actions could negatively impact future relationships in a concrete way? In fact, 4 in 10 people have had a new romantic interest break up with them because of how their ex had acted.

Yet the survey reveals people, even with the worst of experiences, come out of relationships with improved abilities. Generally, those who went through unwanted transgressions with their ex-partners came out of the relationship with stronger boundary-setting and communication skills.

The data shows that those of us who are unfortunate enough to become the victim of post-relationship cybercrime develop more cautious attitudes in future relationships, but that impact isn’t always helpful. Those who dealt with unauthorized use of financial accounts had trouble trusting future partners at almost twice the rate of others.

If you’re experiencing a lack of trust in your current relationship, there are several steps you can take to heal wounds from your previous encounter. According to Krystal Woodbridge, a relationship therapist at the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists, you should focus on pursuing new interests, finding out more about yourself, and rebuilding your foundation. 

More importantly, when you start a new relationship, ensure you take appropriate steps to protect yourself from any potential transgressions if communication begins to break down or if things head south.

Post-Breakup Actions and Their Effectiveness

If you’re currently stuck in the middle of a post-breakup thunderstorm, there are several things you can do to help amend the situation. According to our survey, 40% of those who asked their ex to stop contacting them reported it as effective in preventing transgressions, representing the most popular action taken by respondents. This would work best if you intend on becoming friends with them later in life.

But what if you’re in a place where you would rather cut them off completely? Lucky for you, 7 in 10 of those who simply blocked their ex-partner’s number found it effective in ending their tirade. By taking matters into your own hands, you can stop receiving unwanted communications and have the opportunity to move forward with your life.

If your ex-partner tries manipulating your online accounts, try resetting your passwords. In fact, 71% of those who changed their passwords found it effective in protecting their privacy – by far the most effective method, according to respondents.

Regardless of the situation your ex-partner has put you in; you need to take action depending on the context. If they make inappropriate posts on your social media accounts, make a note of it online and immediately change your passwords. If you think they may have access to payment cards, consider ordering new ones from your bank – 65% of those who tried that strategy found it effective.

In any case, know that you are not alone. Seek out local nonprofits, like the Victim Service Center of Central Florida, which can help protect you from a manipulative ex-partner, and always safeguard your mental and financial security in future relationships.

Our Data

Data used in this study were gathered from a survey of 1,071 Americans who have experienced a breakup. Our sample leaned heavily millennial, with 60% of respondents being born between 1981 and 1997. Twenty-six percent of respondents were Generation X, and 14% of respondents were from another generation. The average age of respondents was 37.4 years old, with a standard deviation of 11.1. Fifty-three percent of respondents were female, 46% were male, and less than 1% reported a different gender identity. Demographic breakdown analyses were performed only on sample sizes of 100 or more respondents.

A primary limitation of this survey is the reliance on self-report, which is faced with several issues, such as exaggeration, telescoping, and recency bias.