April 2018

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Especially in the Digital Age

By Rob Kachelriess

Modern technology was supposed to make dating easier. People who have trouble striking up conversations in bars can now meet each other on websites, make plans via text and if things go well, even manage their wedding expenses with online spreadsheets. Unfortunately, if a relationship doesn’t work out, technology can also make a bad breakup even worse. Three very open and honest women learned that lesson the hard way and share their stories of love going sour in the digital age.

Abuse and Anger

Ashley remembers when she first met Geoff. It was 14 years ago and he couldn’t have been more complimentary. So complimentary in fact, there’s a term for it.

“It’s called love bombing,” she says. “The person tells you everything you want to hear. He investigates you and pretty much knows everything about you before you start dating them.”

In the age of Facebook and Instagram, where everyone’s life is posted for the world to see, it’s safe to assume love bombing is more prevalent than ever. But back then, Ashley couldn’t believe her luck. “Where did this guy come from?” she remembers thinking. Geoff turned on the charm; wining and dining Ashley as her knight in shining armor.

They dated for two years before getting married, but Ashley was already noticing more than a few red flags in the relationship.

“I started seeing an abusive side. He’d get really jealous if a guy talked to me. I would go on sales trips and he’d call me around the clock. Slowly but surely, he was taking control and making me feel bad for the things I was doing.”

Unfortunately, like so many women, Ashley thought she could fix a boyfriend by marrying him. They opened a business together in Los Angeles and had three kids. They shared financial and family success, but as the years went by, Geoff became more aggressive.

“I was being abused and didn’t know it,” says Ashley. “Anything that went wrong in the entire house was my fault. I even loaded the dishwasher incorrectly. That was one of our biggest fights. For him, everything was black and white — and I was always wrong.”

The abuse went from verbal and mental to emotional and physical.

“I didn’t want to be intimate with him, because I feared him,” she continues. “Every night he’d drink a few glasses of wine, and by the third one he’d become abusive again. I’d wait until he’d go to bed and pass out. I’d then get into bed quietly and calmly so I wouldn’t wake him up. It’s hard to live like that for so long.”

As the relationship continued to deteriorate, the couple visited one therapist after another to try and save it. The marriage lasted 12 years before they finally separated and Geoff moved out of the house. However, he continued the pattern of abuse over texts and emails. He took advantage of knowing Ashley’s passwords and would frequently log on to her online accounts — everything from Kindle to American Express.

It got petty. When Geoff suspected his wife was dating a Hispanic man, he saved the movie “How to Date a Latin Lover” as a favorite on Ashley’s DirecTV account. He’d also save medical infomercials and adult content — just to mess with her.

“I had to change every passcode. He was so intelligent, he could hack into anything of mine,” remembers Ashley. “Technology has made me feel so unsafe. It’s scary.”

However, it was also modern technology that brought some relief to the problem. At the suggestion of a therapist, Ashley signed up for an app called Our Family Wizard, an online neutral ground for separated and divorced couples to communicate and coordinate parenting schedules. It can be monitored by third parties, which creates incentives for both sides to keep aggressive behavior in check. It also logs interactions to make sure everything is documented for legal purposes.

“I can add lawyers, therapists, psychiatrists, whoever I want to be our readers,” says Ashley, who now keeps Geoff blocked on her regular cellphone account. “Now that he knows others can read our correspondence, his abuse has not been as bad.”

An official divorce is in the works, but Ashley has reservations about re-entering the dating field — and possibly coming across another love-bombing white knight who appears too good to be true.

“They go after people like me. I was prey and I don’t want to be prey again. It’s scary, because they do tell you what you want to hear. How do I know if it’s real or not?”

Haunted by the Past

Allie knew something was wrong when she started getting collection notices in the mail. “I thought this must be a mistake,” she remembers.

Allie had separated from her husband of four years, but wasn’t yet divorced. They got married in Las Vegas when he was 18 and she was 16 — and seeking independence from her parents. When things didn’t work out, she moved to Ft. Lauderdale, hoping to clear her mind and get a fresh start .

One day, she received a phone call from a collector about a neglected balance on a credit card account she had no memory of opening. “I told her she had the wrong person,” says Allie. “Then the collector read my social security number to me and I said, well, I guess you got the right person.”

She immediately suspected her estranged husband was to blame. He immediately denied opening a credit card in her name but as it turned out, had actually opened two credit cards under her name, totaling $16,000 in unpaid debt. Allie knew her ex was responsible after receiving a copy of the statements.

“It was stupid stuff…transactions at strip clubs, bars…electronics. A TV from Best Buy.”

Unfortunately, it’s incredibly easy to open a credit card account online with just a name, address, and social security number. No phone call required. After the evidence began to pile up, Allie’s ex finally admitted to the fraud.

“The betrayal of trust hurt the most,” she says. “I would never do this to someone else. So imagine my shock when my own husband — even though we were separated — did this to me. It was very hurtful.”

His attitude was “Too bad. You deal with it. You’re paying it.”

He also overdrew their joint bank account by $2,000. Allie contacted a lawyer, who said it would be tough disputing the charges since they were still legally married. So she took the hit to her credit, fast-tracked an official divorce, and eventually paid off the debt through a payment plan. It took about five years, but Allie was able to slowly rebuild her credit.

How does she know her ex won’t try the same thing again?

“I don’t,” she says. “But we’re not married anymore, so if he did it now, I’d have a leg to stand on.”

Allie is now 35, remarried, has a rewarding job as a nurse and is looking forward to buying her first home. She’s very happy and finally has a good credit score .

“You live and learn. But be careful — you never know what will happen if someone has access to your social security number and personal information.”

Somebody’s Watching

Kameron Miller was celebrating her 38th birthday while on vacation at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, hanging out by the pool when approached by a funny and charming guy named Benjamin, who was in town for the Electric Daisy Carnival.

“He was a Harvard grad, really smart, cleancut,” remembers Kameron, a divorced single mom of two. “He was going through a divorce himself and had two kids. The resume was good and he was intelligent, which I found attractive.”

She lived in Chicago. He lived in Los Angeles. But they made an effort to see each other long-distance, meeting up in places like San Francisco. After dating on-and-off for about 10 months, they were definitely off again — this time for good. “We broke up and I didn’t think about it for about six weeks,” says Kameron.

That’s when things started to get strange. She went on vacation in Aspen with a doctor she started dating. The doctor received a strange anonymous text message from an untraceable number. The person on the other end claimed to be a “concerned friend” warning him of Kameron’s behavior — making up false claims that she was unstable and had STDs.

The anonymous person seemed to know what Kameron was up to, where she was going and who she was hanging out with — while clearly having a problem with it.

Kameron suspected it was Benjamin, who she thought may have put something on her computer to track her information and whereabouts. Her fears were confirmed when a security team discovered spy software that was installed on her computer during a time and day that corresponded with a visit by Benjamin.

The pieces started falling into place. Evidence showed Benjamin was logging into her Apple account, which meant he could look at Kameron’s text messages, photos and emails.

Even a year-and-a-half after changing her passwords and wiping her computer clean, the cyberstalking continued. It appeared Benjamin was logging into her Waze navigation app, which meant he could keep tabs on her location. Her username was even changed, making it obvious someone else had control.

“Stalkers up the ante,” says Kameron. “They want you to know they know. They want you to be a little scared. They want you to know they’re in the background.”

By this point. Kameron had moved to Manhattan Beach in California. One day, she was driving her golf cart on a private road when a car pulled up. The window rolled down — it was Benjamin.

“Somehow he’d been able to track me” she remembers. “He said, ‘Hi Kameron. Fancy meeting you here. It’s so serendipitous.’”

It turns out that same car was seen following her on another day. Factor in the time Kameron came home to find someone had opened her garage door, and there was enough cause for alarm. She filed a police report and agreed to Benjamin’s request to meet again in person.

“I said I wanted to meet because you’re scaring me and you’re now officially a person of interest to police. If I ever see you again, I’m going to run to the cops and file another report. So if anything ever does happen to me, you’ll be the first person they’ll be coming after.”

That was it. Benjamin apologized “for the misunderstanding” and was never seen or heard from again.

The sense of empowerment that came from standing up to her stalker inspired Kameron Miller to help other women in similar situations. She invented a product called the Kamshield, which attaches to a computer, laptop or tablet, providing a small adjustable window to cover the camera. As Kameron learned when meeting cybersecurity experts, hackers can use your own webcam to spy on you — even when the power is off.

“As women, we have to become more diligent,” says Kameron. “I’ve got five sisters, two kids and lots of girlfriends…I’m so tired of men having the ability to take advantage of women.”

Not everyone handles heartbreak well. A failed relationship can lead to stalking, fraud, or theft. When passion and emotions run high, it’s clear the evolution of technology can be a dangerous weapon — as well as a powerful asset.

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