Please note that computer use can be monitored by an abuser and there are ways for an abuser to access your email and to find out what sites you have visited on the Internet. It is impossible to completely clear all data related to your computer activity.
If you are in danger, please use a computer that the abuser cannot access (such as a public terminal at a library, community center, or domestic violence organization), and call your local domestic violence organization and/or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE for help. For a list of local and national resources see our State and Local Programs page and enter your state in the drop-down menu.
Maybe. There are a number of ways the abuser could have access to your email account:
If you share an email account with the abuser, s/he will be able to read any of the emails in your account.
If you use a Web-based email program like Gmail or Yahoo, your email account may be visible to someone who visits those websites on your computer unless you properly log out. Just closing your browser is not enough - you must first log out of your account to make sure that when the abuser goes to the email programs website, your personal account information won’t be on the screen.
If you use of one these Web-based email programs, the abuser may be able to access your email account if s/he knows your email address and password. Note: Some people's computers 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.
If you use a computer-based email program like Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora or Apple Mail, anybody who has access to your computer can read your email.
If the abuser knows your email address, remember to not open any email attachments sent from the abuser and to not reply to an email sent by the abuser using your new email account, as these actions may let the abuser install spyware on your computer and track your email messages.
Most computers have a function called "AutoComplete," which stores information you've typed on your computer in the past. For example, if AutoComplete is turned on, when you go to type something into a search engine such as Google, a pop-up box will appear and list the things you've searched for in the past. (You may also see this pop-up box when entering your credit card information or your address into an online form.) If you have AutoComplete turned on, the abuser may be able to access your email account even if you haven't told him/her your email address or password.
If you're not sure whether the abuser has access to your email account, for your safety it's best to act like s/he does, and avoid sending emails you wouldn't want him/her to see.
back to topWhat safety steps should I take even if I think the abuser does NOT have access to my email account?
If you believe that the abuse does NOT have access to your email account, here are a few steps that you may want to take anyway, to try to keep your email account secure:
Make sure you have a password the abuser will not be able to guess. Pick a password that does not contain obvious information (such as your name, birthday, Social Security number, pet's name, etc.), which the abuser could guess. It may also be a good idea to change your password regularly. If you are not sure how to change the password on your email account, you can likely find that information by going to “help” or “?”.
Do not write your password down. Make sure you change your computer settings so that it does not save your username (email address) and password. Your computer may ask you if you want to save your username and password after you enter it. Make sure to click on "no."
When you are finished 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 due to a feature called AutoComplete, even if you close the window. See Can the abuser access my email account? for more information on AutoComplete.
If you do decide to give the abuser your email address, remember to not open any email attachments sent from the abuser or to reply to an email sent by the abuser using your new email account, as these actions may let the abuser install spyware on your computer and track your email messages.
back to topWhat should I do if I think the abuser can access my email account?
If the abuser has access to your email account or computer, s/he may be able to read the emails you send and receive, even if you delete them.
Therefore, to send and receive emails that you do not want others to see, you may want to set up an alternate email account that the abuser doesn't know about. There are a number of free, Web-based e-mail services that you can use. When signing up for a new email account, do not use any of your real identifying information if you wish to remain private and anonymous. Here is a list of a few free, Web-based email programs:
Keep in mind that the abuser may still be able to read your email if you create a new account if you do not log out properly or if you choose a password that s/he can guess or find. The safest way to use a new email address is from a computer that the abuser does not have any access to.
Note: If you do decide to give the abuser your email address, remember to not open any email attachments sent from the abuser or to reply to an email sent by the abuser using your new email account, as these actions may let the abuser install spyware on your computer and track your email messages.
back to topHow do I know if I am sending email from my account or from the abuser’s account when I click on an email link that I found on a website?
As you are browsing the Internet, you may come across an email address that you can click on in order to send an email to that address -- something that looks like this: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you share a computer with the abuser and click on an email link, you may be sending the email from the abuser's email address without even knowing it. This could put you in danger since whoever you wrote to might try to write you back, but will be writing to the abuser's email address instead.
It is safer to copy the email address and paste it directly into a new message from your own email account.
back to topWhat should I do if I receive threatening or harassing emails from the abuser?
You should print and save any threatening or harassing email messages the abuser sends you, as they may be used as evidence of his/her abuse in court or with the police. To be able to prove that the abuser sent these messages, you may have to print out the messages with the “header,” which shows the account information of the sender of the email.
Additionally, depending on the content of the messages and how many s/he sends, s/he may be committing a crime, such as stalking or harassment. You can report any threatening or harassing emails to the police. For more information on online harassment, please see our Stalking/Cyberstalking page. To read the definitions of any harassment or cyberstalking crimes in your state, you can go to our Crimes page and enter your state in the drop-down menu.