4 Investigates: Spyware apps making it tougher for domestic violence victims to escape abusers | KOB 4
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4 Investigates: Spyware apps making it tougher for domestic violence victims to escape abusers

Nathan O'Neal
October 25, 2018 10:24 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Advancements in technology are meant to make life easier, but that same technology is putting some lives at risk.

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When it comes to victims of domestic violence, new software and smartphone apps are making it easier for abusers to prey on their victims and harder for victims to escape their clutches.

Amanda Chino-Zamora told 4 Investigates that she endured an abusive relationship for more than 11 years.

“He was psychologically, verbally, physically abusive,” said Chino-Zamora. “My offender was employed with a communications company and he learned the tricks of the trade and he was able to hack emails and have surveillance in my home – and pull up the app on his phone and is able to watch what I’m doing,” she said.

Even though Chino-Zamora left that relationship more than a year ago, she is still fearful. While she is in the process of taking legal action to keep her abuser away, Chino-Zamora requested 4 Investigates not name him out of fear of retaliation.

“It’s so hard to get free. Once you’re physically free – with these phones and with these apps—they’re still not able to be completely free of their offenders,” said Chino-Zamora.

After a quick google search, 4 Investigates discovered a spying app that was marketed to parents who want to keep tabs on their kids. However, the same app can be used to monitor text messages, emails, call history, search history and photos or videos taken.

In some cases, certain types of software operate without any sort of interface visible on the phone.

A recent study, commissioned by Congress, identified 40 smartphone apps that can secretly track phone activity.

According to Amy Whitfield at the Domestic Violence Resource Center in Albuquerque, it’s getting harder to keep up with ever-changing technology which abusers often use to assert control over their victims.

“The most dangerous time for a victim is when they choose to leave the relationship and technology – having this kind of easy connection to where people are – makes this highly lethal,” said Whitfield.

According to the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, law enforcement agencies identified at least 19,234 victims of domestic violence in New Mexico in 2017. They also identified 145 victims of stalking in the same time frame.

“The problem is … is that stalking is very hard to prove,” said Whitfield, adding that technology makes it even harder because there’s virtually no way for victims to know someone is tracking them.

Whitfield said most victims don’t become aware they’re being tracked until they’re confronted by their abusers.

“We need to call on app developers and other software developers to make sure that they are creating these apps in a much more victim-friendly way. The settings should automatically default to what is safest versus automatically defaulting to checking in,” said Whitfield.

While Chino-Zamora disabled location services on her phone, she said she still can’t escape the fear.

“For victims of stalking, violence, even the children are involved. It’s scary – you have to warn your children don’t give your phone to anyone because they could put an app on it that tracks them,” said Chino-Zamora, adding later: “I try to go about living life every day but that’s always in the back of my mind. He knows where I am. He knows what I’m doing.”

TIPS TO AVOID CYBERSTALKING:

  1. Change passwords to mobile devices, apps, email accounts, etc. routinely
  2. Turn off location services on mobile devices
  3. Factory reset your phone to eliminate spyware

Credits

Nathan O'Neal

Copyright 2018 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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