“He Took Out A Credit Card Against Our Joint Account” — Women & Financial Abuse

Photographed by Refinery29 UK
"I was receiving debt collection letters to the flat in his name, demanding payment for unpaid bills I didn't know anything about."
In 2019, people reported losing over £200 million to financial abuse. While online relationships often get a bad reputation for catfishing and scams, where unsuspecting victims are lured into fake relationships before being exploited financially, the same thing can happen in real life, when you're with a partner you love and trust. This was the case for Anna*, 32, who was in a long-term relationship with her partner until she discovered that he was defrauding her.
Anna met Tom when she was 24 and they went on to have a seven-year relationship. With the exception of a few break-ups along the way, they grew into their early 30s together. "He had cheated on me a few times and I knew he had a problem with cocaine but when we moved in together things improved dramatically and I thought he had finally turned it around," she tells Refinery29. But then she had the shock of her life.
"After going to a music festival with his friends, he suddenly texted me in the middle of the working day and told me he was moving out the flat we own together," she says. "What unravelled from there is one of the most confusing and painful things I have ever been through."
Anna says she started receiving debt collection letters to the flat in Tom's name, demanding payment for unpaid bills which she didn't know anything about. "At the same time, he was asking me for money for things he had paid for years and years ago in our relationship." This is when alarm bells started ringing. "I then received a DM on Instagram from a girl telling me she was in a relationship with him — this was less than six weeks after he left suddenly. I clicked on her profile; she was on holiday with him!"

He had stopped paying our mortgage at this time, meaning I was paying a mortgage and bills meant for two on my own.

This discovery left Anna confused, hurt and upset as she had no idea how Tom could be paying for the holiday when he had accumulated so much debt. "He had stopped paying our mortgage at this time, meaning I was paying a mortgage and bills meant for two on my own," says Anna, adding that she sent the girl a photo of the debt collection letter.
"After that, friends told me he was spending New Year's Eve with her on another expensive holiday," Anna continues.
"It turned out he had taken out a credit card against our shared address and joint account."
Anna says the whole ordeal made her feel at sea, especially as the reality she was experiencing was being undermined and denied by the person causing her so much financial stress and trauma. "Everything he has done affects my credit rating because the flat is in both of our names. It has been one of the most difficult experiences of my life," she adds. "A court doesn't care which one of you has stopped paying a joint mortgage or credit card as long as it gets paid. I really, really want other women to know about what I've been through."

Everything he has done affects my credit rating because the flat is in both of our names. It has been one of the most difficult experiences of my life.

Anna says there are so many things she would have done differently, and that she will never have a joint account again. "I learned that, sadly, sometimes people do really awful things and all you can do is make sure you behave with integrity.
"I'm now very 'live and let live' about relationships. I won't lose any sleep over someone else's bad behaviour but I will always be ready to leave a situation that is not serving me because you're better off without someone else's drama."
Iona Bain, writer and author of the Young Money Blog, tells Refinery29 that individuals who defraud their partners manipulate them into thinking they should help them with their financial problems.
"The biggest misconception when it comes to love fraud is that victims are just stupid or naive," she says. "In fact, many women who are targeted are successful, financially independent and smart women but (like all of us) have weak spots that can be horribly exploited if they're in the wrong place at the wrong time and meet the wrong people."
Drawing up a cohabitation agreement before you buy a property with someone is always advisable, says Iona. "If Anna was married to her partner (or in a civil partnership with him), she would be entitled to maintenance and a fair division of assets, with the law probably viewing her more favourably in light of him walking out."
Iona continues: "While a cohabitation agreement may seem unromantic, a partner who really cares about you and your peace of mind won't resist it." If they refuse, Iona says, it might give you an inkling of their true colours.
Iona says the agreement should be overseen by an independent legal adviser so that it will stand up in court if required. Otherwise, she says she would urge anyone in Anna's position to "speak to a debt charity who might be able to mediate with [their] lenders and come up with an affordable repayment plan."
Ellie Austin-Williams of This Girl Talks Money says: "A lot of people aren't aware of the financial implications of co-signing a lease and taking out joint bills with their partner and the importance of cutting these ties formally if the relationship breaks down."
So how can you protect yourself financially after a break-up?

Be cautious of sharing personal information

"If you break up with a partner you've previously lived with and shared financial information with, make sure to update your personal information as soon as possible, including passwords and PIN numbers they might know," says Ellie. "If you have reason to suspect your ex might clear out your bank account or run up debts on your credit card, you can ask the bank to freeze the card."

Be wary of people who have financial problems

If your partner dodges conversations about money, acts suspiciously when you sit down to talk numbers and withholds information, treat this as a red flag. Ellie says: "Common financial abuse signs include: one partner controlling the finances and limiting the access of the other [to] financial information, unexplained purchases and funds appearing, and asking you to sign documents out of the blue without clear explanation."

Screenshot all interactions and documentation

If you suspect you are experiencing relationship fraud, it's imperative you keep a record of all your conversations, texts, messages and emails so that you have evidence to show the police. Iona adds: "You can try to apply for a refund as banks should now technically reimburse victims of authorised push payment (APP) fraud. Unfortunately, this doesn't apply if the bank believes you acted with 'gross negligence'." In the instance that you disagree with the bank's assessment, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman but there's no guarantee that the decision will be overturned.

Work on your personal growth

If you've been hurt or betrayed in the past, you may be more vulnerable to financial abuse. "This doesn't mean you're a weak or needy person, just that your worldview and character might cause you to ignore warning signs," says Iona. "Having therapy, cultivating lots of interests/relationships and developing confidence-boosting strategies can all help." Also, she adds, you should remember that you never need to be with someone to make you happy.

Get help

"If you suspect that you, or someone you know, might be a victim of financial abuse, contact the Money Advice Service for more support and information on next steps," concludes Ellie.
For more information on how to understand personal finance, visit the Young Money Blog and This Girl Talks Money.
*Name has been changed to protect identity.

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