Tips on how to stay safe online during the COVID-19 pandemic

Quick Exit

Click here to exit quickly,
browser history won't be cleared.

What are the warning signs?

Are you at risk of being abused or stalked online by a partner, ex-partner or family member? This is known as technology-facilitated abuse.

Staying safe

If you are in Australia and feeling unsafe right now, call the police on Triple Zero (000) or contact 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732). Remember your safety is important. If an abusive person learns that you are seeking resources and information, their abusive behaviour may get worse. Learn more and connect with support.

If you are in an abusive relationship or have left an abusive partner, it is very important that you continue to have access to technology, such as your mobile phone or computer, to find support and stay in touch with trusted friends and family. Social media is also a vital way of staying connected with your support networks.

However, technology can be used negatively — by your partner, ex-partner or their networks — to abuse, humiliate and control you. It can even be used to monitor your communications and activities without your knowledge.

If this is happening to you, it can be very distressing.

No one needs to put up with this. But how do you know if you are at risk of online abuse or stalking? What are the warning signs or ‘red flags’ that could alert you to the fact that things are not right? 

What to look out for

Remember that all of these behaviours are abusive and they are not okay.

The following warning signs indicate that you or your children may be at risk of technology-facilitated abuse, such as online abuse and cyberstalking.

Your partner or ex-partner:

  • Seems to know what you are doing online when they normally would not have access to this information.
  • Seems to know where you or your children are or turns up unexpectedly where you are.
  • Knows information from your private conversations, messages or emails.
  • Has access to your phone or computer or requests passwords or pin codes. If your partner or ex-partner has access to your phone they could look at call logs, emails, texts, messages, browser histories or load spyware. 
  • Constantly checks on you through social media activity or text logs.
  • Wants to control when you can access your phone or computer or takes these devices away.
  • Sends frequent and unwanted texts or messages or makes calls that are abusive or silent.
  • Posts defamatory comments, or things that are designed to humiliate or ridicule you or spreads malicious rumours on social media.
  • Constantly posts or sends messages that are harassing, threatening or demanding, such as ‘what are you doing?’, ‘who are you with?’, ‘where are you?’
  • Starts contacting your friends or family to check up on you or tell damaging stories about you.
  • Pressures you to send intimate pictures to them — shares or threatens to share intimate images of you without your consent.
  • Controls your finances or restricts access to your bank cards and online accounts.
  • Has set up a new camera or security system that seems unnecessary.

Have you noticed anything that is strange or unusual?

  • Have your passwords stopped working or has access to any of your online accounts suddenly been restricted? 
  • Have you unexpectedly been given a computer or phone or received offers to fix your devices? 
  • Have your children been given new electronic gifts that your ex-partner seems insistent on them using and taking with them when they return to your care? Sometimes a phone with location tracking is given to a child, when there is a separation. 
  • Are you receiving abusive emails, messages or texts from strangers or anonymous senders?
  • Have fake messages or texts been sent from your social media accounts or phone?
  • Have you found a fake social media account in your name?
  • Have you found evidence of unusual activity in your email account, such as emails that have been read, marked unread, sent or deleted from your account, but not by you?
  • Has your computer, phone or tablet started running very slowly or not working properly? Does it take too long to turn off or is the battery running down more quickly than usual? This could be caused by additional processes, such as malware and spyware, running in the background.
  • Have you found unknown financial transactions in your online accounts?
  • Are the lights, locks, thermostat, air-conditioning, fridge, television, music system, or internet in your home turning off or on or changing unexpectedly? If you live in a connected home, your ex-partner may still have access to these devices and use them to ‘gaslight’ you. Gaslighting is a tactic that abusers use in order to gain control over their target by making them question their sense of reality.

How many warning signs did you find?

If you are feeling unsafe or your partner or ex-partner is cyberstalking you, contact 1800Respect (1800 737 732) from a safe phone or device (a friend’s phone not your own) as soon as it is safe for you to do so. They can help you with safety planning. 

If you think more than three warning signs are true for you:

What can you do to protect yourself?

Follow these tips for managing your online activities and staying safe:

Set strong passcodes and passwords to secure your online accounts and devices, change them frequently and do not share them with anyone. One of the most common ways that an abuser can gain access to your personal information is by accessing your online accounts using saved passwords, or by simply guessing your password.

Turn off location services on your phone and computer, and do not ‘check in’ through your social media accounts. For more information see our social media checklist.

If your partner or ex-partner set up your device or you share an account, such as an apple ID, they may be able to access information on your device remotely or track your location. It may be necessary to set up a new account and restore your device to factory settings. For more information see securing your accounts and devices.

Be aware of your privacy when posting online — avoid posting identifying information about your location, including in photos.

Use your social media accounts safely — block unknown or abusive people and use the highest level security and privacy settings on your accounts to make sure your posts are only seen by the people you choose. Information on privacy settings and online safety for individual social networks, apps and games is available in the eSafety Guide.

Double check which apps or programs are loaded on your devices and remove any that you did not put there yourself. Seek help from a tech expert if you cannot find or remove the unknown apps or programs. If necessary do a ‘factory reset’ to restore your devices back to their ‘as new’ condition — be sure to back up important data first, but be careful when restoring from a backup as this may also copy over any unknown apps or programs.

Be very careful about opening attachments in emails and messages. Read our advice about online scams and identity theft. Watch the ACMA’s video on protecting your computer from malware.

If any appliances, locks or connected systems in your home are not working in their usual way, consult a relevant technical expert. It may be necessary to reinstall or set up these systems.

Use a safer computer if you are not confident your computer is 100% clean, for example use a public library computer or a trusted friend’s phone or computer.

And, most importantly, trust your instincts. You are in the best position to know if things are not right, and to take control of your online experience.