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ITRC Fact Sheet 108
Overcoming the Emotional Impact

This guide covers:

You’ve been spending hours writing credit card companies, calling merchants and spending time on hold with credit bureaus waiting to report the crime and request your credit report. Each time you answer the telephone or go to the mailbox, you wonder what new bill will appear. The idea of dealing with yet another collection agency or a newly discovered credit card leaves you filled with dread, rage, and helplessness.

Identity theft is a complex problem. It is NORMAL for this crime to have an emotional impact on you and your family. In fact, it would be unusual if it did not. At one point or another, victims of identity theft may feel overwhelmed by the psychological pain of loss, helplessness, anger, isolation, betrayal, rage, and even embarrassment. This crime triggers deep fears regarding financial security, the safety of family members, and the ability to ever trust again.

Dealing with the mess left by an imposter is only part of your job. This crime, like other long-term crimes that involve repeated emotional abuse, can affect not only your emotional stability, but that of your family. So, while you take care of the paperwork, don’t forget to leave a little time to work on healing your and your family’s emotional wounds.

THE MOMENT OF DISCOVERY:

Be prepared for a roller coaster ride of emotions. As effects of this crime sink in you may well find yourself cycling between denial (This is not happening.) and rage (How dare they!), endless questioning (How did this happen? Why me?), and hopelessness and vulnerability (Nothing can protect me.). Few people are emotionally prepared for the impact of identity theft. There is a loss of innocence and trust associated with this crime. You may also have to deal with the fact that someone you know personally may be involved in the theft. That’s a lot to absorb.

Finally, you may feel stonewalled by the very people you turn to for help. Identity theft is a difficult crime to solve, and the wheels of justice are still very squeaky. Be patient with yourself and with those who want to help.

STARTING THE HEALING PROCESS:

While it might take some time to straighten out the paper trail, it is important for you to regain your emotional balance as quickly as possible. The feelings you have are valid. You have been harmed. Recognizing and accepting your fears, apprehensions and frustrations is the first step.

They might even sneak up on you, unexpected, sometimes long after the original crime, triggered by a situation most people would just shrug off. Such emotional floods are a part of the healing process.

OVERCOMING FEELINGS OF POWERLESSNESS:

TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF:

A SPECIAL NOTE TO VICTIMS and THE FINANCIAL HEAD OF HOUSEHOLDS:

Identity theft plays havoc on someone who is financially responsible for others or who is their family’s sole source of financial support. This crime may threaten your credit rating, your ability to get a loan, tenancy or employment. It may even temporarily complicate a number of other issues in your life. However, please know you have not let your family down. You did not cause this to happen. You are an innocent victim.

We find that being honest with other members of the family removes some of the weight from your shoulders. You need to hear them say they don’t blame you. You have enough to deal with in the paperwork alone. Let your loved ones and friends be there for encouragement and support.

FEELINGS ABOUT THE IMPOSTER(S):

Whether you know the imposter or not, you may give a lot of thought to the person behind the act.

If you know the imposter: You may feel more pronounced feelings of betrayal, especially if the person was a friend or family member. It may be very difficult to turn this person in to the authorities. The decisions you now make have many ramifications, for you and for those who know both you and the imposter. You might want to seek counseling, either to help you make your decision or live with its consequences. Please refer to our ITRC Fact Sheet FS 115 – When you Personally Know the Identity Thief.

If the imposter is unknown: Victims often report a feeling of insecurity, wondering if the person standing next to them in the market or walking past them on the street may be the imposter. They may distrust everyone, feeling tremendously vulnerable. In order to function, it’s important to focus on the crime and not the criminal.

To everyone: Although you may wish the criminal be brought to justice, the reality is that this may not occur. The primary goal is making sure that your identity is cleared.

MOVING INTO ACTIVISM:

Becoming active in a program that assists others is a step toward recovering from the emotional impact from this crime. Some crime victims find that by assisting others, and moving from their personal experience into a broader world, they begin the healing process. This might include: increasing public awareness, increasing corporate awareness, helping to increase understanding of this crime with law enforcement, or getting involved in community volunteer policing programs.

SHOULD YOU CONSIDER PROFESSIONAL HELP? *

Without intervention, some victims can become so chronically dysfunctional that they are unable to cope any longer. They may be severely depressed – some symptoms are exhaustion, overeating, anxiety, drinking, forgetfulness, or an unwillingness to leave home or their bed.

Don’t wait until you feel lost at the bottom of a pit. Even if you don’t feel overwhelmed, talking to a trained professional who specializes in crime victims can be very beneficial. This could be a religious leader (i.e., minister, rabbi), a licensed counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Getting help should never be considered a sign of weakness. You are going through a very stressful time and need to talk about your feelings.

The following is a partial resource list for those who may not be financially able to afford a private therapist themselves or who may need the name of a good therapy program. We also recommend you look in the front of your local phonebook under Crisis Intervention, Counseling and Mental Health.

CLINICAL SYMPTOMS OF CRIME VICTIMS:

Many victims compare identity theft to rape, others to a cancer invading their lives. Many of the symptoms and reactions to identity theft victimization parallel those of violent crime. The following information is provided for your enlightenment and, perhaps, to reassure victims that what they are experiencing is not abnormal. The reaction to identity theft can run the full spectrum from mild to severe. Clearly, the complexity of the crime itself will also define the severity of the impact, as will any other traumatic events that may occur around that same time frame.

Impact: The moment of discovery.

Recoil:

Equilibrium/Balance/Recovery:

* Dr. Charles E. Nelson, Ph.D is a psychologist and the director of the Crime and Trauma Recovery Program in San Diego, CA. This program has worked with crime victims and those who love them since 1976. Victims who wish to contact him directly may reach him at (858) 546-9255.

 

This fact sheet should not be used in lieu of legal advice. Any requests to reproduce this material, other than by individual victims for their own use, should be directed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..