Since 2003, the Identity Theft Resource Center has been following up with victims of identity theft in order to get a clear picture of what happens following this type of crime. Survey respondents, victims who’d previously reached out to the ITRC, have reported a wide variety of feelings and emotions to having their identities stolen, with everything from an inability to trust others to emotional toll on relationships that this kind of stress causes.
“It’s truly made me feel like nothing is safe,” one survey respondent said; another victim stated, “I live in constant fear my bank account and savings could be wiped out at any time. After identity theft happens you are constantly looking over your shoulder and in constant fear it will happen again.”
These are only two of the common feelings that victims of identity theft experience. It’s worth noting that since the ITRC first began inquiring into victims’ emotional states following an identity theft crime, there have been specific survey answers that have consistently remained among the top five responses:
- Feelings of annoyance and frustration
- Fear regarding personal financial security
- Rage or anger
- Sense of powerlessness or helplessness
- Feelings of betrayal
“Identity theft creates barriers to success that affect more than just finances or the ability to obtain loans or credit,” said Eva Velasquez, President and CEO of the ITRC. “This crime can lead to the inability to obtain housing, employment, and even medical services or prescriptions needed to manage an existing or new health condition. When you couple this with the emotional and behavioral effects of this crime, one realizes how devastating this crime continues to be.”
Some of the crucial, “big picture” findings from this year’s report are very telling in regards to how victims recover from this crime. One of the key findings was that most victims experienced a breach of trust in the very safeguards that are meant to protect them. For example, having to supply one’s Social Security number in order to open a new account or line of credit is meant to protect the consumer, but having that piece of important data stolen can lead victims to wonder why they had to provide it in the first place. Doctors’ offices, health insurance providers, and even websites are afforded a lot of access to personal data, and the public believes there is a responsibility on the part of the collector to keep that data from falling into the wrong hands.
Another very important finding had to do with what activities the thieves conducted with their victims’ information. Data has been steadily showing that simply stealing credit card or bank account information in order to open new financial accounts—while still the top form of identity theft crime—is being replaced by the desire to nab permanent data like Social Security numbers and birthdates. Account numbers can be changed and credit cards can be shut down following fraud, but having access to a victim’s full identity profile means even more, longer-term lucrative activities for the criminals.
One final important aspect of this year’s report is the understanding that victims are not giving up. Even respondents who reported having a less than satisfactory experience with outside agencies following identity theft are still working to take action to minimize the damage and protect themselves in the future. This demonstrates a shift in attitudes from a “there’s nothing we can do” standpoint to an air of self-advocacy and future protection. You can view this year’s Aftermath Study here.