The Emotional Toll of Identity Theft and Fraud on Victims

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Both the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) and want to remind everyone about the victims and the ongoing emotional changes that they are experiencing due to identity theft and fraud related issues. The ITRC conducts an annual Aftermath survey where we follow-up with the victims who’ve reached out for help. This follow-up occurs in the form of an in-depth voluntary survey that asks victims to describe any ongoing emotional changes that they’ve experienced due to identity theft and fraud related issues.

One of the most telling findings of this year’s report—which was compiled from victims who contacted the ITRC during the 2014 calendar year— involves the various emotional responses following identity theft crimes, including:

  • Frustration or annoyance (79 percent)
  • Fear regarding personal financial safety (66 percent)
  • Rage or anger (62 percent)
  • Sense of powerlessness or helplessness (54 percent)

Interestingly, these answers have consistently topped the list of emotions and feelings experienced by survey respondents over the years that the ITRC has been generating the Aftermath report. It demonstrates that, while response times, state and federal laws, and prosecution outcomes may have improved, little has changed to lessen the pain of being a victim.

Aside from the victims’ feelings, there was another finding this year that’s rather alarming: the rise in government identity theft. Whether it’s illegally gaining employment or disabilities benefits, obtaining SNAP benefits under a false name, or filing a fraudulent tax refund, identity theft crimes that require a Social Security number are increasing. Nearly 32 percent of the survey respondents reported issues involving a Social Security number being used for employment purposes, fraudulent driver’s licenses obtained, or false tax returns. That indicates thieves understand the long-term value of a stolen SSN and are taking advantage of the ability to make as much financial gain as they can from their victims over the long run.

Victims who reach out to the ITRC for help aren’t just nameless statistics or data points on a graph; they’re human casualties in a new type of war on crime that tries to take over their lives. The Aftermath report is one crucial way to not only understand this crime better and work towards preventing it, but also to let victims know that their emotional recovery is just as important as their identity recovery.

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Eva Casey Velasquez is the President/CEO at the Identity Theft Resource Center, a non-profit organization which serves victims of identity theft. Ms. Velasquez previously served as the Vice President of Operations for the San Diego Better Business Bureau and spent 21 years at the San Diego District Attorney’s Office. The last 11 of those years were spent conducting economic crimes investigations, with a focus on consumer protection cases such as false advertising and unfair business practices.