Identity theft is rampant in America. According to Javelin Strategy and Research, 16.7 million Americans were affected by identity theft just in the year 2017, with a total of $16.8 billion stolen – an average of just over $1,000 per affected American.
Unfortunately, identity thieves steal more than just money. By extension, they steal your faith and trust in others.
A new study by the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) assesses the non-economic impact on identity theft victims. The ITRC's preliminary findings show a profound impact on how identity theft victims manage their daily lives.
Over 85% of identity theft victims surveyed felt worried, angry, and frustrated about their situation. Almost 84% felt a sense of violation, while over two-thirds of respondents reported they couldn't trust others – feeling unsafe and powerless/helpless.
Predictably, those feelings turn into physical problems. Just over 84% of victims reported problems sleeping, 77% reported greater stress levels, and almost 57% had persistent physical pain such as headaches or stomach issues.
Behavioral problems followed. Half of respondents said they had lost interest in activities/hobbies. Over 45% of victims lost a feeling of trust in their families, while 55% lost trust in their friends. Over one-third (36%) reported getting into more arguments with their families.
All of this misery is aggravated by the economic impact. Almost 43% of respondents were in debt because of their identity theft and over 40% could not pay all their bills.
Those who try to help victims recover their identity, from banks and credit card issuers to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), received low marks for their efforts. Close to half (46%) of victims were dissatisfied with banks and credit card issuers, 43% were unhappy with the FTC and the credit reporting agencies, and over 36% were unhappy with local law enforcement.
The dissatisfaction may stem from having to recount the same story multiple times to multiple agencies. ITRC President and CEO Eva Velasquez says, "No other crime requires a victim to report it, tell their story, and keep track of a multitude of different organizations that are handling the different occurrences."
Effects of identity theft are long-lasting. In 2016, Javelin Strategy and Research found that $3.7 billion in identity theft fraud used data between two and six years old.
Even if you haven't been victimized, identity theft stories and the number of data breaches may leave you anxious. What if it happens to me? Is it just a matter of time before my identity is stolen? What if my data is already stolen and for sale on the dark web? What if thieves already have my identity and are waiting for the best moment to use it?
It's true that you can't fully protect your identity – but you can take common-sense precautions to make identity theft less likely. Keep anti-virus software updated. Use strong passwords and secure connections. Avoid questionable web addresses and suspicious e-mail links. Ignore unsolicited requests for personal information. Shred any documents that may contain personal information before discarding them.
You can also make it difficult for identity thieves to profit from your identity if they do steal it. Apply a credit freeze to your account so thieves can't open new accounts in your name. Monitor bank and credit card statements regularly for any fraudulent transactions on existing accounts.
Don't let identity theft, or the mere thought of it, ruin your life. Take the necessary precautions to prevent identity theft and limit the damage if it occurs – and then go live your life to the fullest.
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