When asked about identity theft consequences, most people are not taking it seriously enough. Unless they have experienced identity theft firsthand, most people do not really concern themselves with the threat.
It is much easier to take preventative steps to avoid identity fraud rather than clean up the mess after it has occurred. More people should be concerned and take these relatively easy steps to protect themselves.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is when someone you know, or an unknown stranger steals your personally identifiable information (PII) or other identifying information and uses it to commit fraud. Often these criminals will pretend to be you to obtain access to your financial accounts, steal money, enjoy services while you pay the bill, and even commit other scams.
Some of the information stolen for identity theft includes your full name, address, social security number, driver’s license number, phone number, account numbers, your date of birth, PINs, usernames, and passwords. Thieves gain access to your information by stealing your mail or trash, tricking you into downloading spyware or malware, through data breaches and other methods. It may be as simple as them stealing your debit or credit card from your wallet.
The idea of someone stealing your identity is an obscure one until it happens to you or someone you know. It sounds like a spy novel, and many people just cannot wrap their heads around the danger. They think it won’t happen to them until it does, the first time.
The Consequences of Identity Theft
The consequences of identity theft are numerous. Most people spend at least six months cleaning up after identity theft, and they can still experience serious financial and credit problems for years after. If the identity thief commits other crimes while impersonating you, you could even face legal issues where it may be challenging to prove your innocence.
After the initial shock wears off, victims of identity theft often experience anger, fear, insecurity, anxiety, and even depression. Being victimized by a stranger or, worse, someone you know can take its toll on you emotionally.
According to a 2017 identity theft survey:
- “74 percent of respondents reported feeling stressed.
- 69 percent reported feelings of fear related to personal financial safety.
- 60 percent reported anxiety.
- 42 percent reported fearing for the financial security of family members.
- 8 percent reported feeling suicidal.”
Adding to the already stressful situation, one of the most damaging consequences of identity theft is the financial losses. Some of the ramifications of a stolen identity are:
Damaged Credit - Often, thieves will steal your social security number to open new accounts in your name and then wrack up a ton of debt. Debt which you are now responsible for and cannot pay. A damaged credit history and credit score can also affect your ability to get financing, obtain a job, and even get insurance.
Tax Issues - Sometimes cybercriminals will steal your information and file fraudulent tax returns in your name, cashing the tax refund, but now you are unable to file your own taxes until you get the mess resolved.
Money Loss - Perhaps the worst situation is when these criminals get their hands on your bank account details and drain your funds. The loss of your hard-earned savings could be devastating to many victims. Some hackers may just steal your credit card number and make purchases in your name.
Legal Troubles - If someone commits crimes and gives police your personal data, you could end up with a warrant for your arrest or other legal troubles that are difficult to resolve.
Insurance Rate Increase - If your credit suffers, so could your insurance rates. Many insurance providers check credit before offering rates to their customers.
Social Security Benefits - Often, thieves look for a way to intercept social security benefits and getting those back in your name may be difficult.
Affect Your Medical Benefits - If fraudsters steal your identity and then use your medical ID to take advantage of health care, medical services, treatments, or prescriptions, you could be left with massive bills you cannot pay for things you did not receive.
The stress of ID theft can leave you feeling unsafe and victimized but also lead to a lot of physical issues. Many people who experience stolen identity suffer from body aches, sleeplessness, heart and stomach issues, pain, and physical illness from a weakened immune system. Identity theft crime affects a lot of areas of your life, even your interactions with others on social media.
Unfortunately, identity theft does not just affect adults. Children are a prime target for this type of crime, and they could have trouble getting financial aid and even applying for college if it happens to them.
How Long Will It Take to Recover from the Effects of Identity Theft?
Depending on the damage, it could be only a few days, weeks or it could end up being years. If someone steals your credit card, you can just call the company, have them cancel it, and reissue you another one. In cases where someone steals your social security number, opens up new accounts, and damages your credit, that could take weeks to fix. If a criminal impersonates you and goes on a crime spree, those legal issues could take years to resolve.
How to Protect Yourself and Your Family
Even though the threat is real, you can take steps to try and prevent it. Some steps to prevent identity theft are:
- Get a copy of your credit report regularly and check it for accuracy.
- Put a credit freeze on your child’s credit until they need it.
- Keep a close eye on all your accounts, monitoring them for anything suspicious.
- Learn about the signs of identity theft.
- Always be on the lookout for phishing emails and other types of fraud.
- Do not share your personal information with anyone unsolicited.
- Shred sensitive documents before throwing them out.
- Always use long, strong passwords.
- Never reuse passwords on multiple sites.
- Contact all three credit bureaus to alert them of any credit card fraud and identity theft. Each of the credit reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion, Experian) have resources for dealing with identity issues.
- Sign up for credit monitoring.
- Contact your credit card company and alert them as well.
- Monitor data breaches, and if your information is found in one, change your passwords and alert your bank.
- Sign up for identity monitoring.
Finally, report the identity theft to the Social Security Administration, the IRS, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and local law enforcement. Also alert the financial institutions you use. The FTC has tools and resources to help you recover from an incident. Federal lawmakers take extreme steps to prevent identity theft for consumers.