Rarely is the impact of identity theft short-term. Though identity theft can occur quickly after the loss of personally identifiable information — and though diligent individuals may recognize the signs of identity theft and shut down thieves’ access to their identity with speed — the effects of the crime typically continue to plague victims for years.
In the modern age, web users can rely on identity theft protection tools to safeguard their personally identifiable information and monitor the internet for signs of fraud. However, those who do not take the threat of identity theft seriously are likely to succumb to attacks that lead to stolen identities, which may result in the following forms of long-term fallout:
Financial Effects of Identity Theft
The financial effects of identity theft are perhaps the most well-known. Identity thieves tend to perpetrate the crime for their own financial gain; they steal from a victim’s bank account, utilize a victim’s credit or take advantage of the tax system to put money in their own criminal pockets. If a victim has tools like identity theft protection services through their internet security suite, they may be able to recognize and thwart identity theft before the financial effects become dire. However, when identity theft is allowed to continue for months or years without disruption, a victim could easily suffer financial ramifications for the rest of their life.
First, identity theft almost always leaves a mark on a user’s credit rating, which is used in all manner of activities from acquiring loans to securing housing and sometimes to achieving employment. Low credit scores resulting from prolonged identity theft will be difficult for victims to reverse, and bad credit events will likely linger on credit reports for years, making it more difficult for victims to achieve financial stability. Many victims need to work with government agencies like the Social Security Administration and the IRS to rectify errors regarding income, which can cause costly discrepancies in tax returns. Unfortunately, government agencies are rarely easy to interact with; it could take several tax cycles before the IRS eliminates their fraudulent records, which could put victims at risk of paying higher taxes or related fees for years to come.
Emotional Effects of Identity Theft
Victims of every crime suffer emotional fallout, and identity theft can be particularly emotionally punishing. Like burglars, identity thieves abscond with an individual’s valuables — the money in their savings accounts, for example — but identity thieves also get away with quite a bit of intensely personal information about their victims. Many thieves know their victims’ addresses and phone numbers, the names of their parents and children, the details of their education and employment, and perhaps some of their medical history. As a result, identity thieves can and do strike the same victims multiple times.
Grave is the emotional toll of having one’s personal details known by criminals and falling victim to the same crime again and again. Victims of identity theft experience high rates of stress, which can develop into long-term anxiety conditions. Stress that causes disruptions in eating and sleeping patterns can result in depression, which in some victims manifests in thoughts and actions of self-harm. Recognizing and rectifying identity theft as soon as possible will reduce the emotional effects of the crime, but almost all victims will experience some degree of shock and a sense of reduced safety for some weeks or months following.
Social Effects of Identity Theft
Some identity thieves do more with their stolen identities than open credit cards and file fraudulent tax returns. Some identity thieves use it to access their victims’ accounts to make posts that are spread amongst family, friends, and colleagues. This can cause widespread damage to a victim’s reputation, especially if they do not work to inform their social network of the identity theft afterward. Achieving or maintaining employment could be more difficult if victims do not thoroughly clean their social media accounts and other web assets of signs of identity theft, and through unemployment, the emotional and social effects of identity theft become exacerbated.
Identity theft is a serious crime, and as such, it has serious consequences — for victims as well as perpetrators. Undeniably, avoiding identity theft through increased security and careful monitoring is the best option for all individuals.