Identity theft can harm your mental health as well as your credit

The Better Business Bureau has tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft

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When we think of identity theft, we often think of the money we could lose, but there is something else that thieves can take from you that is more valuable: Your mental health

When people become the victims of identity theft, it becomes such a stressful situation that victims are losing the will to keep fighting, according a report released Wednesday by the Identity Theft Resource Center.

Attorney Donald Levine, who has been practicing law in San Diego for more than 40 years. He recently wrapped up a case of identity theft in which someone had borrowed $20,000 using his information

The case required some 30 hours of research, phone calls, emails and filling out  documents. He said all the work stressed him since it involved him personally. 

“I was afraid my information would be leaked to other people,” Levine said.

Levine said he first got a letter from Scripps Health in March 2022 that notified him that his data had been breached a year earlier. Fast-forward to June of this year when he got a bill from the Small Business Administration for a loan taken out a few months earlier for $20,000. 

“I'd have people calling me at all times of the night  trying to get money that I didn't owe," Levine said. "It was very distressing, very emotionally draining." 

“I don’t think we as a society realize just how impactful identity crime victimization is,” Levine said 

Eva Velasquez, who is the president of the Identity Theft Resource Center, said it just published its yearly consumer impact report and that some of the findings were quite concerning when it comes to the emotional toll of identity theft. According to a survey of victims who contacted the ITRC for help:

  • 38% said the incident caused more arguments with family
  • 34% felt they no longer trusted friends
  • 87% indicated the incident left them feeling worried or anxious
  • 77% felt violated
  • 71% felt vulnerable
  • 63% sad or depressed
  • 52% felt shame or embarrassment

And there has been an increase in the number of people who have contemplated suicide, up from 8% in 2020 to 16% in 2022. 

“With other economic challenges feeding into this, when someone gets victimized, it could be the last straw,” Velazquez said.

Here are a few things consumers can do to prevent becoming another victim of identity theft, according to the Better Business Bureau:

  • Consider identity theft insurance. Make sure you shop around and take a look at your homeowner's insurance or credit cards first to see if you already have coverage
  • Check your bank statement and credit reports regularly
  • Shred everything and never give out personal information to people contacting you at random 
  • If you find that your identity has been stolen, contact your financial institution immediately
  • Freeze your credit
  • Reach out to the website where there are resources to help you get back on track

Levine was able to prove that he had not applied and received the SBA loan, but he added that he can’t imagine how overwhelming it could be for those without his legal training. Either way, he expects to be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his days. 

On a positive note, the ITRC report shows that more and more people are using multi-factor authentications (or MFA), which are game-changers in the fight against identity theft. 

If you’re having thoughts of suicide, help is just a phone call away. call the Suicide Prevention hotline at 9-8-8vailable 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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