Identity theft is a crime that can have long-lasting implications. Now, the number of repeat victims is on the rise.
"Three out of every ten people tell us this happened to them before and now they're dealing with it again," said Eva Velasquez, CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center.
The ITRC just released its new Identity Theft Aftermath study, which surveyed hundreds of people who had their identity stolen in the last three years and found that some people never recover from having their identity stolen.
"They liken this experience to a medical condition where it goes into remission, but then it can just pop up," said Velasquez. "People report feeling more stressed out, frustrated, feeling violated."
The pandemic also added a new level of stress to an already stressful situation. Before the pandemic, the ITRC's report showed all respondents had been contacted by debt collectors or other collection departments, and 83% of them were unable to find housing or rent an apartment.
Velasquez says that leads to a lot of unknowns: "Am I going to get a call from a debt collector? Am I going to get a bill in the mail from an insurance company? Am I going to get a notification that I have a warrant out for my arrest?"
Nearly 60% of respondents said they had a warrant issued for their arrest because a criminal gave their personal information to the police. During the pandemic, there was a shift in the type of crimes that led to identity theft. More people fell victim to unemployment-related identity fraud as more people were in desperate need of financial help.
About 40% of respondents said they couldn't pay routine bills, 33% couldn't pay for their utilities, and 14% were evicted because they said they could not afford rent. People felt like they had no options.
"A full 10% of respondents had suicidal thoughts they hadn't had before," said Velasquez. "10% of people felt so overwhelmed dealing with this victimization that they felt like ending their life was an option."
Those that did manage to feel like they had fixed the issue said it took a lot of time and effort.
"They said it's taken two months, six months, a year," said Velasquez. "But too many of the people that we talked to are telling us it's still not resolved."
In fact, the ITRC's report showed 79% of people who had their identity stolen in 2020 still had not fixed the problem by April of 2021.
The demographics of victims are also changing. 86% of the respondents had at least attended college.
"Really, no one is immune," said Velasquez. "21% of our respondents reported they lost more than $20,000 to an identity criminal."
Velasquez says there's not always a way to fully protect your identity. One reason is that we use the same information at so many different places.
"Your social security number doesn't change, your date of birth doesn't change, your mother's maiden name doesn't change," said Velasquez. "The very system that we're using allows for repeat victimization."
The impacts of identity theft can last for years, but the ITRC report did find an important change in how people are perceiving identity theft. People are realizing that it can truly happen to anyone.
"So people are reporting they feel more supported by their family and more supported by their friends," said Velasquez.
California's Office of the Attorney General says if your identity has been stolen, you should file a report with your local police department.
"Ask the police to issue a police report of identity theft. Give the police as much information on the theft as possible. One way to do this is to provide copies of your credit reports showing the items related to identity theft. Black out other items not related to identity theft," the office said.
The Identity Theft Resource Center also has ways it can help give you advice on what to do and who to contact. You can find more information on their help center's website here.
If you are struggling, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress and suicide prevention resources for you or your loved ones. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers help, too.