Some 30% of people who have reported criminal identity theft needed government assistance to get back on their feet, according to a new report from the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC).
The 300-person sample came from those who used ITRC's free services in the last year, many of whom are low- or moderate-income earners, according to Eva Velasquez, president and CEO. And while identity theft doesn't hit these demographic segments more frequently, it does hit them harder because they lack the extra time and money often required to resolve identity theft problems, she says.
In addition to government assistance such as welfare, electronic benefit transfer (EBT), and food stamps, these identity theft victims also sought financial support from friends, family, and faith-based organizations, according to ITRC.
"The big 'aha moment' is that identity theft is affecting all of us, even if you're not a victim," Velazquez adds.
Other key findings from ITRC's annual study, which was underwritten by LifeLock:
- Of those who shared the additional impact of their identity theft experience with ITRC, 35% had to borrow money, 25% had to sell possessions, and 23% reported moving or relocating.
- Respondents who dealt with criminal identity theft issues experienced "lost opportunities," including missing work (55%), losing an employment opportunity (44%), and loss of residence or housing (31%).
- Almost 20% reported significant repercussions when their online accounts were compromised, including job loss (24%), and reputational damage among friends (61%) and colleagues (31%).
- 44% reported some form of government-related identity theft. Reported instances of state and federal tax fraud were up 15%, resulting in many respondents not receiving refunds.
- 60% reported new account fraud, up 6% from last year. Increases were reported in the opening of new credit cards, utility accounts, and cell phone service.
"The survey responses provide a comprehensive picture of the true impact of this crime on its victims and confirms that identity theft creates more than just financial hardship for victims – it has the capacity to invade many other areas of their lives," ITRC said in a statement. Identity theft can negatively impact employment, housing, and educational opportunities.
"A lot of people think it won't happen to them; one thing we hear a lot is 'I don't have good credit, so what would they want from me?" Velasquez says. "In fact, nothing could be further from the truth."
If there's a resulting call to action, ITRC would like to see consumers appreciate the value of an uncompromised identity. "As a nation, we don't treat them as valuable – we're so much more worried about credit cards," Velasquez says.
She also points to her organization's SHRED acronym to help protect consumers and their identities:
- Shred all personal and business documents and strengthen password and privacy settings.
- Handle personally identifying information with greater care.
- Read all credit reports regularly for any suspicious activity or unfamiliar transactions.
- Empty your purse or wallet regularly to minimize impact of lost credentials.
- Discuss these tips with family and friends.
Velasquez also notes that consumers store lots of important personal data on their smartphones, and then don't bother to use the PIN protection to lock it up.
"Make sure you're not just putting yourself out there and being the low-hanging fruit. Make it more challenging for the thieves," she adds.