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Effects of Identity Theft on One’s Future

Identity theft occurs when someone steals or uses another’s personal information to commit fraud or other crimes. Personal information includes, but is not limited to, someone’s name, social security, or credit card information. About 9 million identities are stolen every year but since most do not report it, there may be millions more. There are predictors of identity theft and many kinds of identity theft. Identity theft affects one’s future financially, which can lead to emotional and physical stress.  

            Some factors can increase the chances of one getting their identity stolen. It is most common between the ages of 25 to 54, as shown by the FTC’s, Federal Trade Commission’s, 2003 survey (Hu et al., 2020). Based on gender, some report that females have higher rates of victimization, some men have higher rates, and there is no significant difference between victimization rates between men and women. Whites were sometimes observed to have higher victimization rates, but another major study showed race and ethnicity were not “significant predictors of identity theft,” (Hu et al., 2020). Family structure can also predict identity theft. K.B. Anderson, writer and conductor of another study, reports that individuals residing by themselves have a 35% higher chance of identity theft than those who live in a household with two or more adults (Hu et al., 2020). The most significant predictor, however, is income and economic status. Anderson reports that people earning 75,000 USD or more have a significantly higher risk of identity theft than those making 25,000 USD or less (Hu et al., 2020). These findings unsurprisingly show that people with a high income have the greatest chance of identity theft.

            Medical theft is the use of health insurance information or social security number to obtain medical services or goods to obtain money. An indicator that one is a victim of medical identity theft is if one is receiving medical bills for something that was not received by the victim. Another is being denied health insurance or plan benefits because of “false medical statements” of health conditions that the victim was never diagnosed with (Walters & Betz, 2012). A significant problem is that the victim may never know they are victims of identity theft, or their information is even being used. If the thief is unknowingly treated for a condition or prescribed medicine under the victim’s information, it could lead to inappropriate diagnoses of the victim. A possible consequence of medical identity theft is being denied employment. Since employers do not tend to explain the reason for denying employment, the victim may not know it is due to their “inaccurate medical history” (Walters and Betz, 2012). Those running for public office may also be in jeopardy because information of false medical reports under their name may get out to the media and lead to controversy.   

Financial identity theft is the compromise of an existing financial account or accounts or the creation of new accounts by an unwanted third party acting in your name. Thieves could steal money or make purchases, create checking or savings accounts, credit or debit cards, loans, insurance, etc. This leaves victims with debt collection, and possibly, bankruptcy. The difference between identity theft and financial identity theft is that instead of the thief using a real social security number to create a fake identity, they use another’s identity for personal monetary gain. Most types of identity theft are used for the thief’s monetary gain, so financial theft is very much the basis for most other types.  

            Child identity theft is when a child, under the age of eighteen, has their personal information stolen to commit fraud. Thieves can use a child’s identity for many years without getting caught because creditors do not usually match social security numbers with birthdates (Betz et al., 2012). Thieves use children’s identities because they have a clean credit history and typically have no established credit score. Thieves want a victim with an unestablished credit score because the victim will not be likely to get any alerts from a bank about bills and a child is most likely not checking their credit reports for any activity. “Unfortunately, parents are the most common perpetrators of child identity theft” (Betz et al., 2012). They apply for auto loans, establish utility, and open credit cards like thieves. If the parents are not thieves, then they are usually people who have access to their social security numbers and birthdates, like school employees or healthcare workers. There are two categories of child identity theft victims identified by a study conducted by L. Foley and C. Nelson in 2009: child victims and adult/child victims (Betz et al, 2012). Child victims are those who have a relative identity theft before the child turns 18. Adult/child identity theft victims are those who do not identify theft when they are adults applying for credit (Betz et al., 2012). Victims of child identity theft often discover this when they are older and by this time, their credit is usually damaged. They may apply for student loans when going to college or apartment leases and get rejected due to a damaged credit they were unaware of.

            As children are prone to be victimized, so are senior citizens. Senior identity theft is when an individual uses an elderly person’s personal information for personal gain or in order to commit a fraud or crime. Most have limited knowledge of the internet, resulting in using less secure browsers or not making sure personal information is secure. Steven J.J. Weisman, a crime professor at Bentley University, claims that seniors may be more vulnerable to identity theft because they are “often easy to trick into providing their personal information over the phone” (O’Connell, 2021). Older persons usually have better credit and are wealthier than the following generation. Elders should be aware of the people in their life and make sure they can trust the family or spouses they may give their personal information in case they need help with taxes, online purchases, etc.

            The financial effects are most life-damaging. It causes lowered credit scores, utility shut-offs, bankruptcy, and missed time from work (Betz et al., 2012). Opening multiple credit cards at once can lower one’s credit score. Utilities like lights and water can be turned off because of unpaid bills, which cannot be paid due to the amount of money stolen. Bankruptcy can be caused by money stolen from a business, which they must close. Employed victims have to miss time from work to “write letters, make phone calls, and get documents notarized” (Betz et al., 2012). This means that documents must be authenticated by the parties of a transaction. All these cost money, which results in lost wages and sick or vacation days.  It may be hard for victims to buy big-ticket items such as cars and houses because taking out loans is not as easy. It is harder to take out loans if victimized because one’s credit is low, and one will need to provide police reports and documentation that prove victimization. With lawyer fees averaging around 200 to 400 USD per hour, going to court will be expensive, especially for one who just lost loads of money. Victims may have to pay with cash instead of a card, which is not ideal as most adults do not carry much cash.

E. Dadisho, a police chief, stated that identity theft is an “emotionally abusive crime” (Betz et al., 2012). Common emotional effects include shame, anger, powerlessness, and betrayal. Anxiety and shock are also common post victim effects. Identity theft can lead to vulnerability and untrustworthiness. Unfortunately, harassment by collection agencies also commonly occurs. Along with emotional effects come physical effects. In 2007 and 2009, the Identity Theft Resource Center found that victims suffered from, but is not limited to, insomnia, headaches, high blood pressure, and sexual dysfunction. More specifically, most victims experienced insomnia 26 weeks after victimization.

            Some low-tech approaches thieves use are the theft of wallets, purses, or dumpster diving (Hu et al., 2020). Most commonly, people keep their personal identification and credit cards in their wallets or purses. To prevent theft, one should hold their wallet or hide it somehow and if using a purse, one should hold onto it instead of letting it hang off one’s shoulder for it to be easily snatched. Dumpster diving can provide thieves with thrown-out mail or documents having personal information. To prevent this, one should shred important documents, receipts, etc. One high-tech approach is skimming, which is the “use of electronic equipment” to read credit or debit card information, thus creating new ones to be sold or used.  B.W. Reyns, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Weber State University, recommends that instead of stopping online banking or shopping habits, one should carry them out “exclusively through a secure connection” (Hu et al., 2012). Using public Wi-Fi greatly increases the risk of victimization. The FTC recommends purchasing identity theft protection services, such as credit card monitoring services provided by Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. This provides notification whenever the “client’s identity is used in a financial transaction” (Hu et al., 2012). Identity theft insurance is also available. If one is suspicious of possible activity on their account, one can freeze their credit. It can help protect one from someone committing fraud by making the credit reports unavailable to potential thieves. Although it can protect one against someone opening credit cards under their name, it cannot protect one from regular identity theft. Instead of just focusing on credit, remain vigilant of other financial aspects.  

            Identity theft happens in multiple ways and can cause not only financial effects but also emotional and physical effects. If not caught as soon as possible, identity theft could take effect for the rest of one’s life. If one feels as if they have been a victim of identity theft, there are multiple steps to take. Affected creditors or bankers should be notified, credit reports should be checked and put a fraud alert on if suspicious, credit should be frozen, reports should be made to the FTC and police, and lastly, the fraudulent information should be removed from one’s credit. Although identity theft is not as severe as homicide or arson, it is one type: the kidnapping of one’s self.

Works Cited

             Hu, Xiaochen, Xudong Zhang, and Nicholas P. Lovrich. “Forecasting Identity Theft Victims: Analyzing Characteristics and Preventive Actions Through Machine Learning Approaches.” Victims and Offenders, Aug 17, 2020.

             Walters, Whitney, and Axton Betz. “Medical Identity Theft.” Faculty Research and Creative Activity until 2018 (FCS), Jan 2012.

             Betz, Axton E., Clinton G. Gudmunson, and Gong-Soog Hong. “The Recovery Experiences of Child Identity Theft Victims: Preliminary Results.” Consumer Interests Annual, 2012.

            O’Connell, Brian. “Seniors: Victims of Identity Theft.” Lifelock, Feb 4, 2021.

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