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5 Unfortunate Consequences of Identity Theft

Lisa Belluck  — July 13, 2019

Identity theft can happen to anyone, and the emotional and financial consequences can linger for years. The theft can take a substantial toll on a person, since it affects various facets of that person’s life. Repairing the damage left by identity theft is a long, stressful process, with a wide range of barriers to overcome. 

Here are five unfortunate consequences of identity theft:

Your Credit Report and Bank Account Might Take a Hit

Once a criminal assumes your identity, they can open new credit cards under your name. Even if their credit request is rejected, their application will be recorded and your credit takes a hit. Worse, if the thief is approved for new credit, they can pile up debt and missed payments on your credit report. While it’s possible to have this damage removed, the process takes time; until it’s fixed, you won’t be able to buy a car, apply for a mortgage, or take out a loan.

Once your identity has been stolen, a thief can also empty your bank account and use your money as they choose. Not all banks and credit cards will refund this stolen money, and even when they do, returning the money takes time. Plus, you’ll be required to close your old account and open a new one, possibly with additional safety measures implemented. 

You Might be Accused of Criminal Activity

If someone commits a crime under your name, you might be mistakenly blamed for their behavior. Background checks can pull up your arrest report, which will make it difficult to find a job, or even keep one. While consequences on this scale are rare, it’s not that difficult for a thief to steal both your name and social security number, and that’s all the information they’d need to create a very unpleasant situation for you. 

You’ll Spend Hours, If Not Days, Fixing Everything

Though some people find out immediately that their identities have been stolen, others take years before realizing. The longer someone has access to your information, the more damage they can do. And even if you figure out what’s happening quickly, solving everything can take hours, days, or even years. 

As a victim of identity theft, you’ll have to prove your identity by supplying specific documents and other personal information such as fingerprints. You might also need to cancel credit cards, freeze your credit, and make sure your taxes were filed correctly (and that your tax return wasn’t stolen). In some cases, the thief might also use your private health insurance or Medicare to receive benefits, so you’ll need to look into those, too. 

The sheer amount of potential issues can be exhausting, and many victims need to take time off work in order to handle everything. Thus, your finances might take an additional hit, which will only add to your stress. 

Emotional and Physical Consequences

Finding out you’re a victim of identity theft is upsetting; you might feel like you were taken advantage of, or you might have trouble trusting others. However, the stress of fixing this situation can be even worse, due to the aforementioned effects on time and money. In fact, about 25% of identity theft victims seek help from a therapist or doctor to help manage their anxiety. Others report feelings of shame for falling for a scam or fear that someone else will steal their identity. 

These emotional consequences can also lead to physical problems. Many identity theft victims report stomach or heart issues, and their stress might lead to sleep problems. These sleep problems, in turn, lead to more stress, which can cause frayed nerves, irritability, or a general lack of energy. 

The Dark Web

Cleaning up the damage caused by identity theft isn’t easy-unfortunately, even after your credit returns to normal and your money’s returned, you might not be in the clear. In some cases, thieves will put your personal information on the dark web, which is a part of the internet known for illegal activity. Here, others can access your information and assume your identity–so even if the original thief is caught, your information could become compromised again.  

In order to protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft, make sure to check your credit reports regularly, limit the personal information you share (especially on social media) and follow up on any unexpected financial reports. And if you think you’re a victim of identity theft, make sure to contact law enforcement right away–swift action could save you time, money, and stress. Preventative measures are even more useful; rather than attempting to clean up a mess, you’ll be stopping one from ever occurring. Consider enrolling in an identity theft protection program, which can stop a crime before it’s committed and save you money and stress down the line.