Managing the Emotional Toll of Identity Theft

Source: iStock

Reports on identity theft often emphasize the financial toll it takes on victims. However, what is often not mentioned is the emotional aftermath. Victims of identity theft can experience significant distress as a result of being violated financially.

Research conducted by the Department of Justice discovered that in some cases, identity theft victims experience emotional consequences that are similar to violent crime victims, such as anxiety, depression, and angry outbursts. However, the severity of the emotional impact depends partly on the circumstances, such as the type of theft and how long it took to resolve the issue.

“…The level of emotional distress varied by type of identity theft. Thirty-two percent of victims of personal information fraud reported that they found the incident severely distressing, compared to 5% of credit card fraud victims. Twenty-two percent of victims of new account fraud reported that the crime was severely distressing,” said the Department of Justice.

Picking up the pieces

Licensed Clinical Social Worker Diane Turner told Equifax in a recent report that identity theft victims sometimes demonstrate signs of grief that mirror depression, as well as difficulty sleeping and eating, self-medicating with food or alcohol, and lack of motivation. In addition, victims often exhibit the following behaviors:


If a victim believes that the identity theft was a result of their carelessness, he or she may begin to engage in self-blame.

“You may blame yourself for not securing your password for an account or for not shredding sensitive personal documents. While taking responsibility for protecting your identity is important, self-blame can be emotionally damaging,” said Equifax.


Due to the invasive nature of identity theft, some victims feel very vulnerable. This is especially true in cases where the victim does not know who is responsible for the crime. Fears that the event will happen again may become overwhelming.


Some victims may begin to distance themselves from friends and family members who may have been responsible for the identity theft. This could cause one to remain suspicious of others and have difficulty forming healthy relationships.

Department of Justice Findings:

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

  • The Department of Justice found that among those who spent six or more months attempting to resolve financial and credit problems associated with the identity theft, 47% experienced severe emotional distress.
  • Roughly 4% of those who spent only one day or less resolving identity-theft related problems said the incident was severely distressing.
  • Approximately 14% of victims who spent six or more months attempting to resolve identity theft issues said they had significant problems with family or friends. This is compared to just 25% who spent one day or less resolving their ID theft issue.

Tips for recovering from identity theft

You can overcome the stress and anxiety that accompanies identity theft. Here are some ways to cope:

1. Safeguard your information

While identity theft cannot be prevented, you can still take measures to reduce your chances of becoming a victim again. Make sure to consistently monitor your credit report and check your financial accounts for suspicious activity regularly. Also make sure to keep sensitive personal information such as a Social Security card or a birth certificate in a lockbox. Identity theft sometimes occurs when visitors or workers come to your home and gain access to unprotected sensitive information.

2. Don’t blame yourself

Refrain from making yourself feel worse about the crime. Know that there is only so much you can do about what happened and that you will have to move forward in order to get your finances and your life back on track.

3. Learn as much as you can

Educate yourself about identity theft. There are several organizations that offer resources for victims. Some good places to start are Identity Theft Assistance Center, Identity Theft Resource Center, and Identity Theft Victims Network.

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