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Losing Control: The Emotional Toll of Identity Theft

Written by Equifax Experts on February 5, 2015 in Credit  |   2 comments

This is the first article in a series of three on the emotional toll identity theft can play in a victim’s life. Identity theft is largely an invisible crime; someone quietly steals your identity and uses it for financial gain. Yet, the impact on victims…

Losing Control The Emotional Toll of Identity TheftThis is the first article in a series of three on the emotional toll identity theft can play in a victim’s life.

Identity theft is largely an invisible crime; someone quietly steals your identity and uses it for financial gain. Yet, the impact on victims is real. Many lose money and time, but there’s another cost that’s not so easy to quantify – the emotional toll. As identity theft increases — there were 13.1 million victims of identity fraud in the United States in 2013 — psychologists and therapists are beginning to examine the emotional fallout for victims.

Many identity theft victims suffer financial stress and deal with emotional effects similar to those experienced by victims of violent crimes, ranging from anxiety to emotional volatility.

“The financial impact of identity theft can be lasting, but so too can the emotional toll as victims fight to regain their identities,” says Trey Loughran, president of Equifax Personal Solutions. “It is important to make consumers aware of the emotional effects of identity theft and tips for overcoming them. Armed with the right knowledge, victims can take control with minimal financial and emotional damage.”

What are some of the psychological effects of identity theft?

Identity theft victims often show emotions “much the way a trauma survivor would respond or somebody who was a victim of a different kind of crime, such as a home invasion or assault,” according to Diane Turner, a licensed clinical social worker and certified life coach based in Chicago, Illinois, and Tucson, Arizona.

Turner says victims often experience emotional effects, including signs of grief similar to depression, heightened anxiety, loss of confidence in areas where they typically had confidence, sleeplessness, emotional volatility, difficulty eating, self-medicating with alcohol or food, and loss of motivation.

The emotional effects of identity theft can include:

  • Stress. From filing police reports to reestablishing credit, it can take some time for victims to get finances back in order. Those who already have financial hardship or are still recovering from the economic recession might feel extra stress due to financial strain.
  • Self-blame. If a victim feels his or her identity was stolen through carelessness or a mistake on the victim’s part, the victim may be embarrassed and blame himself or herself for the crime having taken place. Some victims are hesitant to seek help because they believe their own actions or inactions may have contributed to the crime.
  • Vulnerability. Identity theft is an invasive crime and for some victims, the worst part is they can never put a name or a face to the thief. “Trying to identify who the person was gives us this false sense of control,” Turner says. “It’s kind of an illusion, but it does make us feel better.”
  • Isolation. The anonymity of the crime can also lead victims to feel isolated as they search for the person who committed the crime. Axton Betz-Hamilton of Charleston, Illinois, and her family members were victims of identity theft when she was a child. For years, they distanced themselves from friends and other family members who could have been the culprits. Although she eventually found out who stole her identity, she lived for a long time with a mentality to suspect everyone. “Every time I went in a store or had a group interaction, I wondered if the person who stole my identity was there.”
  • Family strife. Javelin Strategy and Research reports that most identity theft is committed by family members or friends. Everything from gambling addictions to unmanageable debt can lead someone to target a relative and steal his or her identity. When children are victims, it’s often the parents, foster parents, or other family members who are the culprits.

Betrayal by someone they love and trust can be emotionally devastating for victims. They may not report the crime to law enforcement in an effort to protect a loved one. There’s often pressure to keep the matter in the family, leaving some victims to suffer alone and recover financially on their own.

“Think of the assault—the trust that’s broken when someone does that,” says Turner. “If the thieves are a group of people who live in a foreign country and are complete strangers and it’s totally random, in a way it’s almost easier to recover from that. If you find out that it’s somebody who’s close to you, that’s a whole different ballgame.”

To read the next article in this series, click here.

The information contained in this blog post is designed to generally educate and inform visitors to the Equifax Finance Blog. The blog posts do not give, and should not be assumed to provide, personalized tax, investment, real estate, legal, retirement, credit, personal financial, or other professional advice. Before making any financial decision, you should always consult with the appropriate professionals who can explain your options, rights, and legal responsibilities, and advise you on any tax, legal, credit, or business implications that may result from those decisions. The views and opinions expressed by the authors of blog posts are their own views and may not be the views or opinions of Equifax, Inc. and/or its affiliates.


  1. Dan G.C. says:

    Notified by Athens Orthopedic Clinic in Athens Georgia that a breach of my personal health information has been made. The clinic indicated I should notify you concerning this breach and you would send copies of my credit report for investigation concerning this matter

  2. Clayton says:

    Approximataely June 1, 2016 someone created a bank account at TD bank in my name with my address and my SSN but different email and phone number. I addressed the issue with the bank. There was not effect on any of my other banking activity and TD bank closed the account. Since that time, someone, maybe the same person, hacked my CRedit Union account and transferred $136000 from my home equity loan to my savings accoount within the Credit Union.

    Since both used my SSN, why would these not be seen in my credit report.
    Thannk you

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