Having a good credit score can be extremely beneficial when pursuing important financial goals like opening a credit card, taking out a loan or buying a car or a home. It can even help you land certain types of jobs or rent your dream apartment.
For this reason, it’s very important to protect your identity and credit score. Identity theft can cause your credit score to take a nosedive, making it more difficult and expensive to gain access to the credit and financial tools you need.
But identity theft can negatively affect a lot more than just your credit score. While these other undesirable consequences of identity theft may not get as much attention, they can be just as damaging for the victim.
1. Identity Theft Costs the Victim Money
Becoming a victim of identity theft can cause you to indirectly lose money. If identity theft has damaged your credit score and you haven’t taken steps to correct it – either because you weren’t aware it occurred, or you just haven’t had a chance to address it yet – you can pay more for loans and credit cards in the form of higher interest rates and less favorable terms. Lenders tend to charge borrowers with poor credit higher interest rates because they pose extra risk for the lender.
Borrowers with poor credit caused by identity theft might also have to provide more money up front for loans in the form of higher down payments. They may even pay more for insurance in states where it’s legal to use credit checks to determine insurance premiums.
Of course, identity theft can also cause direct out-of-pocket losses for the victim. According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, fraud caused $6.9 billion in reported potential losses last year alone.
If criminals scam you into paying them money, you may be unable to recover those funds. On the flipside, you generally aren’t liable for fraudulent charges or unauthorized access to your bank account or credit cards if you report fraudulent withdrawals or transactions on time.
But untangling issues related to identity theft may require you to spend additional money out of pocket. Recovering your identity may cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs like hiring attorneys or financial advisors, or lost wages from times you couldn’t work because you were trying to restore your identity. Victims who have fraudulent accounts opened in their name tend to experience greater losses.
2. Identity Theft Takes Up the Victim’s Time
The time it takes to untangle fraud and identity theft depends on the type of fraud that happened, how long the fraud went on and the extent of the fraud that occurred. For example, a stolen credit card may only require the victim to report the incident to the credit card company, identify and dispute any fraudulent charges that occurred and request a replacement card. But if the criminal opened fraudulent accounts in the victim’s name, filed a falsified tax return or committed medical identity theft, the time needed to restore the victim’s identity can likely be much greater.
Potential consequences of identity theft include false information on credit reports, tax debts, unpaid accounts in collections and even criminal records. Dealing with these issues can take time as victims need to research the issue, report the fraud to the authorities and dispute false information to clean up their identity. Victims may spend weeks, months or even years dealing with the fallout.
The longer the fraud went on undiscovered, the longer the cleanup can take. Disputing a single inaccurate item on a credit report can take up to 45 days alone. And signs of identity theft may keep popping up after the victim thought they were in the clear.
3. Identity Theft Takes an Emotional Toll on the Victim
Victims of identity theft may experience emotional distress that closely resembles the responses of victims of violent crime. Mental health issues can include increased stress, distrust of others and fear of additional fraud. This stress can manifest itself in physical symptoms like headaches, fatigue and insomnia.
When you become a victim, you may feel violated and lose trust in the systems you thought were protecting you. You may experience feelings of powerlessness and need to seek professional help to manage your emotional or physical response to stress.
The severity of the emotional response may depend on the severity of the fraud that occurred. Victims who spend a lot of time working to resolve fraud issues are more likely experience emotional distress than victims who resolved their problems relatively quickly.
How Credit Monitoring Can Reduce the Negative Consequences of Identity Theft
Checking your credit report on an annual basis is a good idea, but it won’t be sufficient to catch identity theft if you’ve already become a victim. If identity theft goes unchecked, it can do a lot of damage over the course of several months. Oftentimes, victims only discover identity theft once they apply for a loan or credit card, receive mail from a third party about an unpaid bill, file a tax return or apply for government benefits.
By the time that happens, significant damage may have already occurred. Credit monitoring can help identify signs of identity theft early by notifying the consumer as soon as changes happen to their credit profile. It can help flag suspicious activities like changes to personal information, changes of address, new credit accounts, new delinquent accounts, credit inquiries and more.
The earlier consumers catch identity theft, the better. You can help avoid more serious damage to your credit scores. You can minimize your financial losses and reduce the amount of out-of-pocket expenses needed to restore your identity.
Identity IQ services provide an identity restoration case manager to victims as part of their identity protection plan. This can help minimize the impact of identity theft because the victim can experience less stress than if they had to deal with extensive fraud all by themselves.