The Mental Health Toll of Identity Theft

by Andrea Poteet-Bell, Editor Author Content Writer, Sunshine Behavioral Health

Identity theft is constantly in the news. According to a study done by the Aite Group, 47% of the country was hit by identity theft in 2020. The Federal Trade Commission reported 4.8 million fraud and identity theft circumstances in the year 2020, an increase of 45% from the previous year.

But what is identity theft? It’s defined as the fraudulent use of someone’s personal information and can be done in a variety of ways, from hacking into an email to posing as someone else to get sensitive information. It’s usually done to get money and typically involves strangers.

How It Occurs

Most people are familiar with the fake IRS calls claiming an arrest warrant is forthcoming if you don’t pay the amount you owe by the end of the day. (Hint: The IRS doesn’t cold call people. If you really did owe back taxes, you would have received a notice by mail first.) But those unfamiliar with how these things work fall for this and other scams every day.

Scams come from every avenue. From phone calls to texts and emails, there are a mountain of schemes to deceive almost anyone. Examples of identity theft attacks include:

  • Stolen checks
  • Credit or debit card skimming
  • Unauthorized purchases on websites
  • Medical services billed to another person
  • Tax returns filed using someone else’s information
  • Phishing – the use of email to obtain personal information
  • SMiShing – a portmanteau of “SMS messages,” commonly referred to as “texts” and “phishing.” It involves using text messages to acquire data
  • Vishing – phone calls and messages aimed at securing details such as social security number, date of birth, bank information
  • Pharming – hackers break into a website and pretend to be a trusted website
  • Malware – scammers use computer programs to record information you enter into your computer
  • Child identity theft – using a child’s social security number to open credit cards, request government benefits or loans, or for property rental approval
  • Dumpster diving – thieves look through trash to find pre-approved credit offers or other vital details

How Does It Impact the Mental Health of Victims?

Injured parties in these crimes experience a roller coaster of emotions ranging from fear to anger. Feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and depressed are not uncommon. If the culprit is a stranger, you may become paranoid about others around you in stores or other settings. When you know who did it, you may feel betrayed.

Coupled with the financial loss and difficulties re-establishing credit, the emotional toll is often only part of the battle. The problem is that, if left untreated, feelings lead to more dangerous and long-lasting mental health conditions. Regaining emotional stability is vital to healing.

What Can You Do About It?

If you are experiencing powerlessness, personality changes, rage, irrational fears, or feeling unable to continue on with life, seek professional help immediately. There are also support groups that can alleviate some of the pain and vulnerability. Remember to do the following to help yourself overcome the situation:

  • Acknowledge your emotions. It’s normal to feel what you are feeling. Conversely, try not to dwell in this pit after you give yourself some time.
  • Keep a diary or log of thoughts as well as the progress you are making in your case. This will help in the long term to see what you have walked through in victory.
  • Exercise regularly. Make sure to include outside time
  • Consistently examine your life and look at the positives.
  • Talk to loved ones who may be experiencing the same fears and concerns.
  • Eat right. Skipping meals or overeating leads to other health issues.
  • Remember the rest of your life. There is a tendency to focus on only this part, but keeping perspective is important too.

How Can I Protect Myself?

The Federal Trade Commission recommends several avenues for protecting yourself from identity theft:

  • Shred or blackout personal information on items you are throwing out.
  • Do not give out your social security or driver’s license number unless you know why it is needed.
  • Create strong passwords and don’t use the same one for every account.
  • Take advantage of multi-factor authentication when offered.
  • Look at your checking, savings, and credit card accounts regularly to search for fraud or theft.
  • Pull your credit report regularly to check for inconsistencies.
  • Consider signing up for credit monitoring, identity monitoring, or identity theft insurance. Some banks, credit unions, credit card or insurance companies, or your employer may offer these free or at a lower cost.
  • If you find your identity has been stolen, hire an identity recovery service to help repair the damage.

Sources – [New Report] U.S. Identity Theft: The Stark Reality – Facts + Statistics: Identity theft and cybercrime – Identity Theft Examples – Identity Theft: Emotional Impact – What To Know About Identity Theft

About the Author

Andrea Poteet-Bell authorAndrea Poteet-Bell is a journalist and editor at Sunshine Behavioral Health. Her writing has appeared in local daily newspapers, alternative weeklies, and websites across the country. She graduated from the University of Michigan-Dearborn with a degree in print journalism and lives in Michigan with her husband and dog, Charlie Brown.

Andrea Poteet-Bell can be reached online at ( at our company website

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