Surge in identity crime victims reporting suicidal thoughts

Identity theft can have great financial impact on the victims, but the experienced emotional, physical and psychological impact can be even more devastating, according to the 2023 Consumer Impact Report from the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) and Experian.

The report surveyed individuals who reached out to the ITRC, as well as general consumers, including those who had experienced identity crimes but did not get in touch with the ITRC.

Prevalent scams and the reasons behind the rising number of victims

The types of scams victims have mostly fallen to include phishing attacks, business email compromise (BEC), relationship scams, cryptocurrency scams, social media account takeover and impersonating a victim to open or takeover their accounts, Eva Velasquez, President and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center told Help Net Security.

“According to our 2022 Trends in Identity Report, 80 percent of identity compromises reported to the Center involved the use of identity credentials as part of a scam, up from 77 percent in 2021,” she added.

“Sixty-one (61) percent were victims of a Google Voice scam. A combined 14 percent were government grant scams or phony government agency representations (seven percent for each). Social media account takeover was the top type of account takeover in 2022.”

The surge in victims of identity scams is likely caused by many different things, she noted, including: the sheer volume of online interactions the public conducts daily, the shift to digital-only transactions, the growing complexity of attacks, the availability of low-cost tools accessible to criminals, and the accessibility of identity information and personal data (often stemming from data breaches).

The emotional toll on identity theft victims

Based on the survey, a growing number of identity crime victims who contacted the ITRC shared experiencing suicidal thoughts (16% in 2023 compared to 10% in 2022).

The report also revealed that 41% of ITRC victims and 69% of general consumers experienced identity crime more than once, and a growing number of victims reported increased monetary losses compared to previous years (26% of of ITRC victims lost more than $100,000).

“Too often, we focus on the number attached to a statistic and focus too little on what it means,” said Velasquez. “The fact that 16 percent of identity crime victims thought it’s easier to end their life than try to recover from an identity crime says as much about the lack of concern and support for identity crime victims as it does the victims themselves.”

But the unfortunate truth is that under the right set of circumstances, we are all vulnerable to identity crimes and scams because we’re human – and threat actors prey on our human needs and behaviors.

That’s why we have to change the way we talk to and about victims and how we support them.

“The language used when talking with victims and when talking ABOUT victims, particularly by the media and many cyber experts, can create more shame and embarrassment. From comments like ‘what’s the big deal, it’s not as bad as violent crime’ to statements about victims being ‘duped’ and ‘falling for…’ creates an environment where victims feel at fault and invalidated,” Velasquez noted.

Leaders and decision-makers can prioritize recovery services for this victim population, including mental health services like individual counseling and peer support services.

Learning from mistakes

59% of ITRC victims and 53% of general consumers (respectively) use multi-factor authentication (MFA) to safeguard personal information. 53% of victims who contacted the ITRC also reported changing passwords on each account.

identity theft victims

Actions taken by respondents to minimize the risk of identity theft. (Source: ITRC/Experian)

“The experience of identity crime victimization can be vastly different for any given victim. We recommend that victims seek assistance quickly to ensure they are taking the correct steps in the proper order. It’s monumentally important that recovery plans meet the needs of the unique individual,” Velasquez concluded.

“It’s not one size fits all, and while self-directed web-based services have value, many people need direct, one-on-one assistance. We encourage people to overcome the reflexive shame and embarrassment that many victims report feeling and seek trustworthy, free resources like the Identity Theft Resource Center.”

Don't miss