5 Ways Identity Theft Can Wreak Havoc

Paul Stratt is a security specialist who's worked in the field for over ten years and is a contributor to the blog, Money Crashers.

Identity theft affected approximately 17 million Americans in 2017, according to Javelin Strategy & Research.

As digital information exchange becomes more and more integral to our daily lives, your risk of falling victim to identity theft grows. Beyond the obvious negative effects—such as needing to both cancel and reorder all of your debit and credit cards—there are plenty of unexpected costs you may have to incur when you're a victim of theft or fraud.

1. Time Spent Dealing With Identity Theft

It takes an average six months and roughly 200 hours of work to recover your identity after it's been compromised, according to Identity Force. This represents time spent away from your job, family and friends, and your simple enjoyment of life.

It's unfair to have to devote so much energy to get yourself out of a predicament you don't deserve to be in the first place, but once you're there, you've got no choice. Avoid this pitfall by vigilantly guarding your personal information online.

2. Possible Arrest

If your identity is compromised, don't be surprised if the police come knocking on your door—especially if you're not aware your identity has been stolen and haven't alerted the authorities.

Getting an arrest record cleared up is not an easy task, even if it's proven to be unjustified. If you happen to be looking for a new job or hunting for an apartment when your identity is compromised, you may be in for a tough time.

3. Lower Credit Scores

If your identity is stolen for the purposes of opening up new credit accounts in your name, you may have to dispute each charge individually. Your first step is to fill out an identity theft report, which you can find at the Federal Trade Commission's website.

You can learn more about the steps to take when your identity is stolen here. The process can be long and drawn out, and until it's resolved, your credit can be negatively affected.

4. Monetary Loss

If you think banks and credit card companies simply absorb all identity theft-related losses, think again. If you wait too long to report identity theft—especially if the loss incurred was through a debit card—you could be on the hook for the entire stolen amount.

Even if these losses are in fact covered, approximately 40% of identity theft victims still incur out-of-pocket expenses required to recover your identity— the per person is average over $600, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

5. Emotional Distress

According to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), 75% of identity theft victims reported being severely distressed by the misuse of their information.

Other emotional impacts reported by victims include fear, embarrassment, powerlessness, helplessness, or even a small percentage (7%) had suicidal thoughts. (If you're feeling suicidal for this or any other reason, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.)

Final Thoughts

You can take several basic measures to protect yourself from identity theft. Don't carry unnecessary information in your wallet, always be cautious with the information you submit when making online purchases, and stay vigilant when sharing personal information on your social media pages—a growing target for hackers and identity thieves.

Whether financial, emotional, or professional, the costs of identity theft are high. The time to prepare yourself is now, not after you've been hit.

What are you doing to protect yourself against identity theft?