Does Identity Theft Cause Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

The anxiety and stress of trying to recover from identity theft can be horrific. If you’re a victim of this crime, you’ll most likely need to spend hours on the phone trying to reach creditors, in an attempt to close accounts you never opened, only to discover a month later that the account is still active and debt collectors are asking you to pay up.

Or worse, you successfully close one account but three more pop up in its place. In this way, resolving identity theft can feel like a vicious game of Whac-a-Mole. Instead of playing for imaginary points, though, it’s your credit score on the line.

Stress by the numbers

According to, 47% of identity theft victims are denied new loans or credit cards. This lack of credit, in addition to the frustration of correcting identity theft damage to your credit report, can add pressure to home and family life. 40% of victims say they feel an increased strain on family relationships. A whopping 85% feel angry, and 45% even feel “defiled.” 60% feel hopeless and unprotected by the police, while over 30% of victims have to repeatedly dispute the same information on their credit report to have it removed.

“Friendly” theft makes things worse

To add insult to injury, notes Dr. Charles Nelson, is when you discover a close friend or family member is behind the identity thief. 43% of victims think they know who stole their identities. The crime then becomes much more personal, and is likely to cause rifts within the family or group of friends, which of course adds to the victim’s stress level.

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Is it really post-traumatic stress disorder?

PTSD is most often suffered by victims of war, rape, or other intense forms of violence. Is it really fair to put the victims of identity theft in the same boat?

The American Psychiatric Association doesn’t officially recognize the comparison, but there are some psychiatrists out there, like Dr. Nelson, who do.

Identity theft victims must find time—no matter how busy their work or personal schedules—to contact creditors, place fraud alerts, and closely and regularly check their credit reports. It can take a monumental effort to combat ID theft, and often those efforts are in vain as more fraudulent activity continues to wreck your credit. So it’s not really a surprise to hear that some psychologists are labeling the emotional effects of severe identity theft cases as post-traumatic stress disorder. Sleepless nights and strained family relationships coupled with a lack of credit and feelings of powerlessless will sink anyone to rock bottom. Comparing the emotional struggle of ID theft victims to those of much more serious crimes may be a bit of an overstatement, but it does hit the point home that identity theft can be an intense psycological battlefield, not just a financial one.

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