We live in a digital world, and most of our personal lives exist online. Unfortunately for us, this means the risk of identity theft is at an all-time high. Despite such a high occurrence of identity theft, most people still don’t put enough effort, if any, in cybersecurity. In fact, most people assume businesses, governments, and corporate entities are the only targets of cybercrime. Therefore, most of them are caught flatfooted when identity thieves strike.
Identity theft refers to a situation where one person obtains another person’s personally identifiable information – such as social security numbers or credit card information– and uses it for malicious intent such as impersonation or fraudulent transactions. Javelin Strategy and Research released a 2017 fraud study, which showed that over 15 million unsuspecting Americans were the victims of identity theft amounting to over $16 billion in the year 2016. With the high instance of cybercrime noticed in 2017, we can expect even higher figures for 2017. Nevertheless, while economic motivations drive most cases of identity theft, the effects of identity theft go far beyond financial loss. This article looks at four non-financial impacts of identity theft.
Ruined Public Image
Psychological well-being relies on a number of factors, including our social life, which in itself is reliant on constructing a stable public image. Identity theft threatens to destroy this image and the associated psychological well-being. For starters, unable to deal with the stress, most people turn to antisocial behavior such as drug abuse, which tends to alienate them from society even further. Financial problems, such as a ruined credit report, also go a long way in destroying one’s public image and as a result, their mental health.
The pressure and stress of trying to deal with identity theft after the fact often force one into developing anxiety. An individual develops irrational fears such as suspecting they are being watched, or that everyone is .in on it’. This, in turn, results in alienation, development of chronic mental disorders such as depression and even physiological complications. Unfortunately, the symptoms of anxiety are not easy to notice or diagnose, and the problem only grows deeper until it affects the individual’s ability to function in a healthy capacity.
Becoming a victim of identity theft is usually followed by a lot of stress, which can affect your relationships. Aside from that, the resulting financial loss could also lead to strained romantic relations. According to a study by Gallup, there’s a clear relationship between financial well-being and relationship health. The more financially stable we are, the more likely that our relationships with others will be stronger.
Psychological conditions such as anxiety, stress, and depression resulting from identity theft have damaging physiological effects such as hormonal imbalance and poor metabolism and are often coupled with behavioral changes such as poor dietary habits. In most cases, inadequate coping mechanisms and behaviors such as overeating or extreme snacking can be observed. All these contribute to unhealthy weight gain, which could lead to the development of more chronic conditions such as obesity, hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases.
How to Protect Yourself
To avoid the catastrophic fallout of identity theft, it is essential to take measures to protect yourself from becoming a victim. For one, you should go an extra mile to protect your online communications. You can do this by installing a VPN, which encrypts all your internet traffic and keeps it secure and anonymous. Another important cybersecurity tool to make use of is an antivirus, which protects you against malware used to steal personal information as in the case of keyloggers or extort it from you as in the case of ransomware. Awareness of the ever-changing dynamics of cybercrime, as noted in the growing use of social engineering, could also give you an edge over hackers.