By Eva Velasquez, President & CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center
Over a period of many years the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) has conducted research regarding the aftermath of identity theft and the experience that victims truly have in recovering their identities – beyond just the financial aspects.
One finding in our most recent trend analysis, “The Aftermath: The Non-Economic Impacts of Identity Theft,” is that victims continued to have extremely low levels of satisfaction with many of the organizations that they needed to interact with during the process of resolving their case.
Low Satisfaction of Crime Victims
Our Aftermath Study isn’t the only data supporting this telling situation, many of ITRC’s other research projects highlight a trend of very low satisfaction levels of identity crime victims. It seems that increasing victim satisfaction levels with experts whose purpose is to help them is nearly impossible. The levels remain stubbornly low year after year and all of the steps that we as victim and/or consumer service providers enact aren’t increasing those satisfaction levels.
Source: Aftermath Study, 2018
Victims Working with Law Enforcement Agencies
While dissatisfaction is common with the various agencies involved throughout the process, over half of all victims aren’t satisfied with Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs). Additionally, more than one-third of all victims are dissatisfied with the LEAs they interact with after an identity crime.
ITRC coaches all of the victims that we help prior to their interaction with LEAs, in order to prepare them for the experience and realistically set expectations of what the interaction will be like and provides resources to help victims through the process. However, we realize that this simply isn’t enough. Most victims remain deeply dissatisfied with their interactions with these professionals.
This deep and pervasive negative satisfaction level will only start to shift by implementing creative solutions and enacting collective change in how we view economic crime victimization culturally. LEAs are often caught in the crossfire between victim advocacy groups, such as the ITRC and others, the public they serve and the elected/appointed officials representing them. Victim services organizations (like ITRC) have consistently sent the message that more resources and attention need to be paid to non-violent crimes, in particular the plight of the economic crime victim – which is frequently a secondary victimization of other types of crimes including violent crimes.
The Critical Discussion Around Increasing Identity Crime Victim Support Resources
Government officials and the general public continue to hold onto the misconception that identity theft, fraud, scams and financial crimes in particular, just don’t have the same impact on victims; therefore, we can’t make them a priority.
However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. The 2018 Aftermath Study showcases how the negative emotional impacts of identity crime turn into very real physical consequences. Of the individuals that have responded, 84.1 percent reported issues with their sleep habits; 77.3 percent reported increased stress levels; 63.6 percent had problems with their concentration; 56.8 percent had persistent aches, pains, headaches and/or cramps and the same percentage experienced stomach issues; 54.5 percent had increased fatigue or decreased energy and 50 percent reported that they had lost interest in activities or hobbies they once enjoyed.
Identity theft also affects the economy because after becoming a victim, 38.89 percent of respondents used their savings to address their financial needs. One respondent noted that she had to access her retirement accounts during the remediation process. An alarming percent (42.8) of respondents also noted that as a result of their identity theft incident they are in debt and 40.5 percent said that they could not pay their bills.
One Victim’s Real Struggle
We hear a constant refrain from identity theft victims who contact the Identity Theft Resource Center regarding how dismissive their local law enforcement department is when it comes to investigating their case. A recent example comes from a victim (we’ll call him Peter) whose identity was being used across multiple platforms by a very persistent thief. In this instance, the thief stole numerous documents and electronic devices from Peter’s car during a burglary. Sometime after the theft, Peter received information from the post office indicating that a change of address had been filed to another local address he didn’t recognize.
The ITRC provided Peter with a remediation plan that assisted in stopping the new accounts from being opened (a credit freeze, among other things, was very effective). However, when Peter brought the information about the change of address to his local police department, he was told that it was irrelevant, and they would not be pursuing the matter further. A short time later, he received an alert on one of his existing store credit cards that his online order would be ready for pick up at a local retailer. The address for the store, the merchandise (several hundred dollars’ worth of electronics), the order number and the time it would be ready we’re all included in the automated alert. Again, when he brought this to the attention of his local police department he was told they could not respond that quickly (the pick-up time was within a few hours) and the case was not pursued for the second time.
This scenario illustrates two important points that I’m struggling to counter:
First, why couldn’t the local jurisdiction go to the store and make the arrest? Was the police department unable to contact the store’s loss prevention, request intervention on their behalf, and then go to the scene when the perpetrators had been caught in the act? If this was a matter of shoplifting and the police were called, they would have most likely responded.
Second, the lack of assistance during Peter’s time of need is a perfect example of why there is a low satisfaction level with LEAs. In this case, the lack of resources does not appear to be a reason, but rather was used as an excuse. If local communities continue to accept as fact that identity theft crimes will not be investigated, we are sending a clear message to the victims about how unimportant they are. And thieves are also receiving the following message: commit fraud and you won’t be prosecuted since LEA’s won’t even bother to investigate it, even if you provide the necessary proof (like the example illustrated above).
What Can Be Done to Help?
Support from LEAs is often viewed as an all or nothing proposition: If we provide more resources to other victims, we must take resources from violent crime victims. We’re not proposing that this happens. However, we are concerned that a huge segment of the population is being victimized in growing numbers, but their experience is being dismissed and the perpetrators are not being held responsible and stopped.
In my countless discussions with LEAs across the country, when the subject of attributing more man power, resources and investigative hours into fraud investigations that involve non-violent crimes comes up, the response is invariably, “… and where will take those resources from? Would you like us to have less resources investigation homicide? Aggravated assault? Rape?”
We need to quash this false narrative in order to move forward. The notion that the only way to provide more resources, and get more police officers, detectives, and investigators invested in fraud and economic crimes investigations is to take from violent crimes resources is myopic and dangerous.
Of course, there are a finite amount of resources available, but we need to be more thoughtful in our approach to providing for the needs of these other victims. There are opportunities for creative processes that will provide redress to victims of economic crimes without sacrificing resources for those of violent crimes.
After spending 21 years working in and with law enforcement entities, I know firsthand how tough the job is; how emotionally draining it can be; and how hard folks worked in those departments to obtain justice. We are not against them, but when criticism is warranted it’s time to speak up. As an organization, the ITRC understands that there is only a finite amount of resources for each department.
We also understand that in the vast majority of identity theft reports that law enforcement officers take, there simply isn’t enough information to even begin the investigation. Victims have no idea how their info was compromised and generally have no information that narrows down the whereabouts of the thieves. They could be in another city, state, or country for that matter.
Investigating every single case would be impossible and unproductive. LEAs have no choice but to let victims know – kindly and compassionately – that the chances of discovering any relevant information that could lead to an arrest, much less prosecution, is highly unlikely. But that same message shouldn’t be delivered when the facts and circumstances of the case are not in alignment with the situation – where victims have pertinent information that could lead to the arrest and prosecution of their perpetrator.
There is an opportunity for us to all come together and discuss creative solutions that will assist LEAs in reframing their mindset when it comes to identity theft and other economic crimes. Join me and other thought leaders in creating and continuing this dialogue so we can obtain justice for economic crime victims. Then an increase in those satisfaction levels will likely follow.
About the Author: Eva Velasquez
Eva is the President/CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center. She has a passion for consumer protection and educating the public about identity theft, privacy, scams and fraud, and other related issues and is recognized as a national expert on these topics.
CyberScout proudly provides financial support to the Identity Theft Resource Center.