Several studies and surveys have documented the pain and frustration consumers experience when they become identity-theft victims. Much time is spent documenting the damage and submitting paperwork to law enforcement and financial institutions. Much time and money are spent fixing the damage to financial accounts done by identity thieves. It can be extremely difficult to fix the damage to medical records. Usually, lawyers must be hired and money paid for credit report monitoring services and identity resolution services.
With all of this downside, I have come to believe that there is an upside to identity theft and fraud. Since I started writing this blog in 2007, I have talked with many consumers about their experiences. I am not referring to credit card fraud, because the process is pretty easy and of minimal impact to consumers. Their credit card issuer usually provides a replacement card and account; and the consumer is out up to $50.
The fraud I refer to includes:
- When identity criminals open new accounts or gain credit in the victim's name; or drain their financial accounts
- When identity criminals obtain health card services using the victim's information. This medical fraud results with the victim's and the criminal's medical conditions and treatments mixed together; a situation not easily nor quickly corrected
- When identity criminals commit crime using the victim's name and address information
Most people ignore the whole issue until it happens to them. Then, they want to learn everything they need to know, so it doesn't happen again and they can fix any problems.
The list below is based on my experiences, as a consumer like you. The benefits I see of being an identity theft victim:
- Awareness: After an identity thief has stolen your personal data, account credentials, and/or money consumers seem to have a new awareness of of the value of their sensitive personal data.
- Acceptance and curiosity: after having their identity information and/or money stolen, there is an acceptance that identity theft is a problem. There is a curiosity to learn about other ways identity thieves and criminals might harm them, so they can avoid this painful experience in the future.
- Willingness to change behaviors: Not knowing how to protect yourself is terrifying to most people. The pain from this terror seems to be sufficient incentive for consumers to change their habits (e.g., practice safe online shopping habits, check their credit reports for accuracy, use strong passwords at online sites, maintain anti-virus software on their home computer, etc.). Of the people I have talked with, after being an identity-theft victim, none want to return to their old ways.
- Stronger consumer interest: along with this awareness about identity theft is an interest in products, services, processes, and/or laws that address and protect the needs and assets of consumers. Getting good customer service seems to become more important, too.
- Gratitude and appreciation: before becoming a victim of identity theft and fraud, many consumers perceive warnings by consumer and privacy advocates to be unnecessary and overly cautious. Some have called me paranoid. After experiencing the pain of the theft and fraud, a different attitude emerges which includes a sincere appreciation for identity theft protection advice to help them fix their fraud problem, and a context for listening to future warnings.
- Participation in our democracy: when the perception is that local or federal laws haven't kept up with business practices, some been motivated to write to their Congressional reps to demand action.
So, a painful event can often result in something positive. What do you think?