Identity theft damages its victim’s financial well-being, but this crime can have equally devastating effects on its victim’s emotional well-being. Carefully managing your emotions after identity theft can help you regain stability, both financially and psychologically.
I’m not a mental health professional, but I speak from experience. Recently, some anonymous bad guy gained access to my credit card number, and then manufactured a counterfeit card which he used to make purchases at several stores. I discovered the fraudulent charges almost two weeks later while routinely checking my online statement. There were 28 of them, totaling nearly $2,000. During the process of recovering from this violation of my finances and my privacy, I discovered some techniques that made getting back to normal a lot less stressful.
Talk to a real person
Immediately after the crime, I felt vulnerable, victimized, and hyper-concerned about the security of my entire financial world. I knew my card company offered online fraud-reporting systems, but I wanted human contact, so instead of clicking the keyboard, I dialed the phone. I had to endure the usual gauntlet of impersonal robot-voices, menus and muzak, but I persevered and used the time to figure out the best way to describe my problem. Finally, I heard the voice of a living, breathing human, and I immediately felt less alone and less stressed. I had an ally-an experienced professional whose first words included the phrase, “How may I help you?”
Use the speaker phone
You’ll probably spend a lot of time on the phone to manage your recovery. For much of that time you’ll be on hold as agents review your records and perform other tasks. My physical stress level decreased significantly after I switched the phone to “speaker” and relieved myself from the burden of holding the device to my ear. Putting down the phone, sitting in a more relaxed position, and talking as if I was conversing with someone right there in the room seemed much more natural.
Channel self-pity into anger
Feeling sorry for yourself in these circumstances is perfectly normal and valid. In my opinion, however, self-pity is not nearly as effective as good old anger when it’s time to get things done. A powerful emotional change was triggered for me when the fraud department agent asked, “Will you agree to assist us in the prosecution of the person responsible for these fraudulent charges?” In just seconds, my “poor, poor me” feelings transformed to, “I’m not letting that (expletive deleted) get away with this!”
Write stuff down
Making notes as you go through the financial recovery process helps in many ways. It provides information for later reference, helps you remember steps taken and steps remaining, and supports the feeling that you’re in command of the situation. I made my notes with pen and paper, and output my statements and other online information as hard copy. Having something physical to show for my efforts made me feel I was making progress.
Surround yourself with a fortress of information
You’ll feel more confident battling your way back to financial security if you thoroughly understand the environment in which you’re operating. For instance, I wanted to know how thieves go about making the type of counterfeit card that was used to victimize me. I also looked online for expert-recommended recovery strategies and those employed by other identity theft victims.
Keep your energy up
At just about any point during the damage control process, it’s ok to take a break. Make a sandwich. Order pizza. You’re going to need all the energy you can muster, because recovering from identity theft is a long, tedious process. I’ve been working on my case for quite a while, but I still have forms to fill out, billing profiles to change, and many other tasks ahead of me. Even so, I feel pretty positive that things will eventually work out for the best. But then, I just had lunch.