The amount of individual ending up as victims of identity theft is increasing at an alarming rate. However, the financial crimes are unable to grasp the impact of the theft upon the victims.
According to the president and the CEO of Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC)- Eva Velasquez, “There are many victim services organizations that assist violent crime victims and the understanding of the trauma and the victim experience is not questioned (which is very appropriate and as it should be).”
Essentially, we can actively visualize the pain of a victim, undergone through physical assault. Empathizing with them is generally easy as we fervently understand why they are upset. Unfortunately, though, while sympathizing with the victims of a non-violent crime, we can’t come up with the same level of empathy.
“Victims who contacted the ITRC have shared with me that their support network (friends, family, co-workers) simply dismiss their feelings and often tell them they are overacting or that their reaction is unreasonable,” she explained.
“The most ineffective response anyone can have is to dismiss or downplay a victim’s reactions. When a system that is supposed to protect you demonstrably breaks down, you are left feeling vulnerable and helpless; and there are long-term downstream effects, including loss of trust in the system, institutions, and oneself.”
Although the fact that often times the victimization is traced back to be the victim’s own faulty behavior, this still does give us the liability to making them feel inferior in any way possible. As she observed:
“Who amongst us hasn’t made a mistake? We are all human, and no one is perfect. Victim blaming is shameful and needs to stop.”
Highlights on Identity Theft Resource Center
A US-based non- profit organization, called the Identity Theft Resource Center has been established to provide support and assistance to victims of identity theft. The Resource Center promises to help victims in resolving their cases and to spread awareness amongst people regarding identity theft, data breaches, and cybersecurity, scams/fraud, and privacy issues.
The ITRC organization works on providing a new narrative with the help of their research report series The Aftermath. In it, they give an insight into their discussions with thought leaders and decision makers through their collaboration on a national level with other victim service providers.
The biggest challenge ever faced by Velasquez after successfully becoming the CEO of ITRC in 2013 was to connect to the public, decision makers, and funders the devastating impact of financial and identity crimes upon the victims.
“Additionally, as any non-profit will attest to, fundraising is always top of mind,” she added. “As a non-profit organization, we must be good stewards of the donations, grants and other funding sources, while ensuring that we use the most cost-effective processes. However, in this space, we must be as dynamic and up-to-date as possible on technology trends. Finding the balance between achieving our mission and being as current on the latest technology, cybersecurity, and privacy issues have also proven to be challenging.”
Revolution in the outlook towards security
Velasquez holds identity theft incidents o be the direct reason behind our historical, societal preference of rooting for convenience over security and the industry’s hesitance towards acknowledging that there is a shift in this conversion.
“While it remains true that we as consumers still want the convenience of conducting many transactions online, including ones where we have to conduct an initial authentication, consumer tolerance of friction has changed,” she said.
“This is wholeheartedly true for victims. People who have had their identity or identity credentials misused are not just tolerant of friction, they welcome it! They have a hard-learned understanding that if authenticating is easy for them, it will be just as easy for a thief. And because identity theft is affecting millions of people every year, this is a large and growing segment of our population.”
She has therefore requested the security leaders to start having a different outlook towards friction and to take incremental steps that would help gauge the friction level that can be tolerated by a particular consumer base.
Another clear sign of the shift in the attitude is that the consumers have started to put more thought into themselves and their identities. This can be seen by the steady increase in the number of people referring to ITRC’s website and toll-free information hotline.
“When I first became CEO of ITRC six years ago, our call center received about 70% of its call volume from victims of identity theft and 30% from people who were not victims, requesting assistance or information on the issue. These callers had some sort of exposure to the issue and wanted more understanding based on their situation: information to learn more, risk minimization techniques or they were calling to verify if an email/text/call they received was a scam. They may have been a victim of another crime (like a car burglary, purse/wallet theft, or mail theft) and wanted information on their level of exposure and risk of identity theft and advice on steps they could take to prevent it,” she noted.
“Fast forward to our current metrics – the stats have flipped. While we are very active in our victim remediation services, more and more people are proactively reaching out to us BEFORE they become victims of identity theft. If that doesn’t demonstrate increased consumer awareness and desire for information, I don’t know what does.”
Availability of assistance
It is her foremost belief that the consumers are becoming more conscious towards privacy implications of their actions, mainly because they are becoming more aware of the dangers. Apart from that, the external events have also forced the consumers to think on the way their actions may be a contribution to the privacy landscape.
The workshops organized by the organization are sought after, and the public is showing increasing interest in information about data breaches/ abuses and ways to minimize the risks.
ITRC aims to help as many victims and consumers they can in any possible way available. It is their goal to help anyone who needs it.
“Does every victim need us? No, some have other resources they can turn to, and I am grateful for that. But there is an extraordinary number of folks that have no other resources available to them. I want to ensure those people never feel alone or that they have to figure this out for themselves. We have a plan for them, and we want everyone to know and share the message,” she concluded.