By Roy Urrico
Finopotamus aims to highlight white papers, surveys and reports that provide a glimpse as to what is taking place and/or impacting credit unions and other organizations in the financial services industry.
In 2018, the El Cajon, Calif. –based Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), a national nonprofit organization established to support identity crime victims, recognized a dramatic increase in the number of victims from Black communities contacting the ITRC for assistance. Looking to comprehend why, the ITRC team investigated existing research for the cause of the sudden increase in Black victims, but there was none.
That led to the multi-year, multi-phase study to develop culturally aware identity services in Black communities. The ITRC, in partnership with the Chicago-based Black Researchers Collective (BRC), released its Identity in Practice Report: Understanding Identity Crimes in Black Communities, which examines identity crime victimization across Black communities in the United States.
The report found consequences of identity theft for Black communities are severe, including but not limited to financial loss and damaged credit scores, as well as mental and emotional distress. This study aimed to understand how Black communities in the U.S. experience, protect against, and recover from identity theft.
This report focuses on qualitative findings from Black victims’ personal experiences with identity theft in three cities: Chicago, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. This phase of the study focused on contextualizing the survey results and provide insights on the impact of identity crimes on Black victims.
·Most participants were victimized by strangers (56%), but a large minority (40%) said they were victimized by someone they knew, with at least 13% indicating family members.
·Revictimization was also prevalent in the three cities (83% in Atlanta and Chicago; 86% in Philadelphia). For those who experienced financial loss, most lost at least $500.
·Fifty-three percent of participants across the focus groups expressed emotional and psychological impacts after becoming a victim, as well as challenges accessing financial accounts, securing tax returns, obtaining identity PINs and dealing with the impacts of reporting identity fraud.
“For more than two decades, the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) has been helping victims of identity crimes recover from the misuse of their personal information. While accurate, those words do not come close to conveying the emotional, physical, and financial impacts of having your identity stolen and misused,” Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the ITRC, said in the report.
Velasquez added, “In 2018, we received a federal grant that allowed us to respond to accessibility challenges among victims … we saw a dramatic increase in the number of victims from Black communities contacting the ITRC for assistance – well beyond the number expected when compared to census population data. While we understood the reason for an overall increase in identity crime victims, the ITRC team searched for existing research that might indicate why such a dramatic rise among Black victims.”
The Identity in Practice Report confirmed identity theft as a growing concern in the U.S., especially for Black communities who experience unique socioeconomic vulnerabilities. “Within Black communities, identity theft is a prevalent issue, one which can have negative effects on interpersonal relationships and dynamics across Black families,” revealed the study.
The report also cited limited awareness of prevention strategies adds to the vulnerability, particularly among those who have never been victimized and, therefore, aren’t aware of the prospect of it happening to them.
The Research and People Involved
In the spring of 2023, researchers conducted six focus groups – two in each above-mentioned city – with people who both self-identified as Black and reported being a victim of an identity crime across three major cities in the Midwest, East Coast, and the South. Across the focus groups, researchers met with a total of 55 participants.
Some Key Takeaways
• The most prevalent incidents fell within one or more of the top categories: (1) bank accounts, credit cards, and checks; (2) income tax, unemployment, and other scams; (3) misuse of personal identifiable information (PII) in childhood; (4) phone, utility bills, and miscellaneous essentials; (5) car, home, and student loans; and (6) non-financial criminal offenses.
• Strangers victimized more than half of the participants (31 out of 55, or 56%). However, a large minority (22 out of 55, or 40%) of victims recounted various incidents carried out by people they knew, with at least 13 of those being family members.
• At least a quarter of identity theft cases remained unresolved (14 out of 55, or 25%), revealing the prevalence of theft incidents that linger without closure. A subset of cases within this group only had a partial resolution.
• The impact of identity theft is particularly severe for those with lower incomes, potentially leading to compromised credit scores, limited access to financial resources, and missed financial prospects. These financial consequences frequently triggered emotional distress and frustration, compounded by feelings of inadequate support and resolution.
• Beyond the financial and emotional burdens, participants emphasized the far-reaching effects of identity theft on their living conditions. They shared how these incidents hindered their capacity to make significant purchases, obtain loans, and secure housing.
The report also revealed many people are not aware of helpful resources when dealing with identity theft. Some of the resources mentioned include the attorney general’s office, credit bureaus, banking and credit card companies, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the police, Social Security Administration (SSA), the unemployment fraud hotline and city legal and social agencies.
“Working with our community partners, we will develop new training practices and procedures for the ITRC staff to ensure we are providing the appropriate advice to victims in a culturally aware way,” said the report. “We will review and modify our training and education materials to learn where the gaps exist in how we address the unique issues Black victims face. Also, we will seek new ways of increasing awareness of the actions Black communities can take to avoid becoming a victim as well as how to recover from an identity crime.”
In the final phase of the project, the ITRC expects to develop and test specific identity crime materials and advice leading to more effective support for Black victims of identity crimes. The project is supported by LifeLock, Synchrony and the Wells Fargo Foundation.