Personal identity theft can easily become a professional problem.
One in 3 identity theft victims say they experienced difficulties at their place of employment, either with their boss or co-workers, as a result of the crime, according an initial analysis of 2017 trends from The Identity Theft Resource Center, a consumer advocate. (The full report is due out later this year.)
"This problem is so pernicious that it sneaks into different aspects of a victim's life," said Eva Velasquez, chief executive and president of the center.
When Alexis Moore discovered she was a victim of identity theft 15 years ago, she thought her background as a private investigator and debt collector would make the problem easy to unravel. But she quickly found that the banks she was looking to for employment weren't so understanding.
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"The first thing they want to do is check your credit," she said — and her prospective employers were more apt to simply move on to hire another candidate than ask Moore why her score was so bad.
"I realized I was going to have to be self-employed in order to maintain any sort of possibility of finding a good job," said Moore, who is now an attorney based in California, focusing on consumer advocacy issues including cyberabuse, inaccurate credit reports and debt collection abuse.
The problem Moore experienced is still one job seekers report encountering. In 2016, the most recent full year of data available, 13.8 percent of identity theft victims told the ITRC that their ability to get a job had been affected or that they had been unable to find a job as a result of the fraud — and 8.5 percent first found out they'd been victimized when they were denied a job opportunity.
"How do we put a dollar amount on that opportunity cost, and put a quality of life measurement against that?" Velasquez asked.
Safeguard your data
Among identity theft victims, about 7 percent of adults and 60 percent of children personally know the perpetrator, according to Javelin Strategy & Research. Many are family members, but a few victims suspect co-workers.
Take precautions to secure documents and devices you bring to, or keep in, your workplace that have your sensitive personal information on them.
Other effects haunt victims at their current workplace. Most often, victims report difficulties tied to taking time off from work to resolve the fraud. The resource center found 22 percent of consumers had taken time away from work, post-theft.
Some bosses may be less understanding of that need for time off than others — especially if it affects your productivity, Velasquez said. There can be an immediate financial impact from taking unpaid days and a potential ripple effect when it comes time for a work review and raise. (About 6 percent of victims reported losing their job due to the identity theft.)
Depending on the nature and extent of the identity theft, victims could see their wages garnished as a result of the thief's actions (think unpaid tax bills or legal judgments), Velasquez said.
Experts say the best defense against workplace problems related to identity theft is to be proactive in alerting your current — or, if you're job hunting, prospective — employer.