The Experiences of Adult/Child Identity Theft Victims
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Cases of identity theft are increasing, with incidents of child identity theft rising more quickly than other types of identity theft (Cullen, 2007). Identity theft can be financial, medical, and character-related, with parents being the most common perpetrators (Cullen, 2007; Schmidt & McCoy, 2005). There are two categories of child identity theft victims: child victims and adult/child victims. According to Foley and Nelson (2009), adult/child identity theft victims are those who were victimized while under the age of 18 but did not learn of the crime until they were 18 or older. The sample for this study included six adult/child identity theft victims.
This study examined the experiences of adult/child identity theft victims using a phenomenological approach, with Bioecological Theory as a guide to data analysis. The experiences of adult/child identity theft victims are important because of the financial, physical and emotional consequences that may result from this crime. Three themes were identified: Negative Emotional Effects, Lack of Support, and Parent as Perpetrator. A variety of negative emotions were experienced by the participants, including anger and fear. Participants felt a lack of support from their families as well as law enforcement and other agencies from whom help was expected. Half of the participants had their identity stolen by a parent. The person component, context component, and time component of Bronfenbrenner's Bioecological theory helped explain these themes.
The results of this research can be used to inform the development of counseling services programs to provide support for adult/child identity theft victims as well as the development of education and training programs for law enforcement and other agencies that interact with adult/child identity theft victims. These trainings need to go beyond how victims are affected financially, and include information about emotional consequences and information about victims' experiences when the perpetrator was a parent. The results of this research can also be used to inform the development of public policy specific to adult/child identity theft victims.