Fraud victims often report feeling sad, ashamed, and depressed after being scammed — and seniors may be particularly vulnerable. To care for your mental and emotional health if fraud should occur, report the crime immediately, take extra care of your body and mind, and give yourself grace as you navigate this tricky time.
Identity theft can impact more than just your credit or finances. Fraud victims often report feeling sad or ashamed, and can experience stress, anxiety, or even depression.
According to the World Health Organization, mental health problems including dementia and depression are often under-diagnosed in older adults — which may make seniors more susceptible to scams, or make the recovery process particularly painful.
But no matter your age, if you’re experiencing fraud, know this: you’re not alone.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received reports of fraud from more than 2.8 million Americans in 2021, with losses soaring to more than $5.8 billion, a 70% increase in dollars lost over the previous year.
Our identity specialists have been on the frontlines of that fraud wave, and they’ve seen the devastation firsthand.
So we asked April Melheim, Allstate Identity Protection Restoration Manager, about how her team would advise someone who’s feeling overwhelmed by the mental and emotional aspect of fraud.
“First of all, understand that this isn’t your fault — scammers have gotten really, really good at making their ploys look real,” Melheim says. “It could happen to anyone at any time — there’s no shame in it.”
Read on to learn more about the link between fraud and mental health, especially for older adults — plus tips for taking care of your wellbeing after being scammed.
The mental and emotional impact of fraud on older adults
Before we get to the mental impact identity fraud can have on seniors, consider that according to the 2021 Elder Fraud Report released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), people 60 and up are hit hardest by digital fraud.
In 2021, more than 92,000 people over the age of 60 reported fraud to the IC3. But this is likely just the tip of the iceberg.
Elder fraud is a type of elder abuse — and research shows that elder abuse often goes unreported. One study found that for every case of elder abuse that’s reported to the authorities, another 24 cases go unreported.
When it comes to elder fraud, loneliness — or the feeling of being disconnected from others — and social isolation are compounding issues.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), loneliness is prevalent among seniors, who are more likely to live alone and face the loss of spouses, siblings, and friends than other age groups.
New research shows that older adults who are lonely are more likely to fall for financial scams than their more connected peers.
If fraud does occur, someone grappling with loneliness or social isolation may feel even worse.
How to cope if you’re a fraud victim
Regardless of your age, it’s important to know that fraud is common. People of all ages can become fraud victims, and according to research from Javelin, at least one in four people 60 and up have experienced identity theft.
If fraud does happen to you, the first step to recovering, both emotionally and financially, is to report the crime.
“Identity theft is not a problem that goes away on its own,” Melheim says. “The longer you let it go, the worse that it gets.”
If you’re an Allstate Identity Protection member, know that our identity specialists are here to guide and support you through the remediation process. They can also provide expert advice on how to shore up your digital safety. (See the sidebar above for a few quick tips.)
“Education is a huge part of our restoration process,” says Melheim. “We make sure victims know how they can be better prepared if it happens again.”
When a member first reaches out to us about a possible case of identity theft, our team often advises them to go ahead and file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Many merchants require an official identity theft report. Filing with the FTC is fast, free, and easy, and may help law enforcement track and fight back against scammers.
Plus, it just feels good to be proactive. “Taking steps to reclaim your identity can help cut down on the stress and helplessness you may feel,” says Melheim.
Once we’re on the case, rest assured — our team will stay with you until the issue you’re experiencing is resolved.
In the meanwhile, consider taking these additional steps:
Confront any and all emotions. You may find comfort in discussing your experience and worries with a friend or family member. For additional support — or if any mental health condition gets debilitating or life-threatening — reach out to a counselor, therapist, or psychologist.
Focus on the crime, not the criminal. Part of what makes digital fraud so tricky is that, in most cases, the criminal remains anonymous. Some victims report feeling paranoid and anxious after having their identity stolen, worried that they were singled out by someone they may know. But in many cases, says Melheim, scams are part of a crime ring, rather than a one-off attack on an individual.
Find ways to manage and reduce your stress. Consider mind-calming hobbies like yoga, tai chi, and meditation, and prioritize taking part in activities that keep you connected with others and bring you joy. Take further care of your body as best as you can by choosing nutrient-rich foods, exercising regularly, and prioritizing sleep.
Finally, give yourself grace as you navigate this tricky time.
“It’s normal to feel a sense of violation, but don’t hesitate to call us for help,” Melheim says. “We’re here to help you solve the issue so you can move on.”
Minimize your risk of another attack
Many victims of identity theft feel better after taking steps to safeguard against future fraud. If you’ve been a victim, here are three things you can do today to better protect yourself: