Protecting your identity from fraud after natural disasters

Protect your identity and documents during a natural disaster

CyberScout®, Grinnell Mutual’s partner in identity theft and data breach services, offers these services to Grinnell Mutual policyholders. Policyholders should inform their agents if they have documents that were destroyed.

CyberScout services

  • Document replacement
  • Assistance with identification and replacement of documents destroyed in a disaster — such as passports, credit cards, driver’s licenses and Social Security or Medicare/Medicaid cards — facilitating contact with financial institutions and other providers.
  • Specialists who can offer resolution services in the event of fraud

What documents are most important?

When people leave their homes after a disaster, they frequently overlook key documents and identification, including:

  • Birth certificates
  • Financial and insurance records
  • Medical records
  • Passports
  • Social Security cards

These items are crucial to protecting your identity. If they are lost, destroyed, or stolen, it will be that much harder to recover from a natural disaster.

Why fraudsters target natural disasters

After a disaster, emergency services providers and good Samaritans are often followed by fraudsters looking for money-making opportunities through your personally identifiable information (PII). Criminals may try to obtain your PII by:

  • Sifting through debris
  • Looting
  • Posing as a government official — remember, state and federal officials will never ask you for money or charge an application fee
  • Pretending to represent a charity
  • Impersonating insurance agents, bank agents, or housing inspectors

Once opportunists get a hold of your PII, they can use it in all kinds of ways:

  • Financial account takeover
  • Identity theft
  • Mortgage scams
  • Disaster relief fraud
  • Employment identity theft
  • Medical identity theft

What to protect

Identifying what you need to protect is the first step. Make sure you know where the following are recorded and stored:

  • Social Security Number (SSN), either on your SSN card or other documents
  • Account numbers such as bank, insurance, investments, and credit cards
  • Government-issued identification such as a driver’s license, passport, and birth certificate
  • Contact information such as your email address, physical address, and telephone and mobile numbers
  • Your date and place of birth
  • Passwords and PINs for online information
  • Verification data such as your mother's maiden name, the street you grew up on, pets’ and kids’ names, and high school
  • Medical records, prescriptions, and images

How to prepare

Preparing for a natural disaster can help shorten your recovery period. You should:

  • Know the risks in your area. Be aware of the types of natural disasters that are most likely to happen and plan accordingly.
  • Use the Cloud. Store front-and-back scans of estate documents, photos, and other irreplaceable items in a password-protected online vault.
  • Get a safety-deposit box. Use it to store copies of family members’ IDs and important personal documents(banking, medical, insurance, legal).
  • Prepare to grab and go. Purchase a waterproof box or folder that can hold all your family’s key documents and IDs.
  • Cancel your mail delivery before you leave home. Unattended mail is a jackpot for fraudsters.

After a disaster

If the worst does happen, know what to do to help protect your identity.

  • Trust your instincts. If someone asking for your PII seems suspicious, ask them for photo ID, and call their places of business to verify employment.
  • The Consumer Financial Bureau recommends freezing your credit, which makes it harder for scammers to open accounts in your name. You may also want to put a fraud alert on your credit record.
  • Contact your insurance company, bank, creditors, and other trusted companies to learn about what to expect during the recovery process. Update them with a temporary address if possible.
  • Monitor your credit report, medical bills, and explanations of benefits for any suspicious activity.


Learn about CyberScout



Article adapted from CyberScout materials. Sources: “Data Visualization: Disaster Declarations for States and Counties,” FEMA, 2018, “Decade of Disaster: A Timeline of $1bn Extreme Weather Damage in the U.S.,” The Guardian, 2017. Megadisasters devastated America in 2017. And they’re only going to get worse. Vox, 2018. Data Visualization: Disaster Declarations for States and Counties, FEMA, 2018.