Protecting your identity from fraud after natural disasters

Protect your identity and documents during a natural disaster

Disaster preparedness is essential to protecting your identity, especially if you live in an area prone to floods, hurricanes, wildfires, or tornadoes. 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 — and 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.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Thanks to our partnership with CyberScout®, your homeowner’s policy from Grinnell Mutual and our mutual members comes with free, around-the-clock identity theft services. 

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Article adapted from CyberScout materials. Sources: “Data Visualization: Disaster Declarations for States and Counties,” FEMA, 2018, https://www.fema.gov/data-visualization-disaster-declarations-states-and-counties. “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.