How to 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 flooding, hurricanes, wildfires, or tornadoes. Because when people leave their homes after a disaster, they frequently overlook key documents and identification, including:

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

These items are key 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 followed by fraudsters looking for money-making opportunities through your personally identifiable information (PII). Criminals know that after a disaster they have plenty of methods available for stealing your information such as:

  • Sifting through debris
  • Looting
  • Posing as government officials
  • Impersonating insurance agents or housing inspectors

Once criminals or 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

Prepare before a natural disaster, and know what to do after.

  • Know the risks in your area. Make sure you are aware of the types of natural disasters that are most likely to happen and plan accordingly.
  • Use the Cloud. Store estate documents, photos, and other irreplaceable items in a password-protected online vault.
  • Get a safe deposit box. Make copies of family members’ IDs and important personal documents (banking, medical, insurance, legal) and store them.
  • Prepare to grab and go. Purchase a waterproof box or folder that can hold all your family’s key documents and IDs.
  • Stay vigilant. Remember that if the worst does happen, fraudsters may try to take advantage of you, so trust your instincts if someone asking for your PII seems suspicious. Ask them for proper ID, and call places of business to verify employment with that company or department before giving out giving out your PII.

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.