Protecting yourself from identity theft following a disaster - AmericaNowNews.com

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Protecting yourself from identity theft following a natural disaster

  • SafetyProtecting yourself from identity theft following a natural disasterMore>>

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No matter where you live, a natural disaster is never completely avoidable.

Whether it's a hurricane, flood, tornado or earthquake, a lifetime of personal possessions can be left in a pile of rubble and in plain view allowing an opportunistic crook to steal your identity.

"All your keepsakes, things you held dear to yourself, is now wide open and it could be miles away," said Officer Craig Allen with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

Financial documents, social security cards, medical records and birth certificates are often found in the debris field following a storm making what was once private very public.

Think it can't happen? A check was deposited in someone else's backyard 89 miles away following one storm, and a bank statement was found more than 100 miles from the home where it belonged.

George Hardy is a tornado victim and he also works for a company called Legalshield.

"Thieves don't care who you are or where you are," Hardy said, "It just pays to protect yourself."

America Now met up with Hardy right after a tornado ripped apart the neighborhood where his daughter lives.

Standing amidst homes left in ruins, Hardy said he would never regret paying $40-$60 for a lockbox to keep his document's safe.

But experts warn that's not enough. The box should also be fireproof as insurance against the more likely household disaster, a fire.

After you lock it, you should label it. "Put some kind of identification on the outside of that box," and Allen added, "make copies for family members, put them in the personnel files at work."

Following a natural disaster, a lock box could be found as close as next door or as far away as the next neighborhood.

Without an identifying name or number to call, the only way to determine the owner of the lock box is to break the lock which defeats the purpose.

As for what you store in the box, don't just make copies of your personal files. Scan and email them to an account you can access from anywhere. This could prove beneficial if you are ever evacuated from your hometown and need these documents to reestablish yourself in a new location.   

You should also be sure to place your important documents in a waterproof bag. If your home is flooded, this may keep them from being damaged.

"Play the 'What if' game," Allen advises. "If something happens today, how am I going to get my information?"

You should also find out if most of your identifying documents are stored as electronic data.

Computers and cell phones are commonly collected in debris piles.

Make sure you routinely back up the data on a hard drive and always keep the passwords to your electronics protected.

When the skies clear and communities are out cleaning up, looters may not be far behind.

While you can't prevent a natural disaster, you can take a few measures to protect yourself from identity theft in its aftermath.

Copyright 2012 America Now. All rights reserved.

Additional Information

  • Officer Craig Allen says if you know you've lost identifying information in a storm contact the credit bureaus and put a hold on your credit or ask for it to be closely monitored. You should also contact your bank to let them know you've been in a disaster and ask to have your account monitored.

The following information is from an article entitled "Natural Disasters: Protect Your Identity" on About.com <http://idtheft.about.com/od/preventionpractices/a/IDTheftDisaster.htm>.

  • Make a list of the local business that might have your personal information stored in files or on computers. After a disaster, you may need to contact the business to find out how they were affected by the storm.
  • Examples of documents to be proactive about protecting include: Driver's Licenses, Birth Certificates, Marriage Certificates, Death Certificates, Adoption Paperwork, Social Security Cards and Statements, Insurance Paperwork (Home, Health, and Auto), Lease/Mortgage Paperwork, Past Tax Returns, Bank and Credit Card Statements, Investment Paperwork, Utility Bills.
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