When disaster occurs, victims rarely have time to gather any personal items before evacuating a storm-stricken area. Vital records from Social Security cards and birth certificates to credit card statements and bank account passbooks get left behind. And that’s when the thieves – both garden-variety crooks and identity thieves – move in, seizing abandoned documents, draining bank accounts, ruining credit, and otherwise making life even worse for people already down on their luck.
If you have to leave your possessions behind and evacuate your home, what can you do to protect yourself from identity theft? Before disaster strikes, secure important documents in a bank lockbox or other secure location away from home – such as a locked file cabinet in your office. If you must keep paperwork at home, store it all in a locking, waterproof and fireproof box that you can easily grab and take with you in case you have to evacuate.
If the worst happens and you must leave your information behind – or your home and all its contents are lost to storm, flood or fire – take these steps to recover:
- Monitor your bank and credit card accounts frequently – even daily – looking for unfamiliar transactions. If you see transactions that don’t belong to you, report them to the financial institution managing that account and follow their procedure for addressing potential identity theft.
- Contact all three major credit bureaus and ask them to place fraud alerts on your accounts.
- Contact an online monitoring service, like Protect My ID, and set up credit monitoring. Often, your credit report and score are the first places where evidence of fraud will show up.
- Be wary of anyone claiming to be with a government agency or charity who offers help but requires you to give personal, identifying information (such as your Social Security number) to get it. Check the organization and individual’s credentials before you share any information.
- If you lose everything and find you have to rebuild your identity, consider working with a service that will liaise on your behalf with government agencies across the country. These services have the infrastructure in place to work quickly and efficiently with government records offices to help you rebuild your identity.