When any kind of natural disaster strikes, regardless of the situation or location, scammers are often ready to take advantage of the unfortunate event and commit scams and fraud. No matter if it’s a sudden incident that leaves chaos in its wake or a storm with several days’ warning, there are things the public can do to protect themselves from rampant crimes of this kind.
Just as you might have a first aid kit and blanket in your car or make sure to check the batteries in your smoke detector, there are things you can do to minimize your risk in a sudden disaster. Tornadoes, flash flooding, and even house fires can crop up so quickly that only seconds before everything seemed all right. Safety-smart individuals know the escape routes from their houses or have interior rooms or closets designated for tornado emergencies if they live in high-risk regions. But what happens to your sensitive documents (Social Security card, birth certificate, etc.) if you have to flee your home following a disaster?
Will looters find your family’s Social Security cards in the rubble? Will your unprotected computer give someone access to your bank accounts if it survives the storm?
Now is the time—before the emergency occurs—to form the good habits that will protect you in such a sudden event. A quality fire safe can not only protect your identifying documents and important papers from everyday theft and damage, but it can also keep those items from falling into the wrong hands in an emergency. Password protecting your computer can also keep someone out of it after you’ve had to evacuate.
Advanced Warning Events
Some emergencies afford you a small window of opportunity to pack up and seek shelter. In those events, it’s easy to get focused on the most vital things like food, clothing, and prescription medications, but overlook essential things like birth certificates, marriage certificates, and insurance cards.
Keeping your important documents in a secure but easily accessible place at all times will let you grab them and go should the need arise. That way, you’ll know they’re with you and not in a looter’s hands. If the evacuation gives you enough time—such as preparing for a hurricane or advancing wildfire by going to stay with a family member out of its path—stopping your mail would be a good idea to prevent identity theft at your curbside mailbox.
After the Fact
Recovering from any kind of weather emergency or natural disaster can take a toll on the victims. The last thing you need is someone to attack via scams or fraud. These can include imposters offering fake government assistance, bogus home inspectors or people masquerading as officials who want to gain access to your property to help repair any damage caused by the disaster.
There are a variety of ways that these criminals can strike, so use your best judgment:
- Be careful not to let a desire to return to normal force you to let your guard down or make hasty decisions.
- Do not allow access to your property to someone who does not supply legitimate identification.
- When asked to pay up front for materials or labor, use caution.
- Do not allow contractors to begin work without getting a price quote in writing (to avoid hefty “surprise” fees after the work is completed).
- Be on the lookout for roving out-of-town crews or unlicensed people who take advantage of the latest storm to steal from the victims.
It’s also important to be on the lookout for fake charities that often pop up in the aftermath of a natural disaster. To avoid donating to a scammer instead, only use trusted sources of charitable giving.
While natural disasters can’t be avoided, you can take the necessary steps to properly secure your personal information ahead of time to minimize your risks of identity theft. To learn more, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for free assistance. If you have the financial means, you might consider purchasing identity theft protection from a reputable provider who can help save you time by monitoring your information and may offer additional features to further strengthen your protection.
Generali Global Assistance proudly provides financial support to the Identity Theft Resource Center.