As seasons change, especially during this time of year, America is prone to natural disasters. After a tornado, flood, fire or hurricane, it’s hard enough to pick up the physical pieces…take these precautions to avoid having to rebuild your identity as well.
The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) recommends spending just a few minutes to create an action plan to ensure you have access to important paperwork, to help avoid identity theft, and to make relationships with federal agencies and other disaster-relief agencies less complicated. Linda Foley, the founder and chairman of the San Diego-based IRTC, says ” You want to make sure you have photocopies of all of your important documents…Keep originals in one place, like a safe deposit box at the bank, and copies in a portable locked box that you can take with you if you have to evacuate.”
Victims of natural disasters are vulnerable to criminals seeking to loot and scam. Looting can be a major problem in areas struck by tornadoes, and scam artists often show up with promises to rebuild your property.
Foley and the ITRC provided tips on how to best prepare to protect your personally identifiable information:
— Buy a sturdy, portable lock box that can hold the following documents: birth, marriage and death certificates, copies of driver’s licenses, passports, medical and insurance information, Social Security cards, important legal documents such as immigration or adoption papers, and current photos of members of the household. The box should be kept in a safe part of the home. In case of an evacuation, it should be the last thing to go into the car before you leave.
— Make copies of all important documents, and keep the copies separate from the originals. “Even banks get destroyed in disasters, and you may not be able to access the original documents,” Foley said.
— Save important computer files on a portable hard drive or on a secure cloud backup server. Foley suggested removing hard drives from computers and taking them with you during evacuations, but that takes technical skills that not everyone has. Portable hard drives are inexpensive, hold a computer’s worth of data and fit easily into a purse.
— Have a hard copy of important phone numbers readily available. This includes phone numbers of credit card companies, insurance agencies and family members. Many people depend on cell phones to store all their contact information, but they can’t be accessed if the batteries run down and there is no electricity (or if the phone charger was left behind).
— If you aren’t able to evacuate before flood waters rise, Foley recommended putting documents in a plastic food storage bag and taping it to your body. The bag will keep the documents dry, and taping the bag to your body will keep you from losing it.
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