Natural disasters and large-scale emergencies are part of our reality, no matter how much we wish that weren’t true. Since you cannot prevent the next earthquake, wildfire, or hurricane, you can use that energy to make sure you’re prepared for these outcomes and more.
September is National Preparedness Month, and the Federal Trade Commission urges all people to make a plan. You can start with online resources, and also work to understand what kinds of emergencies are likely to affect you based on your location, age and other demographics.
While other knowledgeable sources will help you determine how much clean water or prescription medications you might need to store, the Identity Theft Resource Center wants you to plan for a different emergency aspect: identity theft protection and fraud prevention during events like these.
In any emergency, you may have to prove your identity while also being cut off from access to your important papers. During the aftermath of a dangerous event, you may need to be able to access your funds and deal with insurance agents, contractors, repairmen and more. Here are some tips to help you through it, including:
1. Secure and access your documents – Your personal papers can play a strange role during a crisis. They are both proof that you are who you say you are, but they are also a hot commodity for scams, fraud and theft. You have to somehow keep them protected at all times, be able to access them in a crisis, but also not let them fall into the wrong hands during times of trouble. Sounds impossible, right?
It doesn’t have to be. First, remember that if you’re evacuating in a sudden emergency like a house fire or flash flood, your documents are not necessary for receiving medical care, emergency housing or other basic needs. In fact, if someone demands your driver’s license or Social Security card before they’re willing to provide that kind of assistance, you might be dealing with a scammer.
However, there will be instances in which you need to provide some kind of proof. When planning your emergency supplies, consider including something like a small, password-protected flash drive that holds pictures of key documents. That way, you’re not endangering your originals—or leaving them stored unsafely when not needed—but you can call them up when the emergency has passed. For every other time, make sure your papers are secured and safe from harm and theft in a safe deposit box, home fire safe, or another protected place.
2. Accessing your funds – As part of any preparedness plan, you need to know how you will get to your money and your insurance documents if you need them. Again, things like emergency medical services should be provided without documentation or money to those in crisis, but if you’re able to provide things like medical insurance cards for less serious issues, that can be helpful.
One option is to place your expired medical insurance cards in your preparedness items. That way, the hospital will at least have the information they need to contact your provider and verify your current coverage. Again, this is for non-life-threatening situations in which you’re simply separated from your documents.
Your money, however, may be in as much danger after an emergency as your family was during the event. Scammers and fraudulent individuals use news of major events as a gateway to targeting victims with everything from repair scams to fake government handouts. Be very careful about who you deal with after an event, and get all price quotes in writing before work begins. Never turn over your information to someone who claims to be part of an assistance program until you have verified their role with a reputable agency.
In order to be prepared, one of the best things to do with your documents is to make sure they are always stored together in a safe place. If you need access to them, you can grab the entire bundle of birth certificates, marriage certificates, property deeds, Social Security cards and more then escape the crisis. If a disaster separates you permanently from your important papers, contact the proper authorities as soon as it’s safe and feasible to do so.
Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.