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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.

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With all of the high-tech hacking, malware attacks that cripple entire networks, and new ways to steal or fabricate someone’s complete identity, it’s easy to forget that some of the things that used to be problems in the past are, still a problem.

On Aug. 16, a data breach was discovered that affected multiple Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen restaurants in numerous states. Investigators believe the operative first launched the breach in early November of 2017 and continued through Jan. 2. More than 500,000 payment cards were compromised in the breach.

The company has sent out notification letters to the victims and offered identity monitoring for the affected customers. They also revamped the payment card system in April of this year, but still advise all of their customers to monitor their account information very closely for any signs of suspicious activity.

This incident clearly demonstrates that “old-fashioned” methods of stealing identifying and financial information are still out there, even if they’re sometimes overshadowed by larger events like the or the cyber attack that hit last year. Even old tactics like dumpster diving for your junk mail or health insurance statements can lead to identity theft crimes, even if they’re on a much smaller scale than a data breach like this one.

To help minimize the risks associated with this kind of incident, there are steps that consumers can take:

1. Enable alerts on your payment cards – If your financial institution offers it, you can set up text or email alerts that tell you any time your card number is used without the physical card being present. If your account info is stolen in a breach like this one, you’ll know if someone uses your card fraudulently. One person who contacted the Identity Theft Resource Center was on her child’s school trip when she received an alert; a quick call to her credit card company showed that someone had used her account number to buy several iPhones at a cellular store. The transaction was promptly canceled and a new card sent to the victim.

2. Monitor your accounts closely – By taking even a quick peek at your account statements on a regular basis (something you can even set up to do online or on your mobile device), you can stay on top of any unusual activity.

3. Place a credit freeze – This event only compromised the customers’ payment card numbers, but in this climate of record-setting data breaches, some consumers are opting for preventive credit freezes. New legislation goes into effect next month that will remove the fee associated with freezing and unfreezing your credit, which helps prevent new accounts from being opened with your identifying information. If more sensitive information is stolen in other data breaches, you’ll be better prepared to fend off identity theft and fraud.


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.

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For quite some time, Social Security numbers have been called the “Holy Grail” of personally identifiable information. With access to your SSN and a few other key data points, an identity thief could open new lines of credit and run up bills for large purchases for years to come. If you discovered the fraudulent card and canceled it, they could simply open up another one.

In any data breach, it was almost a relief to find out that the victims’ SSNs had not been compromised… but that may not be the case anymore.

As a newly announced data breach of T-Mobile’s network shows, our phone numbers can be a hot commodity for hackers. Hackers made off with the names, email address, some of the accounts’ passwords, account numbers and phone numbers for . The cellular provider discovered the incident on Aug. 20 and shut down the hackers’ access, then began the process of investigating and sending out notification letters to affected customers.

You might think a thief can’t really do much for this information, but that’s not true. With just the data compromised, identity thieves can port the affected customers’ phone numbers to a new SIM card, install it in a new handheld device and access any accounts that the user has connected through that phone number.

For example, a hacker can get into your email account, Amazon account, online banking or PayPal account and more by having the password reset link sent to the phone number associated with the accounts, even if two-factor authentication was in place. The thief can then access the victims’ text messaging, receive the one-time-use verification code and use it to change the victims’ passwords on any accounts where they’ve entered their phone number.

T-Mobile has already begun notifying the victims and offered them some key instructions, namely to change their passwords on their accounts. However, it’s also a good idea to change the passwords on any other sensitive accounts—not just the T-Mobile accounts—and to be on the lookout for any unusual activity. This might include notifications of logins from new devices, contacts from your account providers telling you of suspicious activity, any unusual deductions from your financial accounts and more.


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.

Read next: The Harm in Hoaxes on Social Media