(San Diego, CA: April 19, 2011) According to the “Weather Channel”, tornado season in the U.S. lasts from April through July, with May and June being the peak months. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) wishes to alert the public to several potential identity theft-related situations that might arise from such a natural disaster. This information is based on previously observed criminal behavior in disaster situations.
If your information is missing after a tornado, don’t panic. The information could be so badly destroyed that no one could use the information. However, that being said, here are some valuable tips to help prevent the loss or exposure of your personal information.
- Individuals: Keep your tax and insurance papers, financial records, medical identification cards and items with Social Security numbers in a portable locked box that can easily be taken with you if you must evacuate or move into an underground shelter. Prepare your computer for transport, or remove the hard drive and put it in your locked box.
- Individuals: If you find you will be housed in a community shelter, do not leave the items in your locked box unwatched under any circumstances. The good news is you have a cache of important information to help you recover. The bad news is this is a tempting target for an identity thief.
- Companies: Keep locked files with personal identifying information in the safest place of your building space. Should you return and find this information missing for whatever reason, immediately contact law enforcement. Then contact, if possible, the affected parties so that they can place fraud alerts on their credit reports.
- Be aware and wary of scams. Fraudsters will often use a disaster situation to exploit victims. They may contact disaster victims stating that company databases were damaged, and that they need critical information to reconstruct the accounts that were affected. This is a “phishing” scam, whether by phone, text, or email. No creditable companies or government agency will contact consumers in this manner. Often scammers pretend to be a relief group collecting money. Only send money to relief groups after you have validated the group as well as the address/account that is to be used to collect donations for relief. Well established groups, such as the Red Cross, are the best bet.
- Should you find documents belonging to others that contain sensitive personal information, immediately turn them over to a law enforcement agency, be it local or federal. Remember use of personal identifying information belonging to others is a criminal act. Help prevent that crime by doing the right thing.
The ITRC remains committed to stopping identity thieves from adding to the human tragedy of any disaster.
About the ITRC
The Identity Theft Resource Center® (ITRC) is a nationally recognized non-profit organization established to support victims of identity theft in resolving their cases, and to broaden public education and awareness in the understanding of identity theft. Victims may contact the ITRC toll-free at 888-400-5530 or visit us online at www.idtheftcenter.org .