Recently, a local government official in Texas made headlines for urging citizens who ignored the evacuation order to write their names and their Social Security numbers on their arms with permanent marker, presumably to make it easier for emergency personnel to identify their bodies following the storm. As an organization that promotes education and awareness on identity theft and privacy, we are compelled to comment on this kind of advice.
The intent may have been to spur people into action and get them to understand the severity of the threat from Hurricane Harvey. People had to understand that if they did not leave, they were putting their lives at risk. While our organization isn’t going to comment on if this was the best approach, we can agree that there is no greater priority in situations such as this than saving yourself, your family, and your loved ones.
When minutes matter, your physical safety needs to be your first priority. However, this is a good time to remind the public not to overshare their personal identifiable information, especially during vulnerable, chaotic events.
It’s also vitally important to realize that having your SSN or other key identifiers handy does not help in most medical emergencies; medical records are not centralized, so emergency personnel cannot necessarily pull up your medical records by your SSN alone. In fact, in the aftermath of a devastating natural disaster, access to computerized records from your primary care provider may not be available. It’s a good idea to be able to provide EMS services with as much medical information as they will need immediately, including medications you’re currently taking and any medical conditions you have.
General rule of thumb is to not carry your social security card in your day-to-day life. However, in an emergency we encourage people to carry and secure their identifying documents and information—just like any other valuables—any time that disaster preparedness efforts are at hand. To replace your social security card in the event of a disaster, especially if there is no evidence because the evidence and identification docs were lost, can be a lengthy process.
Our thoughts are with those facing this crisis, and we’re helping to spread the word to the public about ways they can help. But for those who are not immediately affected by this disaster, this is a good time to reflect on what you would do when it comes to your identity and important documents in a crisis.
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.