Finance Blog

Tips to Help Protect Your Identity After a Natural Disaster

Written by Ilyce Glink on September 2, 2013 in Credit  |   No comments

Natural disasters are not uncommon in the United States. Already this year, massive tornadoes caused untold destruction in Oklahoma and across the Midwest, and wildfires have destroyed many homes in Colorado. Although there are charities and government programs that focus on helping victims of natural…

identity theftNatural disasters are not uncommon in the United States. Already this year, massive tornadoes caused untold destruction in Oklahoma and across the Midwest, and wildfires have destroyed many homes in Colorado.

Although there are charities and government programs that focus on helping victims of natural disasters recover financially, the confusion of such catastrophic events can leave room for identity theft scams.

According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit agency dedicated to stopping identity theft, thieves know victims of disasters are less likely to have time to protect themselves.

However, victims of natural disasters can avoid falling prey to identity thieves by following several rules about personal and identifying information:

Make a plan to protect important documents. Make copies of personal identifying documents like Social Security cards, driver’s licenses, wedding certificates, and health insurance cards, and store them outside the home in a safe deposit box. Also, keep copies of your credit and debit information in a safe place. This way, even if your home is destroyed or left vulnerable to looters, the information will be locked away.

Stop your mail. Mail often contains important identifying information, and leaving such information in the mailbox for any extended amount of time makes it vulnerable to thieves. If a disaster causes you to be away from your home for an extended period of time—such as during cleanup or repairs—ask to pick up your mail at a post office until you can return.

Protect your virtual assets. Only use secure, password-protected Internet connections to check bank accounts, email, or other potentially sensitive websites.

Check your credit report as soon as possible after a disaster. A credit report will show any unusual activity related to finances. You can also add a security alert to your credit report so you’ll know immediately if something unusual happens long after the disaster.

Be careful when giving out your personal information in order to collect relief funds. Many organizations do distribute relief funds after disasters, and some may require you to give them your identifying information, such as Social Security numbers or banking information. Disaster victims should only speak to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and known charity groups. The Better Business Bureau also keeps a list of known and respected relief organizations.

Don’t give your personal information to anyone who solicits contributions to any disaster relief fund. According to the National Center for Disaster Fraud, a part of the Federal Department of Justice that investigates instances of fraud associated with major disasters, legitimate organizations generally don’t send unsolicited emails or pressure people into donating after a disaster. Organizations also won’t require more identifying information than is necessary to process a donation. Those hoping to help disaster victims should carefully research organizations before donating and should be wary of those seeming to ask for unnecessary identifying information.

Report suspected instances of identity theft immediately. People who believe they may have been victims of fraud related to a natural disaster should contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud by phone at 866-720-5721, by fax at 225-334-4707, or by email at disaster@leo.gov.


Ilyce Glink is the author of ten books, including the bestselling 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask. Her nationally syndicated column, “Real Estate Matters,” appears in more than 125 newspapers and Websites, and her online “Ask Ilyce” columns are read by hundreds of thousands of people every month. She is a top-rated radio host on WSB Radio in Atlanta, the Home Equity blogger at CBS MoneyWatch.com, host of the Internet program “Expert Real Estate Tips,” managing editor of the Equifax Personal Finance Blog, and publisher of ThinkGlink.com.

No comments yet

Leave a Comment

Name :

Commenting guidelines

We welcome your interest and participation on this forum, but be aware that comments will be published at Equifax's sole discretion. Please don't use this blog to submit questions or concerns about your Equifax credit report or raise customer service issues. Instead, you should contact Equifax directly for all such matters and any attempts to do so in this forum will be promptly re-directed.

Some other factors to consider when commenting:
  1. Registration and privacy. While no registration is required to visit our forum, participants wishing to post a message must register by creating an account. All personal information provided by forum members incident to registration is governed by our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.
  2. All comments are anonymous. We'll delete your name, e-mail address, and any other identifying information, including details about your investments.
  3. We can't post or respond to every comment - As much as we'd like to, we can't post every comment, nor can we guarantee that we will respond to each individual message. All questions or comments about your Equifax credit report or similar customer service issues should be handled by contacting Equifax directly.
  4. Don't offer specific legal, tax or financial advice. All of the materials on this Site are for information, education, and noncommercial purposes only and this forum is not intended as a means of expressing views or ideas regarding any specific legal, tax, or investment advice. While offering general rules of thumb is both permitted and encouraged, recommending specific ideas or strategies regarding investments, taxes, and related matters is prohibited.
  5. Credit Repair. This blog is not intended as a venue for the discussion or exchange of ideas regarding credit repair or other strategies intended to assist visitors and community members improve or otherwise modify their credit histories, ratings or scores.
  6. Stay on topic. Your comment should be concise and pertain to the specific post in question.
  7. Be respectful of the community. The use of profanity, offensive language, spam, and personal attacks will not be tolerated and egregious or repeat offenders will be banned from future participation. We encourage disagreement and healthy debate, but please refrain from personal attacks on our WordPresss and contributors.
  8. Finally: Participation in this forum may be terminated by Equifax immediately and without notice for failure to comply with any guidelines or Terms of Use. As such, you should familiarize yourself with all pertinent requirements prior to submitting any response through the blog or otherwise. All opinions expressed in this forum are solely those of the individual submitting the comment, and don't necessarily represent the views of Equifax or its management.

Equifax maintains this interactive forum for education and information purposes in order to allow individuals to share their relevant knowledge and opinions with other members and visitors. We encourage you to participate in discussions about personal finance issues and other topics of interest to this community, but please read our commenting guidelines first. Equifax reserves the right to monitor postings to the forum and comments will be published at our discretion. Do you have questions or comments about your Equifax credit report or customer-service issues regarding an Equifax product? If so, please contact Equifax directly. All opinions and information expressed or shared in blog comments are solely those of the person submitting the comments, and don't necessarily represent the views of Equifax or its management.

Credit Archive

Stay Informed Sign up for our FREE Equifax email Newsletter