The aftermath of a natural disaster can be devastating and stressful. In addition to ensuring family, friends, and loved ones are cared for, many people face the daunting task of rebuilding. If you’re a victim of a recent natural disaster, you’ll also need to think about your finances, important documents, and identity theft. Here are five things to do as you begin to rebuild:
Replace lost or destroyed documents, including birth certificates, driver’s licenses, marriage certificates, Social Security cards, passports, as well as naturalization and citizenship documents. Your state vital records office can help with birth and marriage certificates. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control website has links to every state’s vital records office, or you can find it on your state government’s website.
— Depending on state requirements, you may be able to replace your driver’s license online.
— You can also contact the Social Security Administration to ask for a replacement Social Security card and contact the State Department to apply for a new passport.
— U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services can help you replace naturalization or citizenship documents.
— The USA.gov website offers details and helpful links for replacing documents.
Remember that most government agencies mail replacement documents; however, after a natural disaster, mail service may be delayed or you may not be able to receive mail at your home. Contact your local post office and ask if you can pick your mail up there, or consider forwarding your mail to a secure location.
Contact your lenders and creditors as soon as possible. Let them know you are a disaster victim and tell them if you believe you will be unable to satisfy your financial commitments on time. It’s possible the lender or creditor may grant you a forbearance. In a forbearance, a borrower is allowed to temporarily postpone payments, although the debt is not forgiven. However, failing to contact lenders and creditors and making late payments or missing payments can result in penalties and may impact credit scores.
Be sure to appropriately document every communication you have with creditors as well as the name of the person you speak with.
Also, consider contacting your insurance company to start the claims process if your home, car or property was damaged. If you don’t have a copy of your insurance policy available, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) suggests requesting one from your agent or insurance company for coverage purposes.
If you cannot live in your home because of damage, the CFPB recommends contacting your utility companies and ask to suspend your service, as this may free up money for other expenses.
Check your credit reports. Make sure your credit report doesn’t show suspicious activity. You are entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com. Review them carefully for any information that’s unfamiliar, inaccurate or incomplete, including names and addresses.
Be wary of scams. It’s an unfortunate reality that scams often follow natural disasters. Be alert for suspicious “robocalls,” as well as anyone contacting you by phone or email claiming to be from your lender, creditor, or an insurance company. If you are unsure whether the contact is legitimate, refrain from giving the caller any personal information, and be sure to contact your lender, creditor, or insurance company directly.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says on its website there is no fee required to get help from FEMA, the U.S. Small Business Administration or your state.
Charitable scams. Disaster survivors who require assistance or anyone wishing to make a charitable donation should only speak to organizations or charity groups that have been verified, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. Don’t trust phone calls or email solicitations for relief help. Research the organizations contacting you before giving any information. Also, the Texas Attorney General notes that door-to-door salespeople offering cleanup and repair services may not be reputable. Its website offers a guide for evaluating such offers.
The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) advises against clicking on links in emails soliciting charitable donations or opening any attachments. In addition, it recommends verifying any charitable request by contacting the organization directly or checking the Better Business Bureau’s National Charity Report Index.
Don’t give personal information to anyone soliciting contributions. According to the National Center for Disaster Fraud , a part of the U.S. Department of Justice that investigates scams associated with disasters, most legitimate charities don’t send unsolicited emails or ask for donations following a disaster.
If you suspect you’ve been the victim of disaster fraud, you can report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud at (866) 720-5721 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The information contained in this blog post is designed to generally educate and inform visitors to the Equifax Finance Blog. The blog posts do not give, and should not be assumed to provide, personalized tax, investment, real estate, legal, retirement, credit, personal financial, or other professional advice. Before making any financial decision, you should always consult with the appropriate professionals who can explain your options, rights, and legal responsibilities, and advise you on any tax, legal, credit, or business implications that may result from those decisions. The views and opinions expressed by the authors of blog posts are their own views and may not be the views or opinions of Equifax, Inc. and/or its affiliates.