Natural disasters can happen without warning. Here’s how to help safeguard — and if needed, replace — your most important documents.
When natural disasters strike, there’s often a scramble to save lives and valuables. Amid the confusion and stress, there’s also the risk of identity theft.
Sadly, criminals have been known to steal sensitive personal information — such as bank account statements, passports, or Social Security cards — from abandoned or damaged homes after storms.
Our restoration specialists have also found that identity thieves may capitalize on the chaos with targeted phishing attacks. Some of the most common phishing methods may include fake but official-looking emails and bogus calls that claim to be from the government or a relief agency.
Scammers know that during an emergency, you may be more likely to share your details with someone offering help. But if you’re aware that fraudsters might take advantage in turbulent times, you’ll have a leg up.
Before a weather emergency
Know your geography and plan accordingly
Get a lay of the land if you live in an area that’s prone to natural disasters. That way you can better determine how, where, and when to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your valuables — including important documents — before an emergency arises.
For example, in addition to wind damage, hurricanes often bring flooding. So if you live in a hurricane-prone area, make sure to keep documents in a waterproof container.
Additionally, take a few minutes to stash sensitive papers and other valuables in a designated “go-bag”. This will save you the hassle of packing under pressure.
Prepare documents for a quick getaway
We live in a digital age, but it’s still important to keep and safely store physical copies of the following: Social Security cards, birth certificates, driver’s licenses, marriage licenses, passports, and anything else that’s specifically related to your identity.
Keep them all in the same protected place — be it a bolted-down safe or a plastic bag — so you’re not scrambling to find stuff at the last minute.
Think twice about digitally replicating the documents listed above. By doing so, you’re essentially creating a second door for criminals to enter — and you’ve made it far easier for them to share your personal information with others. But if you must make back-ups, store them remotely using an online password service — not on your easily damaged computer.
After a weather emergency
Look out for scammers
During recovery efforts, thieves often pose as government officials, housing inspectors, or general contractors in order to steal money or personal information, which they can then use in a variety of harmful ways like applying for government or insurance benefits in your name.
Know that relief workers won’t ask for money or information like your Social Security or account numbers. And If a contractor offers to help with repairs, check if they’re licensed — and don't be afraid to ask for references.
Replace personal documents
If your identity-related documents were damaged, lost, or left behind, replace them in this order:
Your birth certificate: Replace it through your area’s vital records office.
Your driver’s license: Request a “replacement license” through your local department of motor vehicles, online or in person.
Your Social Security card: Check USA.gov for state-specific information about replacing your card.
If you also need a new passport, which is issued by the federal government, bring all three documents — birth certificate, license, and Social Security card — to a designated passport provider.
These measures might seem challenging in already difficult circumstances, but being aware of fraud may be the best way to protect your future.
If you need any help at any point during these challenging times, don't hesitate to call us using the number on your account dashboard. We can answer further questions about safeguarding against fraud and restoring your identity — and, as always, we’ll make sure you’re covered.