What to Do When Disaster Strikes

Identity thieves have found a new way to use your personal information for their gain: wire transfer fraud. Learn how they dupe financial institutions, and find out how to protect yourself with our tips.

Thursday, August 04, 2011
In recent months, we have seen many consumers' homes hit with some sort of natural disaster like floods, tornadoes and fires. And with hurricane season rapidly approaching, the number of Americans affected by such an incident could grow appreciably.

But many consumers may not be aware of—or even consider—what they should do in the wake of a natural disaster when it comes to protecting their finances and information from the threat of identity theft. For example, in disasters such as tornadoes and hurricanes, high winds may carry personal documents miles away and leave them on the side of the road for anyone to find, and for this reason, it may be helpful to call all lenders and banks and alert them to the potential problem immediately after the storm. This way, the financial institutions may at least be able to better protect consumers from the threat of fraud. CyberScout CEO Matt Cullina says consumers should also be alert to criminals using that paper work to poser as bank representatives.

For the same reasons, he says it's probably a good idea for affected consumers to check their credit reports to make sure that no fraudulent accounts have been opened using their exposed information.

Another problem that often arises in the wake of such disasters is that many crooks may come calling. Some may pose as representatives of government agencies or insurance companies and ask for detailed personal information about affected consumers or their finances, but disaster victims should be wary of this type of solicitation because no legitimate organization would ever conduct business in this manner.

And while some criminals may call a person in an attempt to garner this information, more enterprising thieves might instead opt to show up at victims' doors to increase the appearance of legitimacy. However, consumers should try to avoid answering any questions that may lead them to reveal personal information such as their date of birth or Social Security number, and alert local law enforcement officials about the incident.

One other scheme that regularly pops up after disasters is crooks who offer to repair damaged homes at rates that seem too good to be true. But the scam with these criminals is that they demand a large amount of money - often a few thousand dollars - up front. However, after making the payment, bilked homeowners will often find that their money and the bogus contractor are nowhere to be found.

Consumers can also work to take steps before a disaster. This post from data expert and CyberScout Senior Vice President Brian McGinley says consumers should have an identity protection plan in place.

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If you need identity theft assistance, call your provider organization to be put in touch with the CyberScout Resolution Center. More information for individual consumers.