Natural Disasters and Identity Theft: What You Need to Know

Natural Disasters and Identity Theft: What You Need to Know

We had a record-breaking year for natural disasters in 2017, with $16 billion events upending peoples’ lives across the United States. Disaster preparedness is essential as we head into spring and summer, especially if you live in an area prone to flooding, hurricanes, wildfires or tornadoes.

Why? Because when people have to abandon their homes after an area-wide disaster, they frequently overlook key documents and identification, including:

  • Birth certificates
  • Financial and insurance account records and numbers 
  • Medical records
  • Passports
  • Social Security cards

These items are key to protecting your financial life and good name. And they could be destroyed by fire, carried away by water or wind, or even stolen by looters. The last thing you need during post-disaster cleanup is to deal with the red tape to replace documents and IDs while fighting identity theft or fraud. This article explains:

  • Where natural disasters are most common
  • Types of fraud that happen after disasters
  • 5 things you can do ahead of time to protect yourself

The fraud after the storm

Since 1953, the federal government has declared disasters across every state. The top-five states for federal disaster declarations since 1953 are highlighted below.

Rank Total # of federal disasters

  1. Texas 254
  2. California 250
  3. Oklahoma 167
  4. Washington 132 
  5. Florida 122

After a disaster, emergency services providers and good Samaritans are followed by fraudsters looking for significant money-making opportunities. How significant? After the 2016 Louisiana flooding, a single fraudster used stolen identities to submit 55 unemployment assistance applications, which would have netted her more than $150,000. The federal government established a National Center for Disaster Fraud after being inundated with fraud complaints after natural and manmade disasters.

Why fraudsters target natural disasters

Fraudsters know that after a disaster they have plenty options for stealing documents that contain personally identifying information (PII), such as your Social Security number, birth date or account numbers for financial providers, or tricking you into revealing it. For example:

  • Sifting through debris
  • Looting
  • Posing as government officials 
  • Impersonating insurance agents or housing inspectors

Once criminals or opportunists get a hold of your PII, they can use it in all kinds of ways.

  • Financial account takeover 
  • Identity theft
  • Mortgage scams
  • Disaster relief fraud
  • Employment identity theft
  • Medical identity theft

How to prepare

Taking just few small steps to protect your documents and IDs before a disaster happens can help prevent weeks of headaches trying to recover them when you need them most.

  1. Know the risks. Understand the types of natural disasters that are most likely to happen in your area, and plan accordingly. 
  2. Use the cloud. Store copies of estate documents other irreplaceable items in a password-protected online vault.
  3. Get a safe deposit box. Add front-and-back copies of IDs and important personal documents (banking, insurance, legal). 
  4. Prepare to grab and go. Keep a waterproof box or folder handy for evacuations.

How CyberScout can help

CyberScout offers Disaster Recovery Assistance for victims of natural disasters. We can help you with replacing stolen or destroyed documents and identification, identity theft resolution and more.

To find out if you are covered by Disaster Recovery Assistance, contact your insurance company, financial institution or employer.