Can your Identity Weather a Natural Disaster? How to Stay Safe.

Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Wildfires. Mother Nature’s extraordinary powers of destruction leave survivors struggling to put their lives back together.

Many survivors are under tremendous stress and more vulnerable to fraud. Criminals know it. After a natural disaster strikes, there often is an uptick in disaster fraud, charitable solicitations fraud, price gouging, and contractor and vendor fraud.

Residents of these top 10 states for disasters are particularly at risk: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma, or Texas. But everyone should take measures protect important documents and identifying information.

Below are some tips to protect yourself, your family, and your sensitive information after disaster strikes:

  1. Hold your mail. Ask the U.S. Postal Service to hold mail until you’re settled. Consider getting a post office box to keep thieves away from sensitive materials left in your mailbox.
  2. Watch out for scams. Disasters attract good Samaritans, but they also attract criminals looking to take advantage of people in a time of distress. Here are just a few scams to watch out for:
    1. Photos with malware. Thieves count on people to be hungry for news, so they infect images and video with malware. Stick with legitimate sites, such as your local news station or newspaper for the latest information. Be wary of links on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites.
    2. Fake charitable organizations. Watch out for fake charitable organizations that have names similar to reputable institutions. These sites often end in .com (instead of the typical .org for nonprofits). They’re designed to fool you into thinking you’re donating to a good cause when, in reality, you’re donating your money and personal and financial information to thieves.
    3. Illegitimate websites. Double check the legitimacy of the site you’re clicking to from your email, Facebook, or elsewhere. When in doubt, check your local American Red Cross or the National FEMA site to find local help.
    4. Insurance scams. If you’ve experienced damage to any of your personal property, call your insurance company first. Don’t fall for fly-by-night “professionals” who make false guarantees about a claims check, damage appraisal, inspection, or water quality testing
  3. Identity thieves. Protect important information and documents. Whether you’re in a shelter, staying with friends, or crashing on your family’s couch, never let these items leave your sight. They are the key to your identity—and you will need this information to prove who you are.
  4. Take immediate action. If you discover that you are missing any identification, financial instruments, or any item that can be used to commit fraud or harm your identity do not hesitate to report it. The longer you wait, the more damage that can be done by criminals and identity thieves.