Double Jeopardy - Protecting Yourself After a Disaster

People are good. Okay, most people are good. As we've learned from flood victims in Texas, Florida, and Louisiana, the majority of a population comes together to work for the good of everyone during an emergency. However, emergencies like this also open the doors of the community to looters, identity thieves, and others who want to take advantage. As with everything, protecting yourself after an emergency takes preparation before the emergency. Here are some tips to protect yourself from post-disaster danger.

Protect Your Identity - 20% of Houston residents had to leave their homes because of devasting water damage. They took what they could salvage and temporarily abandoned everything else. Unfortunately, this was the perfect opportunity for some identity thieves to get the information they needed. Residents took their photo albums and jewelry but left behind papers with personal information. After Harvey, thieves trolled empty streets to find perfect opportunities to sift through papers. Some even disguised themselves as relief workers so they could help themselves to personal information from devastated homes.

Contain identifying information - Keep all birth certificates, social security numbers, tax documents, pay stubs, bank information, etc. in a locked safe box that can be transported with you in an emergency. If you have to leave, TAKE YOUR IDENTIFYING INFO WITH YOU.

Shred mail/junk mail as you get it - Identity thieves don't always have to have your social security number to take your identity. Names with an address on junk mail left behind can create a great opportunity for people to scam FEMA and insurance companies out of YOUR money. If you shred it as you go, you won't have to worry about it later.

Watch Your House - Looters come from hundreds of miles away to loot gutted houses.  While police patrol streets, your house is your responsibility. Whether you attach some cameras after the disaster to watch or you personally guard it, be aware of who is going in an out of your property. Also, understand that anything left outside in the front yard to dry out is vulnerable to theft. Dry items out in the backyard.

Be Leary of Any Contractor - A good contractor understands that he should have references and a portfolio. Unfortunately, there were many stories after Harvey of shoddy workmanship, contractors who didn't show up after cashing checks, and major price gouging.  If a contractor asks you how much your insurance check is for, that's a bad sign. Get multiple bids on everything from air conditioning repair and ask neighbors in similar situations about their experiences before you give your money to anybody.

Donate Carefully - Even donations can be used dishonestly. When you donate, don't donate directly to people you don't know. Instead, donate to reputable organizations who can distribute resources appropriately.  When you make your donations make sure you black out barcodes so items can't be returned to stores for money. Assume that anything you donate might be sold.
Note- Donations are key to helping a community recover. It's okay to donate, just be careful where you send your resources.

Watch Disaster Related Social Media Pages - Stories of thieves using images of other peoples' houses to get money were more common than you'd think. People set up social media pages to help get donations for people. Unfortunately, those sites were used to scam. Keep a watch for your house on those sites.

Research All Disaster Repair Products - Just because a bottle says it kills mold doesn't mean it is sufficient for your needs. Research all products and services your use.

Be Leary When Buying Used Cars and Appliances - For months after a disaster, you have to be very careful about where a car or major appliance is from. Find out where the car or appliance came from then have it checked by a professional. You don't want to be stuck with a water damaged car. Look for rust and mismatched paint as signs of water damage.

We hope you never have to deal with the devastation of a natural disaster. However, if you ever do, you have the power to keep your personal information safe. All it takes is some preparation.

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