As Hurricane Bill Progresses to Category 4 Strength, CreditFYI Offers 7 Ways to Protect Your Identity During Hurricane Season

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An advance-planning checklist can help disaster victims protect their assets and themselves, says CreditFYI

During a hurricane or other natural disaster, the first thing you'll think about is your family's safety. Probably the last thing you think about is identity theft. Unfortunately, it's probably the first thing identity theft criminals think about, but a little advance planning can protect you

Hurricane Bill, the first official hurricane of the 2009 Atlantic season, is expected to regain strength as a Category 4 storm as it barrels through open water between the U.S. East Coast and Bermuda some time on Saturday. While it appears East Coast residents will escape this storm's fury, just as they've escaped the effects of tropical storms Ana and Claudette so far, hurricane season continues through the end of November. Hurricane preparedness is key to protect your family's safety.

"During a hurricane or other natural disaster, the first thing you'll think about is your family's safety. Probably the last thing you think about is identity theft. Unfortunately, it's probably the first thing identity theft criminals think about, but a little advance planning can protect you," said Rob Wyse, a spokesperson for CreditFYI.com, a leading educational website on consumer credit and fraud.

CreditFYI has developed a seven-point checklist to help hurricane victims protect their identities as well as themselves:

Before a hurricane strikes

1. Make copies of important documents for each family member, and secure them in a portable safe or a waterproof plastic bag. If you have access to a computer and scanner, scan these documents, and keep electronic records on and off your premises. These documents should include:

  •     Birth certificates
  •     Driver's licenses
  •     Social Security cards and statements
  •     Marriage licenses
  •     Adoption paperwork
  •     Death certificates
  •     Wills
  •     Brief medical histories, including current prescriptions and dosage amounts
  •     Health insurance or Medicare ID cards
  •     Bank, credit card and brokerage account numbers
  •     Insurance paperwork (home, health and auto)
  •     Lease/mortgage paperwork
  •     Past tax returns
  •     Utility bills
  •     Computer and ATM passwords
  •     Motor vehicle VIN numbers
  •     Photocopies of the content of your wallets
  •     Passports

2. Identify who in your family will be responsible for grabbing the safe or bag of documents (or electronic file) during an evacuation.

3. Following devastating hurricanes, many items, including file cabinets, can be blown more than a half-mile from where they were stored, with papers strewn about for blocks. After Hurricane Katrina, the SeaWorld sign ended up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, 70 miles from the Gulfport aquarium. To avoid this scenario, scan all proprietary and personal identifying information into your computer, and encrypt the files so no one else can view them without the encryption key. Copy all information onto a disk, and store the disk in your safe/waterproof bag.

4. Shred older documents, like credit card or bank account statements that are more than seven years old. Remember, the more you eliminate now, the less you'll need to safeguard. Law enforcement may prevent you from returning to your home after a hurricane, which can allow looters to sort through old paperwork you've accumulated.

After a hurricane

5. If you stay at a shelter, don't let these documents out of your sight. Guard them even if you're staying with friends. (In most cases, the identity thief knows the victim.)

6. Be wary of phone calls or emails from anyone claiming to represent a company you do business with. Get their name and call the company back, using your own contact information to do so. Never provide bank account numbers, credit card information or Social Security numbers when you have not initiated the call. Don't respond to solicitations for donations from supposed relief groups unless you initiated the contact.

7. Monitor your credit for at least several months by periodically ordering a credit report from one or more of the three credit bureaus to ensure that no one has assumed your identity. Review it for accuracy, and follow up on any accounts or questionable data you're not familiar with. It's best to use a credit reporting services that provides reports from all three major credit bureaus -- Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

About CreditFYI.com

CreditFYI.com informs and educates consumers on a wide range of credit and debt issues, personal finance topics and identity fraud concerns. Designed to empower consumers to take charge of their household finances, CreditFYI distills the often-complex financial issues that affect consumers' daily lives into informative, easily-understood content that help consumers make informed decisions and improve their money management skills. For more information, please visit http://www.creditfyi.com.

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Rob Wyse

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