Protect your identity before and after a disaster strikes

Before a Disaster

Have vital documents safe and ready to go. You should gather up all of your personal and financial information and place it in a waterproof bag. Store the bag in a secure location in your home where it will be easy to locate quickly. If possible, keep the bag in a fireproof safe.

Make backup copies and scans. Have a copy of all the contents of your wallet, originals of important papers (like birth certificate, driver’s license, passport, etc.), and backups for computers, laptops, digital photos and smartphones in a safe-deposit box or scanned into a computer backup device stored off-premises.

Consider remote electronic data storage—it’s cheap and easy. In addition to the copies of your identification documents, if you have some irreplaceable papers and/or special family photographs, historical documents, estate and trust records, such as wills, power of attorney letters, etc., consider scanning the select items onto a disk and/or storing them in an accessible, online vault.

After a Disaster

Ask the U.S. Postal Service to hold your mail until you return home. Look at getting a post office box. This will keep thieves from finding sensitive materials that are left in your mailbox.

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:

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

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.

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.