Your Life And Privacy
A girl’s 1946 diary telling of a Catskills summer and a first kiss. Handwritten PS 114 report cards. A moldy sepia wedding portrait of a Depressionera couple wearing rented finery and million-dollar smiles. Not to mention the more mundane, like passbooks, credit card, and bank statements.
Lifetimes still line the curbsides of Rockaway residents shoveling out waterlogged and sand-filled homes. Millions of memories lie in the shortterm dump that is the parking lot at Riis Park, but identities and financial privacy do not need to be among them.
When a disaster strikes, first on victims’ minds is their wellbeing; non-victims are concerned with how to help. The last thing we think about is protecting our financial privacy and our identities. Regardless of whether you are a storm victim or a generous soul looking to help out, take steps that will help prevent identity theft and keep your finances intact:
1. If you are a flood victim cleaning up, be aware of what you are bringing to the curb and potentially exposing to identity thieves. Make sure to dispose securely of water-logged items (paper or digital media, like flash drives or laptops) containing sensitive personal information, like bank and credit card statements, birth and death certificates, Social Security cards and passports.
2. If you did not suffer storm damage directly but want to help victims by donating to aid groups, make sure you are giving to reputable, established organizations. If you want to give online, go directly to the organization’s site by typing its address into your browser. (Don’t click on links in emails, as these could be fraudulent.) Type carefully in order to avoid falling victim to typosquatting, a scam where criminals take advantage of donors’ bad typing by setting up fraudulent, misspelled websites (like www.sandy releif.com). Any personal and financial information transmitted through these sites goes directly to the scammers.
3. Be on the lookout for impostors: identity thieves posing as relief workers or fraudulent contractors. These individuals are only in business to get your financial information, like your bank account and credit card numbers, in order to steal your money. Make sure contractors are reputable by asking for licenses and references, and check disaster workers’ identification credentials. Don’t hand over your personal information to anybody who asks.
4. If you are a flood victim and think you may have insecurely disposed of personal information, or if you think you may have provided your financial information to scammers, be vigilant of identity theft:
Close affected password-protected and financial accounts (bank, credit, and debit cards), including those you’re not sure have been affected, and set up new ones. If you get an email from any source requesting additional informa- tion about a compromised account or card, do not reply.
Check your credit card, bank, monthly bills or financial statements regularly for transactions you did not make. If you see signs of fraud, report this immediately to the affected organization.
By law, you are entitled to a free annual credit report from each of the Big Three credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion; go to www.annualcreditreport.com).
If you space this over a year, that’s one free report every four months. Check your reports carefully and follow up on errors or inconsistencies.
Consider placing a Fraud Alert or Security Freeze on your credit report through the Big Three credit reporting agencies (visit their websites to find out how to do this). These can make it more difficult or impossible for a criminal to open a credit card or other account or obtain a loan in your name using stolen information.
Your car may be a wreck, your home destroyed, but do what you can to avoid further victimization through identity theft.