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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Be wary of identity theft and scams following a weather disaster

STILLWATER, Okla. – Oklahoma residents are more than familiar with the weather advisories and warnings that come across the television and radio. When the sirens sound, Oklahomans know what they need to do to be safe.
Be wary of identity theft and scams following a weather disaster

Be aware of the possibility of identity theft following a natural disaster. (Shutterstock)

One thing they may not have on their mind is the greater risk of identity theft following natural disasters, said Cindy Clampet, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension family resource management assistant specialist.

“Natural disasters such as tornadoes and floods leave an amazing amount of destruction in their paths. In many cases, personal documents such as birth certificates, Social Security cards or driver’s licenses are destroyed, and disaster victims are left to start rebuilding their lives from scratch,” Clampett said. “When it comes time to prove who you are, you need some sort of documentation. Unfortunately, it’s times like this thieves can take advantage of those who have already lost so much.”

The Identity Theft Resource Center recommends everyone take a few minutes to photocopy all of your important documents. It is a good idea to store the originals someplace such as a safe deposit box and keep the copies in a portable locked box that can quickly be scooped up and taken with you to a shelter. Make copies of everything in your wallet, including your driver’s license and sentimental photos. Other important papers to consider copying include passports, legal documents, adoption papers, Social Security cards or immigration papers. Also, be sure to program your insurance company’s phone number into your cell phone.

Clampett said if your wallet or purse is missing after a storm you will still have access to important information in a lockbox.

“Another idea is to scan copies of all your important paperwork and store it on either a portable hard drive for your computer or a zip or flash drive. These are easy to grab on your way to the shelter and they are capable of holding a lot of information. Better still, keep the flash drive on your key chain,” she said. “Consider videoing all of your belongings in your home as well. This will come in handy when it’s time to deal with the insurance company.”

Something else consumers should be aware of is a phishing scam. Be wary of any caller who says they are representing a company that has lost your personal data.

Make sure you have a hard copy of all important phone numbers. In today’s society, everyone simply stores numbers in their cell phones. This will not do you any good in the event your phone battery goes down and you do not have access to electricity so you can charge it.

“Going through a weather crisis and losing your home and possessions is hard enough, so take some extra precautions so that you don’t have to rebuild your identity along with your home,” Clampett said.

For more information, contact the local OSU Cooperative Extension office or visit fema.gov.

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Trisha Gedon
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
Oklahoma State University
159 Agriculture North
Stillwater, OK  74078
405-744-3625 (phone)
405-744-5739 (fax)
trisha.gedon@okstate.edu

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078
405.744.5000