Natural Disaster Identity Fraud Risks

Natural disaster identity fraud risks are real and can be very costly and life devastating. When I hear about natural disasters, which have lately been reported in increasing numbers, I immediately ask myself about the loss of life wondering how many families have been impacted as a result of losing family members and friends. I also think about lost cities and their treasures, museums, communities, businesses, schools, places of warship, and other frequently visited places that we take for granted in our normal daily lives. Then I think about the two main natural disaster identity fraud risks that are reported disaster after disaster. The first one of the natural disaster identity fraud risks is the looting of personal items from evacuated homes and businesses and the second fraud type is related to the government sponsored reduced interest disaster loans and programs.

Looting personal items

The first thing that happens after a major disaster hits is people leave their homes and even their cities running for safety. In some cases, people are even ordered to leave their homes to allow disaster recovery agencies to come in and deal with the safety and security issues. Making a last minute decision to leave one's home is always hard and can have unintended consequences if we are not prepared and looters know it, so they take action and go after the defenseless homes, businesses and places where there are plenty of items to steal including cash, jewelry, appliances, and personal items like credit cards. Some of these looters are professional and plan ahead knowing when, where and to what extent the natural disasters will hit. Other less professional thieves just improvise taking advantage of unsecured homes and businesses spontaneously. Unfortunately, some families after losing their loved ones, life savings, precious personal and sentimental items, homes and businesses must also deal with identity theft and natural disaster identity fraud risks which may include bankruptcy and ruined credit. After emptying the homes and businesses, looters go on shopping with stolen credit cards and checks destroying whatever else is left of natural disaster survivors' life. When disaster hits, very few things can be done to limit the damage especially if no planning was performed beforehand to limit natural disaster identity fraud risks. One thing that can be done is to take as many personal items as possible while heading for shelter. We must always assume that our personal items may not be there when we go back to our homes either due to disaster destruction or poor security. Therefore, planning ahead and keeping all important items in a briefcase is a good habit. Such personal items may include your pictures, passport, credit cards, car registration, home title, insurance contracts, college degrees, birth and marriage certificates which can be carried away. Who knows, you may even decide to leave the country for that matter and may need you passport to do so without delay. If you think that federal agencies will protect all your assets until you come back to your homes and businesses which may take months or years, just read about the latest news and consider the natural disaster identity fraud risks. You may be surprised. You see, when disaster hits and you leave your home either voluntarily or by force, you don’t know when you’ll be allowed to go back home and access your personal belongings again, depending on either the enforced law or safety levels allowing you to enter the disaster area without life threatening health risks. On the other hand, federal agencies responsible for safety and security of disaster-hit areas must consider addressing both areas at the same time. Natural disaster identity fraud risks are not very different from the safety risks. As the agencies address the safety issue and order people to leave their homes, they must concurrently address the security issues, otherwise, there will be gap between the time both safety and security are implemented allowing looters to take advantage of the gap leading to disaster identity fraud risks discussed in this article. The agencies must implement layered physical security controls only allowing rightful residents into their neighborhoods, layer by layer, while they allow residents to leave their homes for safety reasons. Security and safety decisions and actions work hand in hand to allow those leaving for safety leave and those coming back to their homes get into their neighborhoods in a secured and controlled manner.

Reduced interest disaster loan fraud

Disaster identity fraud risks also include government sponsored loan fraud. Soon after a disaster area is declared by the government, the special loan programs kick in to help survivors rebuild their homes and businesses allowing economy a chance to thrive again. Unfortunately, fraudsters also take advantage and apply for the special loans using rightful resident name, address and other personal information. These illegal loans cost the government and ultimately all citizens billions. Citizens trust that their government is fully capable of validating loan applicants’ identity reducing natural disaster identity fraud risks. Identity theft is and should be the last thing on people’s mind in such a devastating time in their lives. But identity fraud is facilitated during such chaotic times when speed is of essence to get people back into their normal lives. In such times, citizens should not blindly assume that the government could magically and quickly fix all the natural disaster identity fraud risks. It's all about balancing the acts of helping people resolve their problems fast and at the same time take all the precautions to reduce disaster identity fraud risks. One cannot be accomplished without costing the other. The government should do its best to get people the financial aid and security they need to have a normal life again, and citizens should also, and as quickly as possible, take control of their lives by addressing potential natural disaster identity fraud risks. To address such fraud risks, disaster survivors should close all the accounts they suspect of being stolen, lost or destroyed and monitor their credit report to detect any unauthorized transactions. Natural disasters may be unavoidable but their consequences can be predicted, prevented and managed before, during and after the disasters.

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