Hurricane Sandy, You Got my Home, but Not My Identity

Since 2005, nearly 600 million records have been improperly accessed through data breaches caused by hacking, physical file theft, lost unencrypted laptops and back-up devices, negligent posting of personal information by companies and governments and generally Mickey Mouse security protocols, according to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. Further, in disaster situations like Sandy, oftentimes when homes and vehicles are damaged, destroyed or abandoned, unprotected documents containing sensitive personal information, automobile registrations and credit or debit cards are washed away and become magnets for criminals.

That said, it is imperative to trifurcate this issue:

  • Limit your risk of exposure. That means doing everything I mentioned above, and probably a little more. Be smart and systematic to the point of paranoia. Your future self will thank you.
  • Enroll in credit and public records monitoring enabling you to detect an attack as quickly as possible so that if you do become a victim, you won't stay one.
  • Have a damage control program in place so you can get back on your feet ASAP.
There are plenty of excellent credit and public records monitoring programs. You can use's free Credit Report Card to get an overview of where you stand, and your free credit scores. And go to for a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies. You can also find good, and sometimes free, identity theft monitoring and protection services here and here, and get background on what to look for here. And don't let your due diligence stop there. Check your bank and credit card accounts each day to see if each transaction listed really is yours. Review every Explanation of Benefits notice your health insurance provider sends you. The same goes for your annual earnings report from the Social Security Administration. And let technology be your friend by enrolling in free transaction notification programs (by phone, text, email -- whatever works) at your bank, credit union or credit card company.

Let's talk for a moment about damage control.

I had flood insurance. But because my insurance agent insisted, I also got excess flood insurance. That took me from a recovery which would have left me almost naked against the storm to full replacement value. Believe me, that "future me" factor is kicking in big-time right now. You, too, can make choices now that you'll be grateful for later on.

Now, when I talk to people about preparing for the eventuality of identity theft and getting a damage control program in place before disaster hits, they have a hundred reasons for not following my advice. They say it's too expensive. They say they can do it themselves. Unfortunately, though, they're setting themselves up for a fall. This crime and its aftermath can be so complex and the lag time in detection can be so great that consumers find themselves in over their heads and desperate for someone with the expertise to help them navigate these tricky waters.

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