The destruction of homes and businesses left a string of debris that may contain personal documents, financial statements and other forms of identifying information that could jeopardize an individual's identity, the newspaper reports. A shopping center in Mississippi that also housed a local Medicaid office, loan center and hospice facility was littered with documents revealing personal loan and patient information, reports the Clarion-Ledger. Cleanup efforts for large storms and tornadoes can last for weeks.
"Consumers who are concerned that identifying information was released as the result of a natural disaster may want to wait a short period of time and then obtain a copy of their credit report to make sure accounts are not being opened in their name," Federal Trade Commission spokeswoman Claudia Farrell told the newspaper.
Damage to the shopping center in Yazoo City, Mississippi was extensive, forcing city officials to tear down most of the remaining structures, increasing the amount of paperwork that littered the ground, the newspaper reports.
The FTC recommends that consumers should contact all issuing agencies and have copies of all documents that may have been lost in the storm sent to them. These documents include real estate deeds, mortgages and lines of credit, insurance policies, wills, auto titles, passports, driver's licenses, birth certificates, Social Security cards, and tax information.
The FTC also warns natural disaster victims against scam artists who pose as government officials. Americans often have to release personal information to legitimate government agencies or organizations to receive relief services. Victims are advised by the FTC to request identification from any person claiming to be a government official. Victims may also be less vulnerable to theft or fraud if they contact an official directly through a government website.
Americans who unintentionally release personal information to a non-government official, or believe their information is being fraudulently used, are advised to contact their financial service firms and close all accounts. Victims should also closely monitor their credit reports and communicate any suspicious activity, according to the FTC.
Identity theft amid a natural disaster may leave victims feeling more helpless, but by taking the proper measures, they can reduce their chances of identity theft.