Flood evacuation: Prepare early, secure important documents
Flood evacuation: Prepare early and secure your important documents from fraudsters
29 January 2013
With residents continuing to evacuate flooded homes across Queensland and Northern New South Wales, a consumer advocate for accurate credit reporting is warning Australians that their important papers need to be ready to leave with them should they be forced to evacuate their homes, in order to prevent both loss and theft of identity.
CEO of MyCRA Credit Rating Repair, Graham Doessel says if people need to leave their homes, it is important that their emergency kit contains their important identity documents.
“If you’re preparing your emergency kit, along with your bare essentials, you should be adding in your essential identity documents as well as insurance documents, and locking any other personally identitifiable documents in a safe if possible,” Mr Doessel says.
He says disasters in the recent past were further plagued by scammers and identity thieves hoping to make a quick buck from the misfortune of others.
“In the days and weeks following the Queensland floods in 2011, victims were tricked into giving over personal information and banking details, and were also robbed by crooks masquerading as tradespeople,” he says. [i]
Likewise, after the Canberra bushfires in 2003, there were reports of fraud.
"In the Canberra fires, many victims lost their homes, possessions, cars and key identification documents, meaning they had no way to prove their identity or use support services. Equally, impostors had an opportunity to present themselves as such victims, for instance by claiming to be someone whose name and address they had garnered from media reports" an Australian Federal Police Study reports. [ii]
The Queensland SES recommends people preparing an emergency kit for evacuation secure the originals or certified copies of their important documents. These include insurance documents, an inventory of valuable household goods, wills, house deeds, loan documents, passports, stocks and bonds, medical and government information, and bank and credit card details.
"Scan copies of these documents and save on a USB memory stick or CD to include in your kit. Keep all these items in sealed plastic bags." the SES advises. [iii]
Mr Doessel says correct management of identity documents is so essential during disasters such as flood, not only because victims can then prove their identity to authorities and relevant relief bodies, but because personal information can be stolen by identity thieves and victims can have credit taken out in their name.
“In this instance, the victim is hit not twice, but three times. Their homes and belongings ruined by flood, debts incurred in their name by fraudsters and a series of defaults or other infringements mean they are unable to get credit for up to 5 years.”
“The process of repairing inconsistent credit listings can take months, regardless of the source of the default, as it involves the victim proving to Creditors they didn’t initiate the credit in their name," he says.
He says fraudsters may not need full copies of identity documents in order to fit pieces of a person's identity together for fraud.
"With so much personal information available online as well, even a small piece of personal information found or given away to fraudsters after a disaster may be all that’s needed to set up a new identity in a victim’s name, or attempt to claim compensation with it," Mr Doessel says.
Anyone who is suspicious their identity has been stolen or under threat should contact Police immediately, and should also contact the credit reporting agencies which hold their credit file.
To order their credit report people can go to http://www.mycra.com.au/credit-file-request/.
For those people needing a Flood Emergency Evacuation Plan and a full list of essential items for an emergency kit, the SES Queensland web page ‘Be Prepared’ http://www.emergency.qld.gov.au/emq/css/beprepared.asp will assist.