Be Bushfire Ready: Protect Your Important Documents
Be Bushfire Ready: Protect Your Important Documents And Protect Your Good Name
10 January 2013
With this week’s record heatwave fuelling bushfires across the country, a consumer advocate for accurate credit reporting is warning Australians that their important papers need to be disaster -ready to prevent both loss and theft of identity.
CEO of MyCRA Credit Rating Repair, Graham Doessel says if Australians need to leave their homes at any time during a disaster - whether that be a bushfire, storm, or flood they need to ensure their important documents are ready to go with them.
“In a disaster, there is seldom time to fish around for important papers, so documents should be ready to go should victims need to leave their home in a hurry.”
“In recent years, crooks have been quite savvy and have realised that personal information is the gateway to identity theft. Disaster victims are not immune and in some cases may be targets,” he warns.
This comes as the Government issued bushfire warnings last week and urged the public to be prepared should disaster strike – including securing important family documents.
“The next week is set to be a scorcher so it’s crucial Australians are prepared in the event disaster strikes,” Attorney-General and Minister for Emergency Management Nicola Roxon said in a release to the media last Thursday.
She advised Australians to prepare an emergency kit, including a torch, first aid kit, medication and a battery operated AM/FM receiver.
“Other items to include in a household emergency kit include copies of important family documents, contact details for your agreed out-of-town contact and spare clothes and strong shoes,” she said.
Mr Doessel 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 2010, 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]
He says if a disaster victim is unlucky to have their personal information stolen by identity thieves they can have credit taken out in their name.
“They are hit twice – because they are also robbed of their ability to have a financial future. They are locked out of credit for up to 5 years or until any defaults that are incurred are removed. This is regardless of the source of the default. The process of repair can take months, as it involves the victim proving to Creditors they didn’t initiate the credit in their name," he says.
He says documents like passports, marriage, birth, and death certificates, past tax returns and even bank statements and utility bills could all be stolen and used to appropriate someone's identity.
"With so much personal information available online as well, even a small piece of personal information found after a disaster may be all the thieves need to set up a new identity for themselves in one of the victim's names, or attempt to claim compensation with it."
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.
People can go to http://www.mycra.com.au/credit-file-request/ for help to get their credit report.
Ms Roxon explained that Australian Government’s Preparing for the Unexpected [iii] brochure and the Red Cross’s Emergency REDiPlan[iv] are both good resources to help Australians be better prepared should disaster strike.