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Another Disaster Concern - Identity Theft

By Cindy of Stone Marmot

Nov. 3, 2008

We see in the news all these recent disasters due to hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, etc. Many images appear of houses that are totally destroyed and their contents scattered all over. Among these contents are probably a lot of important papers and records. This leads to the possibility of identity theft if these records fall into the wrong hands.

This is just not a local area concern. Tornadoes and floods can scatter these records many miles, even hundreds of miles, from their point of origin. Records that are washed out to sea by hurricane tidal surges can end up ashore in other countries, such as Mexico, Columbia, or Cuba.

How can you protect yourself from this possibility? After the disaster, there isn't much you can do other than follow the already readily available advice on what to do if you are an identity theft victim. But a big thing you can do to minimize this potential problem in case of a future disaster is to get rid of all unnecessary personal records.

Ten years is the maximum I have found that you need to keep any record. Many records don't even need to be kept that long. Therefore, you should destroy all these older unnecessary records. These records include anything with your name and address and either your social security number, an account number, passwords, PINs, or any other means of getting into an account of yours or allow someone to open an account in your name. This includes paychecks, utility bills, insurance correspondence, particularly health insurance, credit card statements, and bank and investment account information.

This may bother some people as they pride themselves on their keeping of complete records so that they can verify most any financial event in their life. But the peace of mind this may afford has to be weighed against the possibility of these records getting in the wrong hands.

Some may argue that you need to keep some records and even one record falling in the wrong hands can be a problem. But the less records you have, the lower the probability of a critical item surviving a disaster and journey in readable form and being discovered by the wrong person.

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