Protecting against Post-Katrina Identity Theft
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
In addition to the human, financial and civic losses racked up by Hurricane Katrina, there's another danger lurking. Authorities are warning people in the Gulf Coast that they need to be on guard against identity theft. With thousands of homes evacuated, many of the people's personal documents--and that would include Social Security cards, driver's license and credit cards--these documents have been left behind and are vulnerable to theft. Joining us to talk about the growing threat of ID theft in New Orleans and the area is Evan Hendricks. He is the editor of Privacy Times.
Mr. EVAN HENDRICKS (Editor, Privacy Times): Thanks, Renee. Nice to be with you.
MONTAGNE: What is the first thing victims need to protect themselves against this sort of new threat of identity theft?
Mr. HENDRICKS: The first thing that people who have evacuated the area should do is to mark their calendars so they remember to go get their credit reports, say, 30 to 60 days from now to make sure there's no signs of suspicious activity. They have rights to free credit reports under the law, and they should take advantage of it, you know, as they settle down and get their lives back together.
MONTAGNE: If folks who have been affected by Hurricane Katrina are able to close their bank accounts--and in some cases, they're not--cancel your credit cards, that sort of thing, would you have trouble getting access to your money?
Mr. HENDRICKS: Well, you could. If you had a bank account and you have an ATM card, theoretically, you should still be able to get money out of your account because those are all electronic systems. The problem with cancelling credit cards is that you can be lowering your credit score at a time when you want to keep it up because you're going to need to apply for new credit in order to establish your new life. So I don't think people should be hasty in going out and closing bank accounts or credit card accounts. It's more important to monitor your statements, to contact your companies and see where you're standing, make sure there's nothing unusual happening on your accounts.
MONTAGNE: In your opinion, what should and can companies be doing to prevent identity theft in this unprecedented situation?
Mr. HENDRICKS: Well, credit reporting agencies can flag the accounts of the credit report files of people from the evacuated ZIP codes, and the credit card companies can step up their fraud monitoring of credit card accounts from cardholders who are from these evacuated ZIP codes. They have the software in place to target this sort of monitoring, and they're basically going to have to segment their customer population so they have some sort of special attention being paid to the accounts of people from evacuated areas.
MONTAGNE: Thanks very much for joining us again.
Mr. HENDRICKS: Thanks, Renee. Good to be here with you again.
MONTAGNE: Evan Hendricks is the editor of Privacy Times.
And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
SUSAN STAMBERG (Host): And I'm Susan Stamberg.
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