Cavanagh said after a disaster people often will have to share personal information in order to get relief benefits from government agencies or other organizations, or to obtain replacement identification documents.

“Be cautious,” she said, “because identity thieves may pose as government officials or representatives of government agencies. Ask for identification, and when possible, try to initiate the contact yourself using information on official websites or at official information centers.”

People working with contractors and others to repair their homes may be asked for personal information so a credit check can be performed, she said.

“Be sure the business is legitimate before you give out your Social Security number or other personal information,” she said. “If in doubt, don’t give it out.”

Cavanagh also suggested examining bank statements, credit card statements and other statements closely for any unauthorized purchases or withdrawals.

“About 60 days after the disaster, you should request copies of your credit report from all three major credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion and Equifax,” she said. “Sometimes after a disaster, credit bureaus do not charge victims for their credit reports, so be sure to ask. And if you believe someone has committed identity theft against you or may do so in the future, you may want to add an Initial Security Alert to your personal credit report.”

She said this initial alert will remain for 90 days and will notify anyone who reviews your report to take extra steps to verify the identity before granting credit.

“You need to request the security alert with only one credit bureau,” she said. “That bureau should automatically notify the other two to place an alert on your file. But be aware that adding an alert to your credit report may prevent you from opening an account unless the creditor is able to get in touch with you and positively confirm your identity and that you are applying for credit.”

Nancy Granovsky, AgriLife Extension family economics specialist, added that another scam people should be aware of relates to those who might try to fraudulently obtain money for disaster relief efforts.

“Some people will prey on the compassion and giving nature of others for their own benefit,” Granovsky said. “If you are approached by someone representing an organization you have never heard of soliciting donations for disaster relief, check them out before you write a check or drop any money into a bucket.”

She said it is usually safest to donate to either local agencies with which you are familiar or donate to larger national relief agencies, such as The Red Cross or Salvation Army, which are well-established and trusted organizations known for their disaster relief efforts.

Granovsky said a good rule of thumb with any organization to which you are contributing is to verify that at least 75 percent of the money donated will go to the specific effort to which you are contributing. She said going to http://www.charitynavigator.org or http://www2.guidestar.org can be helpful in assessing the legitimacy of a charity and analyzing its financial administration, and added that the Better Business Bureau website at http://www.bbb.org/us/charity can also provide information on what charities may have complaints registered against them.

“You can also go to the website for the Texas Office of the Attorney General for information or to register a complaint if you think you have been scammed by someone falsely representing a charitable organization,” Granovsky said.

The Office of the Attorney General has oversight authority over more than 50,000 active charitable organizations and trust entities, she said.

“Of course, you may want to consider giving your time to volunteering in relief efforts or providing canned foods or clothing instead of making a monetary donation,” she said. “But be sure to coordinate it with the people managing the emergency relief efforts to make sure you’re providing something the people affected by a disaster really need.”

paschattenberg@ag.tamu.edu