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I.D. theft: Digital defense is required in a disaster

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The opportunities for identity thieves are magnified in a disaster situation, when highly sensitive personal documents, computers, cellphones and PDAs are left behind in a rush to vacate a home or office in the face of a disaster.

"People's lives revolve around digital data and most people don't have backups," explains John Rousseau, chief fraud officer of IdentityTheft 911, a Scottsdale, Ariz., company that helps protect households and businesses against identity theft.

Mr. Rousseau, who has worked with Katrina disaster victims in New Orleans, has witnessed the repercussions caused by a loss of digital data.

"You see the panic in their face during a disaster when they need that information and recognize they can't reclaim their identity which someone else may have stolen," he says.

Paul Stevens, director of policy and advocacy for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, reinforces the importance of digital security.

"The digital world enhances the ability to protect key documents by giving individuals the opportunity to scan valuable personal documents into a thumb drive or memory stick, transferring critical data that must be absolutely encrypted to a safe location," he says. "Creating digital files of family photographs, identity and financial documents incorporates redundancies that can protect families who lose primary documents due to disaster."

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