It’s been a tough year. Three major hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, tornados, you name it. It feels like every single type of natural disaster was on the rise this year. Sadly, many people lost their lives and many more lost their homes and valued possessions. For many of those who survived, they found themselves in even more trouble as their important documents had also been lost. It’s hard enough going through one of these disasters only to find out that you are now going into a bureaucratic hell because your deed, insurance information, IDs and other vital papers were lost. How can you make sure this doesn’t happen to you? Let’s start with the basics.
You need to digitize your documents
That’s computer geek speak for take pictures and scan documents. Simple, right? Not so fast.
Let’s start with the pictures. They are simple enough but where are you going to keep them, after all, these are your IDs, birth certificates, passports, drivers licenses and other important documents with personal identifiable information. If you lose your phone or are storing these in an insecure way, it can create even bigger problems for you and your family with identify theft issues. This is why you need to use a password manager. Why? Very simple, password managers have a secure document storage area for your sensitive documents.
There are a few password managers that can help you maintain your list of important passwords and do it securely. How do they work? They get installed on your computer, tablet or phone and they record the username and passwords you use to access these sites like your bank, your credit cards and other important accounts. These passwords get stored in an encrypted vault and are protected by a super strong master password.
Once you have your passwords there, you can also add your credit cards, important documents and even share them securely with your family or other people that might need access to your policies or financial information such as accountants, attorneys, etc.
Here is a list of documents that you might want to consider digitizing before the disaster in imminent. I’m sure you have them all in the same place, now it’s just a matter of taking the time to convert them to electronic format.
· Insurance Policies
· Birth, Marriage Certificates
· Drivers licenses
· Financial Records
· Home deeds
· Pet Records
What if you don’t have a scanner?
You could go to a copy shop where they will scan the documents for you and will charge you, probably by the page. This can get expensive, especially for home-related documents that might have many pages. What’s an alternative? You could install a scanning app on your phone. What they do is that they still use the camera but you can join the pictures together to form a master document.
Genius Scan is a free app that will allow you to scan those documents, save them as different file types and even e-mail them. If you want to save them directly to a cloud storage like Dropbox or Google Drive, they charge just $2.99 for the plus version.
Saving your documents to the cloud is a good idea
Dropbox is one of these cloud storage services that gives you a basic account FREE with 2 GB of space. This is way more than enough for all your sensitive documents. If you have a Gmail account, you already have cloud storage included. Google gives you 15GB of free space that you can share between your e-mails, documents and pictures.
If you have an iPhone or use Apple products, iCloud is a popular choice. The reason I don’t necessarily recommend it is because people store their gazillions of family photos and many accounts are running at full capacity or close to it.
Lock them down
If you are going to use this option, which I recommend, you need to think of them as your virtual vault, if anyone gets unauthorized access to these documents, things can get bad. That’s why you need to think of them as your digital safe deposit box. What do I mean? When you have a safe deposit box at a bank, you can’t open it with just one key, you need your key and the banker also needs to insert their key for the lockbox to open. The equivalent of this concept in the digital world is called two-factor authentication. What the heck is this?
You are familiar with it already from the movies. Those hand and retina scanners are basically the biometric equivalent of this simple concept. Something you know (the password), something you physically have (fingerprint, retina) or something you have access to, such as your phone or an authentication device.
The most common way of setting this up is just configuring your mobile number and you get a text with a special code you input whenever you need to access your account. It’s a little annoying but you get used to it.
In Google’s case, you can use the Authenticator app which generates a 6 digit code every minute. When you are ready to sign in, you enter the current code and you are done.
It’s time to stop thinking about the fire-proof box or putting your documents in the dishwasher in case of a flood. These documents need to be digital so you can access them when you need them and they need to reside in a place where you can share them with others if necessary. Take the time when things are calm and you are level headed. During a natural disaster is the worst possible moment to be thinking of these things for the first time.
Here is a video in Spanish of my recent interview at Primer Impacto on Univision commenting on this topic.