Farmers Cares, by Paul Quinn

Christmas Tree Safety & Disposal

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Sadly, this week a Christmas tree fire displaced a family of six in Athens, Tennessee. During the holidays, some of us get Christmas trees early, so as time passes they may become dryer and more of a safety hazard.

FEMA has a an informative web page which gives the following Christmas tree safety tips:

  • Christmas trees account for hundreds of fires annually and while watered trees are not a problem, a dry and neglected tree can be.
  • Needles on fresh trees should be green and hard to pull back from the branches, and the needles should not break if the tree has been freshly cut.
  • The trunk should be sticky to the touch. Old trees can be identified by bouncing the tree trunk on the ground. If many needles fall off, the tree has been cut too long and has probably dried out and is a fire hazard.
  • Do not place your tree close to a heat source, including a fireplace or heat vent. The heat will dry out the tree causing it to be more easily ignited by heat, flame or sparks.
  • Be careful not to drop or flick cigarette ashes near a tree.
  • Do not put your live tree up too early or leave it up for longer than two weeks. Keep the tree stand filled with water at all times.
  • Never put tree branches or needles in a fireplace or wood-burning stove. When the tree becomes dry, discard it promptly. The best way to dispose of your tree is by taking it to a recycling center or having it hauled away by a community pick-up service.

Safer-America.com, CAL FIRE and Heartland Fire & Rescue have also produced a public service announcement Christmas tree safety video as well.

So as you visit with your family this holiday season, don’t forget about the importance of maintaining and properly disposing your Christmas tree.

How To Prevent Home Crime This Holiday Season

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The following are some valuable tips provided by the Los Angeles Police Department to help prevent crime in the home this holiday season.

  • Be extra cautious about locking doors and windows when you leave the house, even for a few minutes.
  • When leaving home for an extended time, have a neighbor or family member watch your house and pick up your newspapers and mail.
  • Indoor and outdoor lights should be on an automatic timer.
  • Leave a radio or television on so the house looks and sounds occupied.
  • Large displays of holiday gifts should not be visible through the windows and doors of your home.
  • Be aware that criminals sometimes pose as couriers delivering gifts.
  • It is not uncommon for criminals to take advantage of the generosity of people during the holiday season by soliciting donations door-to-door for charitable causes although no charity is involved.
  • Ask for their identification, and find out how the donated funds will be used. If you are not satisfied, do not donate.
  • Donate to a recognized charitable organization.

So please keep all of the above tips in mind and have a safe and mindful holiday season.

How To Prevent Identity Theft This Holiday Season

During the winter holidays, it is vital to be on high alert of theft. So when you are out shopping, keep valuables in the trunk.  Also, lock your home when you are away and be sure to leave some lights on so it is not overly apparent that someone is not at home.

Your identity is just as valuable. Below is a post I wrote regarding identity theft during the holiday season and how your merriment may be ruined if you are not careful.

The FTC estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. And, with highly publicized security breaches that occurred with Target and Home Depot this past year, it is crucial more than ever to be mindful of identity theft.

The following facts and tips are extracted from the FTC’s website. Enjoy this holiday season but at the same time, be smart.

Identity theft is generally defined as someone using your personal information (such as your name and Social Security number, credit card numbers, or other financial account information) in a fraudulent manner.

Know that skilled identity thieves may use the following methods to get hold of your information:

  1. Dumpster Diving -They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
  2. Skimming - They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
  3. Phishing – They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
  4. Changing Your Address - They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.
  5. Old-Fashioned Stealing – They steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records or bribe employees who have access.
  6. Pretexting - They use false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies and other sources

The best way to deter identity theft is shredding financial documents when discarding them,  keeping your social security card in a safe place, not giving out your personal information to suspicious callers, mailings or internet sites and closely monitoring your bank and credit card statements.

The Kiplinger’s article gives 10 online shopping traps that made lead to fraud. They are:

  1. Blindly clicking into unfamiliar sites – Don’t rely on search engines for comparisons, go to well-known comparison sites.
  2. Assuming You Have the Same Protections with Debit as Credit – If a hacker steals your debit-card information and raids your bank account, you must report any misuse within two days to get the same $50 limited liability as you would with a credit card. Miss that deadline but report your loss within 60 days and you could be liable for up to $500.
  3. Not Monitoring Your Accounts – If you do a lot of shopping online, review your credit card statements regularly to make sure there aren’t any unauthorized purchases. Compare receipts to credit card statements or use just one credit card for online purchases.
  4. Shopping From a Public Wi-Fi Connection – Hackers can tap into Wi-Fi connections at hotspots, such as coffee shops, airports and hotels, to capture your personal information. That’s why you should never shop online using a public Wi-Fi connection. Also, never use a public computer to shop or check accounts online.
  5. Billing Directly to Your Smart Phone – Use a credit card instead of having purchases billed through your mobile carrier because the card provides more security.
  6. Wiring Money to Pay for an Item – If you purchase an item from an online auction site, such as eBay, and the seller asks you to wire your payment, don’t do it. Pay with a credit card so you can dispute the charges if you don’t get what you paid for.
  7. Falling For Too-Good-to-Be-True Deals – If a website or individual is offering a deal better than anyone else, won’t accept credit cards and demands a direct transfer of funds, it’s probably a scam. A common one: Someone claims he’s selling a vehicle at a low price because he needs the money fast (he lost a job or is a soldier going overseas, for example).
  8. Clicking a Link in an Unsolicited E-Mail – Don’t ever click on a link in an unsolicited e-mail to go shopping, even if the e-mail looks as if it came from a legitimate retailer, It’s safer going directly to a retailer’s site to see whether it’s having a sale rather than clicking on a link that could take you to a fraudulent site.
  9. Clicking URLs on Social-Networking Sites – Using Twitter can be a smart way to stay on top of deals, but you have to make sure the deals are legit. The URLs on Twitter (and sometimes Facebook) are often shortened, so you don’t know whether you’re going to land on a legitimate retailer’s site by clicking the link. Use Twitter as a tip, then find sales on your own.
  10. Assuming an Escrow Service Is Always Safe – If the seller is pushing you to use a particular escrow company to handle a transaction, be suspicious because it might be part of a scam. You can verify a company’s legitimacy by checking with state regulators, or ask to use an escrow company of your choosing,

The FTC says that filing a police report, checking your credit reports, notifying creditors, and disputing any unauthorized transactions are steps you must take immediately if you are a victim of identity theft.

Here at Farmers, we also offer Farmers Identity Shield which gives policyholders and their resident family members credit monitoring, unlimited access to fraud specialists and insurance to help cover financial losses resulting from identity theft. Check to see if your insurance company offers something similar and become familiar with your bank or credit card companies’ policies with identity theft.

Enjoy this holiday season but be mindful and protect your identity and good name.

Farmers Community Service: Nina Von Behren

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This holiday season we will be featuring employees at Farmers Insurance who contribute toward the company’s community service efforts. The following Q&A is with Farmers’ employee Nina Von Behren.

What is your title at Farmers Insurance and how do you contribute to Farmers’ community service efforts?

I am a Facility Site Lead for the National Property Claims Facility in Olathe, Kansas. I am also a National Farmers Cares Community Corps representative and a member of the Olathe Farmers Cares Community Corps team.

Can you briefly describe this community service program?

Each November, we participate in the Salvation Army Adopt-A-Family and bell ringing programs. Our local Salvation Army provides information sheets filled out by local families with information regarding sizes, needs, wishes, etc.  With their own money, our employees purchase presents for the family they adopt. The gifts are given to Salvation Army, the families pick them up on a designated day, parents wrap the presents and children have gifts under the tree they wouldn’t otherwise have. Since 2011, we have adopted 379 families and our employees have donated over $56,000 of their own money. We also ring the bell by the famous Red Buckets for three weeks, all day long in the Kansas cold weather at a local business collecting thousands for the less fortunate.

How did you become involved with this program?

We have a long standing relationship with our local Salvation Army and work with them throughout the entire year on various projects.

What do you feel is the program’s greatest achievement in helping the community?

Our employees love the adopt-a-family program as they go out shopping and know the name of the little child they are helping. They have tangible evidence, so to speak verses just writing a check and not seeing specifically what it went towards. The Salvation Army provides assistance for those right here in our community.

What is your fondest memory/moment in terms of being involved with this program?

The last three years we have had a Caravan of Giving lead by the Mobile Claims Center Bus [see picture below]. We have 10+ cars filled with packages and caravan over to the Salvation Army. When we pull up, the Salvation Army personnel are out front waving and clapping. They are always so appreciative. That scene is always very memorable for the participants.

FarmersCaravan

Ten Steps to Safely Deep Fry a Turkey

The following post on how to safely deep fry a turkey always gets a resounding response. As this cooking method for cooking a turkey becomes increasingly popular, it is of utmost importance that safety is priority. So, please share with family and friends to ensure that everyone can have the safest holiday season possible…

I will never be a naysayer when it comes to the holidays. I love everything about them; the food, getting together and sharing memories, and the food. Okay, I mentioned food twice, but the food is important because it represents our family traditions. Over the years, many have taken on the tradition of deep frying their turkeys. If you have never tasted a deep fried turkey then you are missing out. But, know that there is a right way and a wrong way to deep fry a turkey and the wrong way could result in fire, serious injury or both. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), deep fryer fires cause an average of 5 deaths, 60 injuries, and more than $15 million in property damage each year.

Working with homeowners insurance for many years, I have seen many reports of damaged homes or burnt garages because customers did not deep fry a turkey properly. So, I decided to do some research and found information from resources, such as the Keizer, Oregon Fire Department and others, to compile the safety tips below. Note that these are general safety tips only and it is very important that you also follow the cooking instructions and safety tips that are included with your commercially built fryer.

1) Make sure you use a commercially built fryer, do not try to make your own. Follow the instructions.

2) Your fryer should be outside and far away from combustible materials or surfaces. Make sure you use the fryer on a flat surface to reduce accidental tipping.

3) The turkey should be no more than 12 lbs and all innards, pop timers, wrapping etc. should be removed. Also cut off the wingtips and remove the tail.

4) Do not overfill the fryer with oil. To get the right amount, experts recommend that you put your turkey in its basket and then place it into the fryer. Add water so that it is covered until it reaches about a half inch over the turkey. Remove your turkey, then mark the fill spot and then drain the fryer. Dry the fryer and the turkey thoroughly to prevent splattering.

5) Fill the fryer up to your mark with oil that has a high smoking point such as peanut (watch out for peanut allergies), canola or safflower and heat to the appropriate temperature.

6) Keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher nearby. Never use water to extinguish a grease fire. Use your best judgment when attempting to fight a fire. If the fire is manageable, use the all-purpose fire extinguisher and call for help.

7) When placing the turkey in the fryer, wear appropriate attire and place the turkey carefully in the oil to avoid spilling.

8) Do not leave the fryer unattended at any time and make sure there are no pets or children in the area.

9) Once cooked, carefully remove the turkey to avoid spilling.

10) Let the oil cool and dispose of it properly. Do not put your grease down the drain because it could clog your sewage pipes. Filter the oil of any food bits and put it in an air tight container. During the holidays, many commercial facilities like biofuel companies or restaurants expand their drop-off points. Taking your oil to these types of facilities will ensure proper recycling or disposal.

Be careful, be safe and enjoy Thanksgiving. Remember that anywhere indoors, including the garage, is not a good environment for deep frying a turkey. And, if you are worried about rain, snow or getting cold, have another Thanksgiving when it is warmer and try deep frying then. You can never give thanks too often and precipitation hitting the oil may cause hot steam that may cause burns. Plus, “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” never gets old. It will be worth the wait.

I am hungry already. Let me know how it goes. Contact me at farmers-cares@farmersinsurance.com.

The following links provide more detailed information about deep frying a turkey.

http://phoenix.gov/FIRE/deepfry.html

http://cesanjoaquin.ucdavis.edu/files/12485.pdf

http://www.wkrg.com/alabama/article/deep_fried_turkey_safety_tips/21128/Nov-20-2008_1-36-pm/

Photo credit: FireFightingNews.com

Freezing Weather Maintenace Checklist

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As cold weather hits the Midwest this week, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) has issued a quick reminder infographic on preparing your property for such extreme temperatures. I have written past posts that touch on all these points and I will be updating them in the coming weeks. In the meantime, follow these infographic guidelines and stay safe and warm.

Home Generator Safety Tips

This past weekend brought snow storms to much of the Northeast and hence widespread power outages. For those who experience these conditions quite often, a generator is looked to as a backup power source. While generators are great to keep “life as usual,” they also come with the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and electrical and fire hazards. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that dated, portable generators can cause carbon monoxide poisoning deaths. In other words, generator safety is of utmost importance. The following is a description of the types of generators and safety tips from the commission.

Standby Generator – Connected directly to your electrical system and provides power to your structure’s internal wiring.

  • A transfer switch is required to keep the generator from backfeeding.
  • Have a building inspector inspect all of your wiring before using the generator.
  • Notify your power company of your new standby system so they can alert utility workers in your area in the case of a power outage.
  • Have a standby generator installed by a qualified professional.

Portable Generator – The most common type of generator that comes in variations of size and power output and must be plugged in to operate.

  • To avoid carbon monoxide always use portable generators outdoors, away from doors, windows and vents.
  • Follow manufacturer’s instructions. Install battery-operated or plug-in (with battery backup) carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in your home. Test CO alarms often and replace batteries when needed.
  • Avoid electrical hazards by keeping the generator dry. Operate on a dry surface under an open, canopy-like structure.
  • Dry your hands before touching the generator.
  • Plug appliances directly into generator or use a heavy-duty outdoor-rated extension cord. Make sure the entire extension cord is free of cuts or tears and the plug as all 3 prongs, especially a grounding pin. NEVER plug the generator into a wall outlet. This practice, known as backfeeding, can cause an electrocution risk to utility workers and the others served by the same utility transformer.
  • If necessary to connect generator to house wiring to power appliances, have a qualified electrician install appropriate equipment. Or, your utility company may be able to install an appropriate transfer switch.
  • Avoid fire hazards by turning off the generator and letting it cool. Always store fuel outside of the living areas in properly labeled glass containers. Store fuel away from any fuel-burning appliance.

Always follow the directions of your generator system and have a licensed electrician do any installation. Stay warm this winter but also be smart, it could save your life. Photo credit: homeadditonplus.com

Halloween Safety Driving Tips

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This evening there will be many children out trick-or-treating. The following are Halloween safety driving tips to make sure the evening is safe for everyone.

  • Slow down and obey all traffic laws and speed limits
  • Always use your proper turn signals
  • Watch for children walking or bicycling (both on the road and the sidewalk)
  • Watch for children who may be darting into the street
  • Avoid distractions such as your mobile phone. If you must use your phone make sure it is hands free.

I hope you all enjoy Halloween. Let’s make sure it is safe.

Photo credit: Billings Gazette

Teen Driver Safety Week: Discuss the “5 to Drive”

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This week is the National Department of Transportation’s Teen Driver Safety Week.

The USDOT has a set of rules called the “5 to Drive” and is asking parents and guardians to discuss these five basic rules for safe teen driving:

  • No cell phone use or texting while driving
  • No extra passengers
  • No speeding
  • No alcohol
  • No driving or riding without a seat belt

If you have a teen, please go over these guidelines. You may also read my past post Youthful Driving Tips: Is It That Time Already? which also has safety tips.

Fire Prevention Week: Smoke Alarm Tips

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This week has been Fire Prevention Week. This year’s Fire Prevention Week campaign includes the following smoke alarm tips given by the National Fire Protection Association:

  • Install smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside each separate sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement
  • Interconnect all smoke alarms throughout the home. This way, when one sounds, they all do
  • Test alarms at least monthly by pushing the test button
  • Replace all smoke alarms when they are 10 years old or earlier if they don’t respond properly
  • Make sure everyone in the home knows the sound of the smoke alarm and understands what to do when they hear it

You may also read my older post on Fire Escape Planning. Remember to always perform routine maintenance to your smoke alarms and always have an emergency plan for your family. Being prepared may save your life and the lives of your loved ones.

Photo credit: www.nfpa.org