Today’s top news story is that hackers have stolen usernames and passwords for nearly two million accounts from Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo and others. The massive data breach was a result of keylogging software maliciously installed on an untold number of computers around the world.
Unfortunately, in a poor economy, crime tends to increase and, especially during the holiday season it is vital that you remain on alert. When shopping for the holidays, always be sure to lock your car and keep valuables in the trunk. Lock your home when you are away. 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. As you look for in-store and online deals this holiday season, it is crucial more than ever to be mindful of identity theft.
The following facts and tips are extracted from the FTC’s website and Kiplinger’s article “10 Oline-Shopping Traps That Catch Even Smart Shoppers.” 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:
- Dumpster Diving -They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
- Skimming - They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
- Phishing – They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
- Changing Your Address - They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.
- 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.
- 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:
- Blindly clicking into unfamiliar sites – Don’t rely on search engines for comparisons, go to well-known comparison sites.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 email@example.com.
The following links provide more detailed information about deep frying a turkey.
Photo credit: FireFightingNews.com
Hi Paul, We have been having high winds and I am wondering about Trees that are on my property that may fall onto another’s house?
You ask a great question, especially seeing as high winds hit at this time of year all over the country. Let me give you a general sense of what happens in these types of situations. If you have a specific claim, contact your agent immediately. But generally, the insurance on the home that is damaged takes care of the claim. Wind is considered a natural event and not negligence. Same thing if their tree falls onto your home.
We would pay the claim and not seek reimbursement. However, if the trees were rotted, and there was evidence that shows limbs or the entire tree should have been removed, there may be negligence. At that point the neighbor could seek reimbursement from you.
Accordingly you should be aware that it is your duty to make sure your trees are free from disease and rot. Having a professional inspect your trees makes sense if they are large, and are aging. That inspection may save you from having your home damaged. Or someone you love be injured.
I hope this helps.
The video above is produced by Mississippi-Alabama SeaGrant and features Darius Grimes, a FORTIFIED evaluator, and Alex Cary, Executive Director at Smart Home America, who explains how the FORTIFIED building program can reduce damage caused by coastal storms and hurricanes.
FORTIFIED building standards have been battled tested in a laboratory setting and in actual storms, showcasing how the resilient construction standards can prevent costly damage.
The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety’s (IBHS) FORTIFIED home information for hurricanes outlines construction standards for new and existing homes.
For existing homes, the IBHS tells property owners how to apply, schedule an evaluation, have a fortified evaluation performed, become certified and then designated.
For new home owners, additional steps include an evaluator as well as an evaluation of construction plans.
Once a home owner goes though all these steps, they can then retrofit or build their home using FORTIFIED standards and make sure their home has resilience to hurricane conditions.
If you live in a hurricane prone area or areas susceptible to high winds and hail, it cannot hurt to look into the FORTIFIED program.
A year ago this week, Hurricane Sandy knocked out power, flooded streets, and destroyed homes in dozens of communities along the Atlantic Coast. Among the areas hardest hit by the storm were New Jersey and New York, where thousands were displaced from their homes and businesses. Since then, life is returning to normal, but, as is often the case in disasters, full recovery will take years.
The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) offers guidance to property owners in areas affected by such natural disasters to make their homes more resilient to future potential damage.
IBHS focuses on the four key questions residents and business owners need to consider when rebuilding to help prevent or reduce future damage:
1) Is your roof strong enough?
2) Is the building tied together properly so it can stand up to extreme winds?
3) Are doors and windows protected?
4) Is the building properly elevated to avoid flooding?
So if you are in the processing of rebuilding your home or business after a natural disaster or find you have to in the future, be sure to ask yourself these four important questions as it may help save you time and money and may even save your life.
Photo credit: The Atlantic
Hi Paul, I have a fish tank that leaked on my floor. Will my homeowner’s policy cover my repairs?
Under normal circumstances this is not a loss where the repairs will be covered. Usually it takes a sudden and accidental escape of water from a plumbing device to trigger coverage. Most fish tanks are stand alone and are not attached to the plumbing system so there would be no coverage. But if you want to make sure, I invite you to contact your agent, or submit your claim by calling us at 800 435 7764 and we can discuss your claim in more detail.
Homeowners are usually concerned about their roof when it comes to water damage to the home. However, most don’t realize it is common to experience water damage from systems located right inside the home. A busted pipe or leaky water heater can destroy your furniture or flooring and cost thousands of dollars in repairs.
The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) gives the following guidelines to help reduce risk of water damage inside and around the home:
WATER LOSS PREVENTION AND MAINTENANCE GUIDE:
PLUMBING PIPES AND SUPPLY LINES
- Visually inspect plumbing pipes annually. Look for condensation around the pipes or an obvious leak and corrosion.
- Pay attention to your water bill. A significant increase could indicate a leak.
- Call a plumber at the first signs of rust-colored water, backed-up toilets or sinks, and cracked or warped flooring.
- Insulate pipes in attics, basements, and exposed exterior pipes to avoid freezing.
- During periods of freezing weather, open cabinet doors to expose pipes to warm air.
- Disconnect garden hoses when freeze warnings are issued and turn off outside faucets.
- Inspect plumbing beneath sinks every six months.
- Ensure connections are secure and there is no evidence of corrosion on the pipes.
- Look for kinks in copper or plastic pipes. These could lead to pinhole leaks over time.
- Locate the water shut-off valve. Inspect the valve every six months to make sure the water supply will shut off. Replace the valve if needed.
- When installing the icemaker supply line hose, tightly connect the hose to the valve. Avoid over-tightening.
- Ensure the valve connection is secure and check for kinks.
- Inspect the hose every six months. If kinks are present, replace the hose.
- Leave a 3 to 4 in. space between the back of the refrigerator and the wall to prevent the hose from crimping.
- When pulling the refrigerator out for cleaning or service, avoid getting the hose caught beneath the wheel.
- Locate the water shut-off valve.
- Inspect the valve every six months to make sure the water supply will shut off. Replace the valve if needed.
- Have a professional roof inspection annually.
- Request a detailed inspection report that includes the condition of the flashing, roof covering, parapets, and drainage system.
- Repairs are needed if:
- There are cracked or missing shingles or loose or missing granules.
- Flashing has deteriorated, particularly around chimneys and vents.
- Pooling water is present.
- In areas prone to freezing and heavy snow fall, insulate to prevent heat from entering the attic space.
- In areas prone to wind and hail, consider an impact-resistant roof covering that has passed the FM 4473 or UL 2218 standard.
- Inspect tile and grout every six months, paying attention to loose or cracked tiles and cracked or crumbling grout lines. Repair as needed.
- Test the shower pan annually:
- Block the floor drain.
- Fill the shower stall with approximately 1 in. of water.
- Use a pencil to mark the water line.
- Leave the water standing in the shower pan for eight hours.
- If the water level decreases, contact a plumbing professional.
- Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for sump pump maintenance. These vary from running the sump pump every two to three months to a yearly cleaning before the rainy season.
- To inspect the sump pump:
- Open the lid and remove debris that may be blocking the water inlet screen.
- Pour approximately five gallons of water into the pump and watch the float valve rise.
- As the float valve rises, the pump should turn on and the water should discharge through the outlet pipe.
- Go outside and inspect the outlet pipe.
- Water should be flowing from the pipe and away from the home.
- If the sump pump fails to operate during this inspection, contact a plumbing professional.
- Install a battery backup system.
- Choose a system with a battery replacement warning.
- Replace batteries every two to three years.
- After flushing, remain in or near the bathroom until the fill valve has finished refilling the bowl.
- If the bowl or tank begins to overflow, turn off the water at the supply valve.
- Inspect the flushing mechanism inside the toilet every six months.
- The fill valve should shut off when the float reaches the proper water level.
- Replace the flapper or fill valve assembly if you notice intermittent or constant tank refilling when the toilet is not in use.
- Inspect the supply line every six months.
- Ensure the connection to the valve is secure.
- Operate the valve to make sure the water supply will shut off. Replace if needed.
- Turn supply valves off when not in use.
- Consider installing a lever-type valve that is easy to operate between uses.
- Do not operate the washing machine while the home is unoccupied.
- Leave a 3 to 4 in. gap between the back of the washing machine and the wall to avoid kinking the hose near the valve connection.
- Inspect the water supply line hoses every six months.
- Ensure that the connection to the valve is secure, but avoid over-tightening. Hand tighten first. Then tighten an additional 2/3 of a turn using pliers.
- Check the hoses for cracks, kinks or blisters, which are most commonly found near the hose connection.
- Washing machine manufacturers recommend replacing washing machine hoses every five years.
- Consider reinforced braided stainless steel hoses.
- Have a professional plumbing inspection of the anode rod at least once every two years and annually once the warranty has expired. The rod will eventually corrode and leave the tank vulnerable to damage.
- Remove sediment by flushing the tank every six months. Sediment will build up faster in areas with hard water.
So take these guidelines seriously as it could save you a lot of time and money in the long run.
Paul, I have medical on my auto policy. On the policy paperwork I have it states coverage also extends to a family member riding as a passenger. My daughter was injured in an accident would she be covered up to my medical limit?
Each policy has specific language so I can’t say categorically. I suggest two things. First, talk to your agent and see what your policy covers. And call your claim in if you have not done so already. If you are insured with Farmers please call us at 800 435 7764 to get everything started. We are here to provide assistance immediately.
Forecasters are cautioning residents and business owners along the Gulf Coast to prepare for Tropical Storm Karen, which is predicted to make landfall in the region this weekend.
The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) offers small and mid-size business owners the following checklist they can use to help prepare for and recover from this storm:
- Remove or secure all loose items on the roof and ground outside the building(s), including landscaping that may become flying projectiles or wind-borne debris during high winds.
- Clear roof drains, gutters and downspouts of debris, to prevent water back-up.
- Clean out all debris from outdoor perimeter drains, especially in areas where water may collect such as shipping and receiving areas where the ground slopes towards the building.
- Fill emergency generators with fuel and contact fuel suppliers with anticipated needs for post-storm deliveries.
- Ensure fire protection systems are in proper working order.
- Notify key customers, suppliers, and partners of office/facility closing and contingency plans (Post Office, FedEx, UPS, cleaning service, building management, vendors, etc.).
- Make decisions on when to excuse employees so that they have sufficient time to prepare their homes and families, and notify employees of office closure details.
- Make any necessary alternative travel arrangements for employees away on business.
- Customize messages for business’ website, telephone recording, employee intranet, etc.
- Decide which outstanding invoices, bills, expense reports, etc., should be paid by your accounts payable department, before a possible closure.
- Instruct employees with laptops to take them home at the end of each day when a storm threatens and confirm that they can connect to your business’ server from home.
- Remind employees to fully charge their cell phones and have a power cord and car charger on hand.
- Advise employees to begin checking your employee emergency hotline and/or company intranet and/or website for updates on the status of your office and/or facility.
IBHS provides additional free disaster preparedness resources to small businesses, including OFB-EZ, a streamlined toolkit to create a business continuity plan.
As Tropical Storm Karen progresses, please listen to and take evacuation orders seriously for both your business and home.
Photo credit: Weather.com
In this last week of National Preparedness Month, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) gives the following information to business owners to help them prepare and protect their property against disaster:
Know Your Risks
Before you can prepare a business continuity plan, you must first know which risks are potential threats to your business. Knowing which risks are threats to your business can help you determine how you should respond to a disaster and how quickly you can recover. IBHS has an OFB-EZ (Open for Business-EZ) Vulnerability and Risk Assessment to determine the greatest threats to your business, the likelihood or probability for each of those threats, how severe each event could be, and the potential impact on each business function or process.
Know Your Operations
As a business owner, you know that it takes different departments working together to meet the needs and expectations of customers and vendors. But how well do you know what duties your employees – whether in purchasing, IT, or accounts payable, for example – perform on a daily, weekly, monthly, and annual basis? An assessment tool such as the OFB-EZ will help you identify key business functions and processes, and decide how long you can go without being able to perform them.
Know Your Information Technology
Assessment and knowledge helps you protect the lifeblood of your business – information and information technology – by keeping records of the hardware, software, computer equipment, and processes your business needs to complete vital functions. Store a backup copy onsite for use during small disasters, such as a failed hard drive, and store a second copy in a safe offsite location that can be easily accessed during large disasters. You also can review systems you have in place to protect your data and the equipment your employees use by following guidance offered in the IBHS article, “Data Protection: A Vital Part of Business Protection.”
So as National Preparedness Month comes to a close, remember to prepare and protect not only your home but your business as well, because you never know when a natural disaster may occur.