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Posts Tagged ‘personal insurance’

The Easiest Way to Keep Your Home Safe

The Easiest Way to Keep Your Home Safe

As the old saying goes, your home is your castle. Unfortunately, few are equipped with drawbridges, motes and guards—historically effective features designed to prevent unwanted parties from entering. Every year thieves gain access to millions of residences as a result, subjecting the owners to property damage, the loss of belongings and, sometimes, even violence.

The Statistics

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), there were 2,103,787 burglaries in the U.S. in 2012, 74.5 percent of which occurred in homes. While this represents a 3.7 percent decrease in total break-ins when compared to 2011, the number indicates there is still a need for homeowners to take steps to protect their residences, families and personal property.

Door Frame Fortification

Both deadbolts and alarm systems are popular tools you can use to reduce your home’s chances of burglary. However, neither will actually stop a criminal from entering your residence or causing hundreds of dollars of damage to your exterior door. In many cases, all it takes is a strong kick to a standard door to bust through the lock and deadbolt. In mere moments, a thief can gain access and flee with your valuables—all before the security service or local law enforcement can respond.

Fortunately, there is an easy—and inexpensive—way for homeowners and renters to make an attempted door kick-in burglary or invasion less successful. Reinforcing your exterior door frames with a product like Door Devil, Rebar Door Security Device or EZ Armor will make it much more difficult for criminals to kick their way into your home. Because going unnoticed is necessary for a successful burglary, most will be reluctant to make the amount of noise required to force their way through a fortified door.

You can install most door frame fortification devices in 30 minutes, and retail prices starting at $59 make them affordable for families on any budget.

Other Suggestions

Of course, no single security product is 100 percent guaranteed to keep criminals out of your residence. The more tools you use to add layers of protection, the safer your family and belongings will be. Experts suggest considering the following when implementing a home security plan.

  • Install battery operated automatic light timers throughout your home. Use them to create the illusion of occupancy when you’re away on vacation or out for the evening.
  • Never leave doors or windows unlocked. Do not store a key to your home in an outdoor location where it may be easily found.
  • In addition to a door frame reinforcement kit, install door locks with an ANSI grade 1 rating and deadbolt locks with at least 1-inch long horizontal bolts.
  • Replace soft, wooden exterior doors with solid core or metal doors. This includes the door leading from your garage into your home.
  • Reinforce windows or glass panels within or near exterior doors with invisible security film. This will make it more difficult for a burglar to break the glass and reach through to unlock the door. This also works for ground floor windows and sliding doors.
  • Place a metal or wooden rod in the track on your sliding patio door to prevent it from opening more than a few inches.

Everyone wants their home to be safe and secure for their family. Implementing these suggestions should help. If you’d like to learn more about protecting your belongings with homeowners or renters insurance, contact your insurance agent.

 

 

Protect Yourself from Robocall Scams

Protect Yourself from Robocall Scams

The phone rings. You answer—but no one responds. Before you can hit disconnect, a recorded message begins to play. It informs you that you’ve won a free vacation, have been chosen to test a product, are eligible for a reduction in your credit card interest rate, owe money to the IRS, are in trouble with local law enforcement, or need to call your bank or lender due to a change in your account. But none of these statements are true—they’re just fabrications used as bait in new rip-off scams criminals have hatched to steal your personal or financial information.

Though the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act of 2003 made robocalls illegal in 2004—the FCC regulations prohibit telemarketers from calling a cell phone number with an automatic dialer under any circumstance—the practice is still rampant. And because the numbers these calls come from are usually spoofed—meaning they are fakes or have been stolen from a legitimate organization—they’re difficult for authorities to track.

Fortunately, there are several things you—as a consumer—can do to protect yourself from robocall scams as well as reduce the number of unsolicited marketing calls you receive on your cell phone and landline.

  • Register your phone numbers with the National Do Not Call Registry. Once you’ve listed your number, legitimate telemarketers must remove you from their call lists. Exceptions include companies with which you have an existing business relationship, businesses that have received written authorization from you, political organizations, charities and telephone surveys.
  • Disconnect as soon as you receive a robocall. The recording may give you the option to press a key to opt out or for transfer to a representative. You may also be given a number to call. Do not do this. If you press a key, the number is logged as working—and the quantity of robocalls you receive will increase. If you call a number given in the recorded message, any individual with whom you speak is likely to be a criminal phishing for your information.
  • Block the numbers that robocall you. If you’re being harassed on a landline, you’ll have to call your phone service provider. However, it’s easy to block numbers on most new cell phones—usually by reviewing the call log, selecting the number, and choosing “add to reject list.” This won’t eliminate all calls—scam robocallers change spoofed numbers frequently—but it should offer some relief.
  • If you’re unsure about the caller, Google it. Enter any phone number into the Google search bar and—if it has been used for scam robocalls—you’re likely to find that information within the search results. Free websites such as com provide reverse number look-up and allow users to post comments regarding the robocalls associated with any given phone number.
  • File a complaint with the FTC. As mentioned previously, most robocall caller ID numbers are spoofed. However, reporting them to the FTC can eventually help to track down violators. You can do this for free when you visit gov/complaint or call 888-382-1222. You can also stay up-to-date on recent robocall and email scams reported to the FTC at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts.

Protecting Your Smartphone is Easy

 

Protecting Your Smartphone is Easy

Can’t live without your cell phone? You’re not alone. According to Pew Research Center, 90 percent of adults in the U.S. own one. Forty-four percent admit to sleeping with it to avoid missing calls and text messages. But as addicted to our devices as we might be, many of us are not taking adequate security measures to protect ourselves while using one.

With the speed of access that a smart phone gives us, come a bevy of security risks. Consider: Fifty-eight percent of adult cell phone owners have smartphones and use them to access the Internet, send and receive emails, download apps, get directions, listen to music, engage with social media and more. Some of these activities expose them to criminals with nefarious intentions such as the theft of personal or financial information. In fact, a recent report from Norton, an antivirus and security software company, found that one in three smartphone users had already experienced some form of cybercrime. That number is only expected to rise.

Keeping your mobile phone secure—and protecting the valuable information within it—actually isn’t difficult. Experts suggest the following to maintain safety while still making the most of your smartphone productivity.

Add a password. If you haven’t password protected your smartphone, you’re basically giftwrapping easy access to your personal information for anyone who picks it up. According to Norton, 25 percent of smartphone users have had their phone lost or stolen. The minimal time it takes to enter a password each time you want to use the device is well worth the added protection.

Install a protective app. According to Symantec, thirty-six percent of malicious mobile activity was designed to steal data in 2014, compared with 17 percent in 2013. If malware infects your smartphone, it can steal your financial information—especially if you regularly use your device to make purchases or bank online. You can find free smartphone security apps from companies such as Norton in the Google Play and Apple App stores.

Turn off automatic connections. Some smartphones have settings that allow for automatic connection to available Wi-Fi networks. Disable this option and you’ll prevent your device from connecting and transmitting data without your knowledge. Fraudulent Wi-Fi networks are increasingly prevalent. Criminals typically set up a free network with a name similar to an establishment such as a coffee shop. Then they wait for patrons to connect to the network so they can collect their information.

Be a smart shopper. Shopping on your phone is certainly convenient. However, experts urge consumers to use caution when making online purchases away from home. Never enter private information, like bank account or credit card numbers, unless you’re certain the network and website is secure. Set your home Wi-Fi network up with a password and only make purchases from websites with urls that start with “https” rather than “http.”

Remember, a smartphone is basically a computer. There’s no reason not to protect it just as you protect your home PC. And if you’d like to explore how identity theft insurance can protect you from losses in the event of a cybercrime, contact your insurance professional.

 

 

One Homeowner’s Tool You’re Probably Overlooking

One Homeowner's Tool You're Probably Overlooking

Why do you have homeowners insurance? If you’re like many American homeowners, it’s not because you believe anything bad will ever happen to your property but because your mortgage lender or landlord says you must. You signed up for the policy and never gave it another thought. This is extremely dangerous.

Disasters can strike at any time. According to the National Fire Protection Association, U.S. fire departments respond to more than 360,000 home structure fires each year. Flood insurance claims average nearly $4 billion per year according to the National Flood Insurance Program. And Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics show there are more than 5,400 burglaries per day, 74 percent of which occur on residential properties.

Why You Need a Home Inventory

In the event of a theft, fire, flood or other natural disaster, your homeowners insurance may be all that stands between you and financial ruin. Protect your investments — don’t over look the home inventory. This detailed record of everything you own will come in handy should you ever need to file a claim, apply for disaster relief or document losses for tax purposes. Unfortunately, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, 59 percent of U.S. consumers do not have one.

Creating your home inventory will take time, but the difference it can make in the event of a disaster is worth it. The actual process isn’t that difficult, especially if you follow these tips.

  1. Decide on an approach. You can conduct your home inventory room by room, by category of item, from newest to oldest purchase, or from most to least expensive belongings.
  1. Create your list. Spreadsheets are particularly effective for this purpose. You can customize columns as you wish, but make sure you include all information an insurance adjuster will need. This includes a description of each item, when you purchased it, the purchase price, and the brand and model or serial number. You can also use Know Your Stuff, free software available both online and as an app, from the Insurance Information Institute.
  1. Augment your documentation. If you have receipts or canceled checks to prove what you paid for your belongings, keep them. You can scan them if you’d prefer to store these items digitally. Photographs of important items may also prove helpful down the line. You can even make a video tour of your home, showing all of your belongings, to accompany your inventory list.
  1. Make sure you include everything of value. This includes items you use less regularly such as tools, sporting goods, holiday decorations and formalwear. Go through every closet, drawer and box in your home as well as your attic, basement and garage.
  1. Store your inventory in a safe place. Keep copies of the list and other documentation outside your home. Locations you may want to consider include a friend or relative’s house, your office or a safe deposit box. For even better protection, store copies in two locations.
  1. Update your list regularly. At minimum, update your home inventory annually. However, some homeowners find it easier to update their list as they make new purchases and the information and supporting documentation needed is readily available.

Once you’ve created your home inventory, review your insurance policy with your insurance agent to ensure you have adequate coverage. You should understand whether your belongings are insured for cash value (replacement or repair costs minus deprecation) or for replacement cost (replacement or repair without an adjustment for depreciation). Rare or valuable items may benefit from additional insurance riders.

 

 

Preventing Burglary — What You Can Do to Protect Your Home

Preventing Burglary -- What You Can Do to Protect Your Home

When driving down a street at night looking at houses, you are most likely drawn to the house with exterior lighting, neatly trimmed landscaping, and lights on inside. That’s because the house looks inviting and well cared for. Now imagine a burglar is driving down the same street. The things that drew you to the previous house are the same things that will turn that burglar away, looking for better opportunities.  A property with no exterior lighting, overgrown landscaping, and possibly no one at home, invites criminal activity.

It is important to note that burglary is a preventable crime. Common sense dictates some of the steps you can take toward making your home safer and less attractive to burglars. The following are some general tips you should incorporate into your routine that can make the difference between the burglar stopping at your house or passing it up for another one further down the road.

The first line of defense between you and a burglar is to properly secure your home.

Make sure your yard, driveway, and all entrances to your home are well-lit. Consider the use of lights on a timer or photocell, which turns lights on automatically at dusk and shuts them off at dawn. Trees and shrubs around windows should be cut back so you don’t give a burglar a place to hide while preparing to enter your home.

If you are going to be away from home for a period of time, leave a light on. Lights left on indoors, especially those on a timer that turn on when it gets dark and shut off at bed time, can be a large deterrent to a burglar. The goal is to make it look as if you are home.  Ask a neighbor to pick up your newspapers and bring in your mail.

Along the same lines, if you will be gone for an extended period, arrange for your lawn to be maintained. Permitting your grass to grow high or get dry is a sign of neglect and can invite unwanted attention. If you have a garage – use it. Parking inside your garage on a regular basis makes it more difficult for a burglar casing your home to know whether or not you are really there.

Burglars will usually spend about five minutes trying to get inside your home. Make that task as difficult as possible by doing the obvious – lock your doors and windows! If you forget to lock your back door, this can be viewed as an invitation by a burglar looking to get in to your home quickly. In addition to the obvious, avoid spring bolt locks. It takes only a credit card to push open the bolt and allow access to the inside. Deadbolt locks should be installed on all exterior doors. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has established testing and ratings for deadbolt locks. Grade 1 locks are the best, with Grade 3 locks being easier to penetrate. Look for Grade 1 locks when shopping for a deadbolt. A key lock or pin-type lock work best for patio door, or any door with glass that could be easily broken to access a knob on a deadbolt. Heavy-duty strike plates should also be used to prevent a burglar from successfully kicking in your door.

When purchasing a new home, make sure all locks have been changed. Also, think about calling a reputable locksmith who can advise you on proper locks for doors and windows. Carefully preparing your home, including adequate locks, lighting, and regular maintenance, can make the difference between a burglar deciding to make a stop at your house or to keep driving.

Insuring Your Bicycle — Why It Might Be a Good Idea

Insuring Your Bicycle -- Why It Might Be a Good Idea

Summer is a lovely time to get outdoors and bike with your family, but before you go, you’ll want to consider protecting the investment you’ve made in recreation vehicles.  Bikes are much easier to steal than cars, as even heavy duty locks can be compromised with the right equipment. The FBI estimates that 1.5 million bicycles are stolen each year in the United States — odds are, yours might be next. Purchasing bicycle insurance could give you peace of mind.

Note: since bikes are considered to be personal property, they are already be insured if you have homeowners or renters insurance. These types of insurance will cover your bicycle if it is stolen or damaged during a house fire or natural disaster. However, if your bike is a high-end model, you may want to purchase an additional rider.  You’ll want to check if your insurance will cover your bike if it is stolen when you are away from home — many policies do provide for such a scenario, but it’s worth inquiring.

Your insurance needs may go beyond replacing your bicycle. If you are involved in a crash that totals your bicycle, your wheels might not be the only thing that is hurt. In other words, you may wish that you had personal injury protection.

Your car insurance may cover this unfortunate event if you drive, but cyclists who either cycle or take public transportation may have a need for individualized insurance that addresses this specific need.
If you are taking the time to protect your two-wheeled asset, ask about replacement insurance. Otherwise, your policy could pay the actual cash value of your bike, which if it is eight years old, may be considerably less than you would need to replace your ride.
Find out if your existing coverage is adequate by talking to your insurance agent. If not, she can help you to add the rider or connect you with a carrier who can provide the coverage you need. Doing so will give you the peace of mind you need to enjoy riding your bike free of worry.

Rental Insurance Basics for College Grads

Rental Insurance Basics for College Grads

Whether you’ve just graduated from college or are the parent of a recent college grad, here’s a fact you need to know: only 37 percent of today’s renters have rental insurance. This means millions are only one fire, natural disaster or burglary away from the financial losses renters insurance was created to protect them from.

Why do they take this unnecessary risk? It’s possibly because they are misinformed or otherwise unknowledgeable about this valuable insurance product. Consider the following rental insurance myths and the basics every renter needs to know.

Myth: I don’t need insurance because my landlord has insurance.

This is a common misconception, and many renters have paid its price. While your landlord’s insurance policies cover the building and any unattached property he or she has stored there, they do not cover your belongings. Should they be stolen or destroyed by a fire, hurricane or tornado, you’ll have to replace them yourself. You’re also liable for your own temporary living expenses if the building is deemed uninhabitable.

Myth: I don’t own anything important so insurance isn’t worth it.

This statement is rarely true, and a look around your home is all you need to prove it false. Just imagine what it would cost to replace your computer, television, stereo, electronics, books, movies, furniture, clothing and other belongings. Even buying used, you’re talking about thousands of dollars. Additionally, rental insurance includes liability protection against lawsuits should a visitor become injured while at your home.

Myth: Rental insurance is too expensive.

Again, this statement is false. Renter’s insurance—and homeowner’s insurance—policies are surprisingly affordable. Depending on the amount of coverage you purchase, premiums can be as low as few hundred dollars a year, or less than $20 a month. Talk to your insurance agent about the amount of rental insurance you need and current rates in your state.

Myth: Rental insurance is too confusing.

Understanding most insurance products does take a little time—but it’s always easier with the help of an insurance agent. Give us a call to learn more about rental insurance variables including actual cost versus replacement value, deductibles and policy add-ons (such as floaters to cover valuables above the coverage limits of a standard policy) available to you. We can provide you with quotes from a number of insurers and may even be able to get you a discount.

Whether you’re purchasing rental insurance for yourself or your college graduate, we’re here to help make sure you’re protected from losses due to fire, smoke, lightning, explosions, windstorms, vandalism and theft. Give us a call today.

Preventing Accidental Poisoning

Preventing Accidental Poisoning

America’s poison help lines received over 3.1 million calls in 2013 alone. While accidental poison exposure of children younger than the age of 6 accounted for nearly 50 percent of incidents, kids weren’t the only ones in harm’s way. Ninety-two percent of reported poison-related deaths were of adults. More than 90 percent of poisonings occurred in the home.

Whether your family includes young children and teens or is comprised of adults alone, consider the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ tips to prevent accidental poisoning in your home.

  1. Learn to recognize potential poisons – A poison is anything that can harm someone if it is used in the wrong way, by the wrong person or in the wrong amount. Even products you might consider safe—such as vitamin C tablets, mouthwash or hair spray—can become a poison. Additionally:
  • Some poisons may be harmful if they touch your eyes or skin.
  • Others may be toxic if you breathe or swallow them.
  • They can by solids, liquids, sprays or gases.
  1. Prescription and over-the-counter drugs and medicines are among the most common household poisons.
  • Never take larger or more frequent doses than prescribed by your doctor or recommended on OTC drug labels.
  • Read all warning labels before taking any medication. Some may become poisons when taken with other drugs or alcohol.
  • Turn on a light before taking medications at night to ensure you have the correct bottle and are taking the right amount.
  • Keep medicines in their original bottles and containers. Pill sorters may be convenient, but they can also increase your chance of accidental poisoning.
  • Dispose of unused, unneeded and expired prescription drugs at National Drug Take Back days. You can find a DEA authorized collection location in your area at this website.
  1. Household chemical products (cleaning, personal care, pesticides, etc.) are also common household poisons.
  • Read the label completely before using any household or personal care product.
  • Keep all chemical and personal care products in their original bottles and containers.
  • Never mix cleaning products together or you may create toxic gases.
  • Turn on fans and open windows before using chemical household cleaners.
  • Never apply pesticides or other chemicals without wearing protective clothing.
  1. Proper storage of potential poisons is essential.
  • If you have children—or if youngsters sometimes visit your home—store all medications and household products in a secure cabinet out of sight or out of children’s reach.
  • Always secure child safety caps every time you use a medication.
  • Put medications and household products away as soon as you are done with them.
  • Ask guests to your home to keep their medications out of the sight and access of children as well. They should not leave drugs in their purses, backpacks or coat pockets.
  1. Remain calm if a poisoning occurs.
  • Prepare for such a situation by programming 1-800-222-1222 (the Poison Control Center) into your family’s cell phones.
  • Call the poison control center number if the exposure victim is awake and alert. If he or she is not, call 911.
  • You’ll need the victim’s age and weight as well as the time of poison exposure and the type of chemical (medication, household product, etc.).
  • The emergency operator or poison control center will provide you with further instruction.

 

Should You Buy Disability Insurance?

Should You Buy Disability Insurance?

What would happen if you were permanently injured or became too ill to work? You might qualify for disability payments from Social Security, but would you be able to survive on the average payout ($1,165/month as of April 2015)? Maybe you have some savings, but would they be adequate to cover your living expenses until you’re old enough to collect retirement benefits? If you answered “no” to either of these questions, you should consider buying disability insurance.

Like every other type of insurance, a disability policy is designed to protect something. You buy homeowners insurance to protect your home and the personal property within it. You buy life insurance to protect your family when you eventually pass away. Disability insurance basically protects your income—something that’s especially important during your peak earning years (now defined as age 40 to 55.) Not only do most professionals earn their highest salary during this time, they actively use it to pay down debt and save for retirement.

As most insurers won’t offer disability policies to individuals over the age of 59, now is likely your best time to buy one that will carry you through to full retirement age. As with health and life insurance, the older you are, the more expensive obtaining disability insurance will become. Less than perfect health can make it more difficult, though not impossible. You may still be offered a policy, but it may include exclusions for health issues—such as back problems—for which you’ve regularly sought treatment.

Before you pursue an individual disability insurance policy, check with your employer about group policies. If the company you work for offers one, you may be able to obtain coverage without going through medical underwriting. This can make the process easier and save you money. If your employer does not offer supplemental disability insurance, you’ll want to find a provider who offers guaranteed renewable policies with fixed costs and terms.

In general, experts recommend a disability insurance policy that will replace 60 to 70 percent of your salary. Women are often charged more for the same amount of coverage as men because they are 35 percent more likely to become disabled. Increasing the waiting period on the policy—from 90 days to 180 days, for example—can decrease the price. So can choosing a shorter term. If you and your partner buy policies together, you may also score a discount.

When you apply for a disability insurance policy, the underwriter will look at your health (unless you’re getting insurance through your employer), occupation and finances. You may need to provide tax returns as proof of income. It can be an invasive process, but when you consider the peace of mind disability insurance affords—especially during those peak earning years we mentioned earlier—it’s more than worth any minor hassle. Contact us to discuss the benefits of disability insurance further and explore your options.

 

Home Window Safety

Home Window Safety

You expect your home to be a safe place for your children—maybe even the safest. However, according to recent data from Safe Kids Worldwide, 2,200 children die each year from injuries sustained in the home. Caregivers take another 3.5 million kids to the ER after home accidents, and almost 2 million of them are treated for fall-related injuries. Some of these deaths and injuries involve falls from windows.

While National Window Safety Week takes place in April each year, anytime is a good time to assess window safety in your home. The National Safety Council offers the following suggestions to help you keep your children safe from life-threatening falls.

Always supervise – Nothing feels better than a fresh spring or summer breeze through open windows. However, if you choose to keep yours open during warm weather months, keep an eye on your children and teach them to play well away from the potential fall hazard.

If you can’t supervise, keep them closed – If you cannot stay with your children, close and lock the windows before leaving the room.

Don’t rely on screens – Most window screens are designed to keep insects out, not children in. They cannot withstand the weight of a child (or a pet) and will not prevent a fall.

Move the furniture – If you have small children, or if little ones are visiting your home, move furniture away from the windows. This will remove their temptation to climb up and potentially fall.

Ventilate in inches – Rather than opening windows wide, crack them a few inches. You’ll still get a breeze while keeping children (and pets) safe from falls. You may also want to consider installing limited-opening hardware on windows within your children’s reach. This hardware will prevent them from opening the window more than a few inches.

Bedroom Windows Save Lives

While falling from a window can lead to injury, it may be necessary for your children to use their bedroom window to exit your home in the event of an emergency—such as a fire. You’ll want to make certain they can safely do so. Consider these additional tips from the National Safety Council.

Test the windows – Make sure bedroom windows open easily and are not sealed shut by paint or swollen shut by weathering. If you cannot open them quickly and easily, replace them.

Buy escape ladders – If you have bedrooms on the second or third floor of your home, equip each one with an emergency escape ladder.

Practice – Teach your children how to open their windows and attach the escape ladder. Practice fire escape routes, both during the day and at night (when most house fires occur).

Download the National Safety Council’s window safety activity book for kids here. And remember: we’re here to help you protect your family. Please don’t hesitate to call with home safety or insurance-related questions.