Identity theft hit a record high in 2017. And if that’s not disturbing enough on its own, the latest data on ID crimes found that the crooks are becoming increasingly sophisticated, gaining toeholds into poorly secured accounts as a way to access more important segments of the victim’s financial life, according to a just-released annual survey.
“In the past, criminals would get and sell bits and pieces of your personal information, now they have everything — your name, address, Social Security number — and they’re taking over multiple accounts at a time. 16.7 million individuals were affected by ID theft in 2017, the most ever.
Notably, credit card issuers have widely adopted sophisticated chip-card technology, but that hasn’t stopped the thieves. Instead, they’ve shifted to online transactions and got more savvy, opening new accounts as a means of compromising those consumers already have.
For instance, cybercriminals might pull a consumer’s passwords and other personal information from a poorly secured cell phone account and then use the purloined information to open PayPal (PYPL) and Amazon (AMZN) accounts. Roughly 1 million victims had such “intermediary accounts” opened in their names before their existing accounts were compromised. Account takeover fraud tripled over the past year, reaching a four-year high.
“Card not present” fraud — the type of transaction you’d do online — is now 81 percent more likely than frauds perpetrated in person.
Nearly a third (30 percent) of U.S. consumers were notified of a breach in the past year, up from 12 percent in 2016. For the first time ever, Social Security numbers (35 percent) were compromised more than credit card numbers (30 percent) in breaches.
How can you protect yourself?
Use two-factor authentication: Banks and brokers commonly ask you to verify your identity by receiving a text message or email when you use a new device to sign in. Now, many online merchants offer the same, but consumers generally must opt in.
Encrypt and password protect: Malware doesn’t infect only your computer. Now that an increasing amount of commerce is conducted via phone and other mobile devices, new viruses aim at them. Treat your mobile devices with the same care that you use to guard your desktop or laptop. Secure them with passwords, security software and encrypt any stored data.
Freeze or lock: If you’re not planning to apply for new credit anytime soon, consider freezing your credit reports with the three major bureaus. This will halt any new credit being opened in your name. The downside is that freezing credit reports can cost up to about $10 at each credit bureau, and if you want to apply for a loan, you would have to lift the freeze first.
Another option: Equifax (EFX) has introduced a free “lock and alert” service, which allows you to lock your credit file, releasing it with a swipe on your phone when you want to apply for credit. Notably, placing a free fraud alert on your file, with any credit bureau, works much the same way, except you normally unfreeze your file by providing a contact phone number that a potential credit grantor can call.
Say “yes” to alerts: An increasing number of companies allow consumers to put alerts on their accounts when transactions exceed a certain dollar amount, which could allow you to spot fraud before it got out of control.
Unfortunately, these measures aren’t foolproof. Co consumers also need to regularly monitor their accounts and notify the authorities whenever something is amiss as no measure is 100% effective. The bottom line is, the sooner you can detect fraud, the lower the losses tend to be.
Adapted from CBS Marketwatch 2018.
As you prepare for celebrating a number of fall and winter holidays, take some time to protect your home against common seasonal risks. A few steps can not only increase your safety, but they may help you save money on your homeowners insurance in the long run.
Although the rate of burglaries tends to be lower in winter, break-ins are always a risk. Porch theft is also a very real concern, especially during the holiday season. To help minimize these risks, consider installing a home security system.
The cameras and motion detectors that most of these systems include can help prevent burglaries and theft while also shaving off a chunk of your homeowner’s insurance — up to 15% in some cases.
Even though it’s not exactly easy, you are supposed to go on your roof and clean your gutters every once in a while. Exactly how frequently depends on where you live and how often they fill up, but a good rule of thumb is around twice a year.
Clogged gutters can cause a few issues, but the big one for most homeowners is roof leaks. If your gutters can’t drain properly, that excess water can soak through shingles and eventually start leaking into your home. This can cause mold to grow, along with the damage from the water itself. And don’t forget that melting snow can also fill up the gutters, causing similar issues.
While you’re up there cleaning those gutters, take a few minutes to inspect your roof. Look for obvious holes and damaged (or missing) shingles, but also take some time to really comb over the details.
Keep an eye out for cracks, leaks where different parts of your roof meet (called flashings), and general wear and tear. Issues with your roof can quickly spiral out of control and result in flooding, much like clogged gutters.
A good guideline is to plan to inspect your roof on a regular basis (usually at least twice a year).
This can save you money on utilities, sometimes significant amounts. Smart thermostats like the Nest Learning Thermostat can save as much as 12% on heating costs, paying for themselves in just a couple of years. Plus, you get the convenience of having your home automatically set to the proper temperature just in time for you to arrive home from work.
In addition to carrying their own benefits, smart home devices sometimes come with insurance discounts. State Farm is one example of an insurer that offers discounts for installing connected devices, and they may even help pay for some home monitoring equipment. Check with your insurance company to see if they offer any incentives for getting your home connected.
Believe it or not, winter is actually prime season for house fires — more fire deaths occur in December, January, February, and March than in any other months of the year. This is partly due to the increased use of heaters during the cold winter months and partly because of all the gatherings during the holiday season. (Ever heard of someone burning their house down trying to fry a turkey?)
There are several things you can do to help minimize fire risks in your home:
Adapted from Property Casualty 306.
In the wake of the disaster that Hurricane Harvey left behind, experts estimate up to $23 billion dollars in damage occurred in just two southeast Texas counties.
That number reflects market value, rather than total storm damage, and it doesn’t include the storm’s total reach. Experts are still calculating the total cost of damage across the rest of Texas and Louisiana.
It’ll take many business owners – especially those of small businesses – years to rebuild, if they do at all. Over 40% of small businesses don’t reopen after a disaster because they simply don’t have the resources.
Here are some serious issues to consider before the next hurricane hits:
Develop a business continuity plan.
Get the right types of insurance – and review coverage periodically.
Many businesses in the storm’s path did not have flood insurance, which means there may be few options for filing flood-related claims. Business owners should look to the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program, which can issue policies that cover businesses in the event of a flood.
Consider the emotional toll on employees.
Your business was hit by a hurricane; that means your employees’ homes were likely affected, too. Hurricane Harvey displaced an estimated one million people. While getting your business back up and running is a priority for you, consider the impact of the storm on your colleagues. Following a natural disaster, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open and be flexible with employees as they deal with damage to their homes. Put policies in place before a storm hits that outline how you’ll handle working after the storm. Your employees may need to work flexible hours while they care for kids who aren’t able to go to school or elderly relatives who typically live on their own or at a nursing home or assisted living facility.
Organize and protect your records.
In the days leading up to a forecasted hurricane or other severe weather, you’ll likely want to spend it preparing for physical damage, preparing to evacuate and making sure that your family and your employees’ families are safe. You don’t want to spend it scrambling to organize your policy files. While most of the information you need is on the web, make sure you can easily access it from your phone. You might also want to print out backup copies of policies and carry them with you so you can reach out to insurers after the event.
Put your smartphone to use.
When it’s time to assess the damage and begin rebuilding, put your smartphone to use. Take pictures and video to capture the damage to your business. As an added measure, take pictures of paper receipts during your rebuilding efforts as a backup. It’s an easy way to help you document your expenses that can contribute to your deductible.
These recent powerful storms are a reminder to prepare ahead of time for these types of natural disasters – even if you don’t think it can happen to you.
1. Disconnect. Shut off the circuit breaker, remove the fuse or slide the refrigerator away from the wall as needed to remove the refrigerator’s plug from the electrical outlet. Shut off water supply lines if equipped with ice maker or water dispenser.
2. Locate the condenser coil. There are two sets of coils for cooling appliances like refrigerators, they are called the evaporator and condenser coils. Overly simplified, the two coils are filled with gas and liquid respectively, and are parts of a complex “circuit” that has a compressor and expansion valve that perform the work. The gas filled evaporator coil is located in the space to be cooled, and performs the task by absorbing heat from that space. It is usually protected from damage and out of view inside the freezer section. The “heated” gas is compressed by the compressor, where it is further heated (hot to the touch) by the compression process. The heated compressed gas and liquid is passed through the condenser coil that is located away from the cooled space. This condenser coil is where some of the heat in the liquid is released to the ambient air. The cooled liquid is then drawn through the expansion valve by the suction of the compressor, where the liquid immediately boils off to a gas. This causes the temperature of the gas to drop significantly (well below freezing) in the evaporator coil. The process repeats until the thermostat in the space is satisfied. Because the condenser coil is exposed to the ambient air on the refrigerator, it requires regular cleaning. There are a few locations that the condenser coil may be found:
Older refrigerators have the coil (a grid-like structure often painted black) mounted on the rear of the refrigerator.
A. Toe space panel. Remove the panel at the bottom of the front of the refrigerator and carefully slide the condensate tray out (if present, the condensate tray may contain water). A visual inspection upward into this space may reveal a flat condenser coil when located here.
B. Rear access panel. If not found behind the toe space, the refrigerator will have to be slid away from the wall further to work from behind. Disconnect water supply lines if too short to allow enough room to work. Remove the fasteners that holds an access panel in position. The condenser coil may be flat, but will likely be cylindrical in shape when located here.Newer refrigerators often locate the condenser coil at the bottom. It is likely that a fan (that may or may not be readily visible) will be directed at the coil to assist with heat dissipation. Use a flashlight to assist locating the coil and fan if needed. The coil will be accessible from one of two places:
3. Disconnect power. Make sure the power to the refrigerator is disconnected.
4. Vacuum the coils. With a plastic crevice or brush attachment, carefully vacuum dirt and dust wherever it is seen. Use care not to damage the fins or coil. A breach created in the coil will allow the refrigerant to escape and will likely result in an expensive repair.
5. Vacuum the fan. If the fan is visible and accessible, cleaning it will help it move air across the condenser coil as designed. Dirt and dust, if allowed to accumulate on the fan blades, decreases airflow, affects balance and can contribute to early failure of the compressor.
6. Brush away stubborn dirt and dust. Use a narrow paint brush to gently remove stubborn dirt and dust from the coil and fan if able to get sufficient access.
7. Slide refrigerator back into position. Plug the refrigerator back into wall outlet. Arrange any water supply lines and power cords so that they will not be kinked or crushed by the refrigerator.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has documented tornado activity in every state in America and on every continent in the world, excluding Antarctica.
Given the proper atmospheric conditions, a tornado can strike anywhere. Wherever you live, keep your home and family safe by executing the proper preparedness strategies before a severe storm strikes. Use these simple tips to learn how to prepare for tornadoes to keep your people and property protected this season.
Tornadoes can form without much of a warning. Stay alert and pay attention when a tornado watch or warning is issued in your area. If you see any of the following danger signs, take shelter immediately:
Properly preparing your home for disaster is one of the easiest ways to keep your family safe in case of a tornado. You’ll be more likely to know where to go for shelter, have the supplies you need to survive, and experience less risk of property damage during and after the tornado passes your area. Follow these key safety tips to make your property as safe as possible:
1. Designate a safe room. This area can either be a storm cellar, a basement or a room on the lowest level of your home or building without any windows, like a closet. This room should be reinforced by a professional to provide extra protection during severe storms.
2. Put essentials in your safe room. An emergency kit full of food, water, important documents and life-saving supplies should always be readily available in your safe room. Keep extra clothing, blankets, a battery-powered radio, medication, a first aid kit, pet supplies and any other essentials in your safe room in the event you need to wait out the tornado for long periods of time.
3. Remove outdoor items. Debris, dead trees and furniture are likely to get picked up by the wind and thrown into your home. Secure or remove as many outdoor items on your property as possible.
4. Reinforce your home. Call a professional to reinforce any masonry walls or other structures that provide support to your home. If you have a chimney, have the professionals secure it with reinforced steel to prevent it from falling off during high winds. Professionals can also assess your home and make recommendations to add additional strength and stability.
5. Contact your insurance agent. It’s important to understand what kind of damage is and isn’t covered under your homeowner’s insurance. If you need to add any extra items to your policy, do so before a tornado has a chance to hit your area.