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Seven Ways to Secure Your Home Office

Posted on: May 8th, 2018 by Access Home Insurance No Comments

Working from home, on either a full time or part time basis, requires specific security and insurance considerations to keep your property and data safe.

Cover Your Assets–Make sure you’re homeowners insurance covers your business related assets.

Install Smart Security–Did you know more residential burglaries occur during the day than at night? Prowlers assume homes will be vacant during work hours, but since yours won’t be, it’s especially important that you take proper security measures to keep yourself safe.

Many home security companies now offer smart security options that allow you to monitor activity from your smartphone. If a camera or motion sensor captures anything unusual happening around your home, the system will notify you so you can see what’s going on and alert the authorities if needed — all without leaving the safety of your office.

Have a plan in the event of a break in. Even with a state-of-the-art security system, break-ins are still a possibility you should be prepared for.

If you are at home during a break-in, the best plan of action is to stay calm, call 911 and quietly get to a safe location — either outside the house or in a locked room. The intruder could be armed, so do not draw attention to yourself. After the break-in is over and you’ve spoken with local authorities, contact your insurer to file a claim for any damaged or stolen items.

Encrypt your data–Encryption software scrambles your data, making it unreadable to anyone without the encryption key. As such, these programs are crucial for securing sensitive information.

PC users can purchase encryption tools like CertainSafe for a monthly fee. You can choose to either encrypt your entire hard drive, individual files or files in bulk. For Mac users (operating on OS X Lion or a later update) FileVault comes pre-installed.

Aside from implementing encryption tools, you can also keep your data safe by password-protecting your computer and any other work-related devices, and signing out when you’re not using them. It’s a simple yet effective additional safeguard.

Secure Your Internet Connection–One of the most important ways to keep your business data safe is by using a secure and reliable internet connection. If you want to use a wireless connection, create a unique name(SSID) and password for your Wi-Fi network, and consider setting up a separate, dedicated guest network for all non-work activities to further limit access.

A virtual private network, or VPN, also helps to secure your connection against hackers. If you work for a larger corporation, your employer may provide you with a VPN so you can access company portals from home. If your company doesn’t provide VPN access or if you’re self-employed, you’ll have to sign up for the service on your own.

Some internet plans include additional security features, so check with your provider for more details on how to secure your connection.

Use a password manager–It may be tempting to use the same password for everything, but doing so makes it easy for hackers to access your information. Strong passwords can be difficult to remember, though, which is why password managers like LastPass or iCloud Keychain come in handy.

These management tools help you create optimal passwords and store them for you. They also make it easy for you to change passwords frequently.

Install Programs Sparingly–One of the most common ways to contract malware is by downloading corrupted files and programs. Some links contain viruses that could overhaul your entire system or make you susceptible to a DDoS attack. To mitigate this risk, simply avoid downloading anything unless you are certain the source is reliable.

Additionally, the most dangerous downloads often come in the form of email attachments, so be cautious before opening any file attachments from senders you don’t know. And even if you do know the sender, be wary of any suspicious-looking emails that ask for personal information or require attachment downloads.

While working from home has some unique security vulnerabilities, if you implement the safety measures outlined here, you’ll be more secure in no time.

 

 

 

Adapted from Property Casualty 360.

How Blockchain Technology Will Transform the Insurance Industry

Posted on: April 5th, 2018 by Access Home Insurance No Comments

Advancing technologies are disrupting and transforming industries far and wide. From Uber and Lyft and their collective impact on the consumer transportation industry to Airbnb, WeWork, Spotify and more, we are experiencing a golden age of transformation where technologies are fundamentally changing the way we live, work and play.

Blockchain – a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography – has the potential to surpass these disruptors by a significant margin—if business leaders are willing to invest the necessary capital and time. Blockchain technology has already permeated industries far and wide. For the insurance industry, it holds immense transformative potential.

How so? The volume of documents and data shared within the insurance industry is immense. Between policy documents, premium payments, claims processing, claims payments and other activities, millions of transactions occur on a daily basis. Given the amount of data being shared, and the complex nature of the guidelines (e.g., coverage limits, reinsurance agreements, deductible amounts, premium amounts) that drive the insurance industry, this in many ways is the perfect industry for blockchain technology. Some of the more significant areas in which blockchain could disrupt the insurance industry are related to efficiency, transparency and claims processing.

 

Efficiencies and Transparency

Blockchain technology can streamline the insurance application processes by enabling individuals to establish an identity that has all the necessary background information and is encrypted (i.e., a block). Carriers can be granted access to this verified and protected identity quickly and securely. The ease by which this information could be shared would hopefully lead to more transparency and efficiency.

 

Claims Processing

Another major impact of blockchain technology relates to claims processing. As it stands now, insurance fraud and claims payment inefficiencies are two of the main issues affecting many carriers. The use of blockchain technology could lead to less fraudulent claims and quicker payment processing.

For example, the use of a blockchain registry in the life insurance sector could lead to quicker, accurate payments in a time of need for many families. The main issue in many life insurance cases relates to family members being unsure if the deceased is insured and unaware of where any documents reside. A blockchain would hold all of this information securely and with anonymity along with the millions of other individuals who have life insurance (i.e., a blockchain consisting of all life insurance policies in place). Upon death, any additional documents could be uploaded to the block. The carriers would then cross-reference this block and payments would be made once all criteria is met. As it stands now, without this technology, there currently are billions of dollars in unclaimed life insurance funds.

Similarly, following a hurricane, if an insured was unable to locate their policy documents and their agent’s contact information, blockchain registry would house this information, allowing for a speedier claim filing. This, in turn, would eliminate the need to delay repair work until the insurance documents are found.

There are hundreds of uses of blockchain technology in numerous industries. Companies are already starting to invest in this tool due to the vast impact it could have. The future is here!

Identity Theft Is More Rampant Than Ever. Learn How to Protect Yourself.

Posted on: February 8th, 2018 by Access Home Insurance No Comments

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.

Five Strategies To Reduce Fall/Winter Property Damage

Posted on: October 27th, 2017 by Access Home Insurance No Comments

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.

1. Install a home security system.

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.

 

2. Keep drains and gutters clean.

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.

 

3. Inspect your roof for damage and leaks.

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).

 

4. Set up home automation features.

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.

5. Fireproof your home.

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:

  • Keep fire extinguishers handy. You can purchase them from home improvement stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot.
  • Test your smoke alarms regularly, and always replace batteries when they start to chime.
  • Make sure candles are kept away from flammable items like curtains, napkins, and furniture. Never leave them burning when you leave the house.

 

 

 

Adapted from Property Casualty 306.

What Businesses Can Learn From Harvey and Irma Before The Next Hurricane

Posted on: October 9th, 2017 by Access Home Insurance No Comments

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.

Harvey put the brakes on the fifth largest economy in the U.S. for a few days – and it’s very slowly beginning to move again.
Obviously, it may not be possible (or safe) to work during a hurricane. However, depending on the effects of the storm, you may be able to resume business at an alternate location – if you’ve planned in advance.
Before a storm hits, review your employees’ contact information to ensure it’s up to date. It may be a snap to reach people on social media, email, by phone or text, but consider how power outages, cell service and even email servers might be affected by a natural disaster.
In addition to your employees, you should also make sure your suppliers and partner companies are available. If your supply chain is disrupted by the same natural disaster – or another one that doesn’t directly affect you – you might still have to deal with the fallout. Consider contingent business interruption (CBI) insurance to protect against disruptions in your supply chain.

Get the right types of insurance – and review coverage periodically.

Business interruption insurance will cover expenses your business incurs if you can’t operate due to a hurricane or other natural disaster. Review your limits periodically to ensure you’ve got adequate coverage. It’s easy to underestimate what you need to try and save money – in reality, business might resume just a few days after a storm hits, but you could feel the effects long after it.
On the other hand, if your business has been severely damaged, you may need to rebuild. Make sure your business interruption insurance includes coverage for payroll. If you can’t work remotely during the rebuilding phase, you want to ensure that your employees are compensated until they’re able to work again.
Typical property insurance covers the effects of natural disasters like lightning damage or wind damage. But it doesn’t cover damage caused by flooding. Hurricane Harvey dumped an unprecedented 51.8 inches of rain on parts of Houston, which is more rain than the city usually accumulates in a year.

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.