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How to Store Tax Documents and Cash In Case of Natural Disasters

Posted on: February 10th, 2020 by Access Home Insurance No Comments

As you collect W2s, 1099s and other tax documents, take a few extra steps to prepare an emergency financial first-aid kit. You never know when a pandemic, blackout, superstorm, fire or cyberattack will come.

The waterproof kit should contain essential documents you will need to reconstruct your financial life after a disaster — and also to help you get through one.

“Some docs you’ll need right away, and others you might not need right away but are difficult to replace,” said Neal Stern, a certified public accountant. “Some you have to have the original; some, a copy will suffice.”

Keep originals of identification: driver’s and marriage licenses, birth certificates, passports and Social Security cards, he said.

After a disaster, you may have to re-establish your ID, replace credit cards, complete a change-of-address form or apply for government assistance. Copies of those items could be kept in a secure cloud storage service, he added.

“If you can’t document who you are, it’ll be hard to get help,” said Stern, who is a member of the AICPA National CPA Financial Literacy Commission.

When people do get prepared for a disaster, said Jim Judge, a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council, “oftentimes the financial side is not what people pay attention to.”

Judge keeps his important documents in a small plastic bin under his bed. He also stores money. “Cash is king,” he said, especially if the power is out and ATMs are not working.

Adam Levin, the ex-director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs who lost a house to Superstorm Sandy, recommended also creating a digital file of documents.

He suggests keeping digital copies of key financial documents on an encrypted waterproof USB flash drive. “If your bug-out kit gets into the wrong hands, it could be a nightmare,” he cautioned.

 

Adapted from the New York Post.

Prepare for Hurricane Season

Posted on: June 7th, 2019 by Access Home Insurance No Comments

Hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30.

Plan Ahead:

Before the Storm:

During the Storm:

After the Storm:

  • Stay indoors until emergency personnel announce that the area is safe.
  • Make sure your home is safe before returning.
  • Text or use social media to let others know you’re okay.
  • Be on alert for extended rainfall, subsequent flooding and downed power lines and tree limbs.
  • Take photos of damage to your home, cars or other items.
  • Dry and disinfect all materials in the house to prevent mold and mildew.

OTHER RESOURCES:

LA Governor’s Office of Homeland Security, Tips for Power Outages, Emergency Preparedness for Pets, NOAA Hurricane Center, Prepare Your Business for Catastrophic Storms, Ready.gov Hurricane Resources, American Red Cross.

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 last year. And if that’s not disturbing enough on its own, the latest data on ID crimes found that the perpetrators 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.

Seventeen million individuals were affected by ID theft last year–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.