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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.

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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!

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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.

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Five Steps to Prepare for Tornadoes

Posted on: July 5th, 2017 by Access Home Insurance No Comments

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.

 

Tornado warning signs

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:

Tornado safety preparation tips

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.

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How to Avoid Common Losses That Occur When You’re Away from Home.

Posted on: May 31st, 2017 by Access Home Insurance No Comments

 

Summer travel season is just around the corner. A small investment of time and effort can help you avoid costly claims from water, fire and event theft.  Use our checklist to keep your home safe when you’re traveling.

 

Home Security Do’s and Don’ts:

Don’t broadcast your whereabouts. Never reveal travel plans or itineraries on social media and avoid providing running online commentary of your travel activities.

Encourage your children to not share vacation or travel plans with friends. One last old-fashioned bit of advice — don’t leave voice messages on home or cell phones that say when you’ll be away.

Make your home look occupied. Since looks can be deceiving, make your home appear as if someone is home. Here’s a checklist:

  • If a car or cars are normally left outside, have someone periodically drive them or park them a bit differently.
  • If there’s a swimming pool, keep the water in it circulating.
  • Make sure that lawn mowing and watering continue as scheduled.
  • Put a hold on mail and newspaper deliveries.
  • Use timers on exterior lights to go on and off at the usual times.

 

Secure your home and its contents. Security systems can only do so much; take a few extra safety precautions when you plan to be away:

  • Add security lights with motion sensors to scare off potential burglars.
  • Close all window latches and put a secondary blocking device such as a wooden dowel in place to ensure windows or sliding doors cannot be opened.
  • Let the security company know when the home will be vacant.
  • Disconnect the garage door opener and lock it manually to protect it from criminals who can crack the electronic code.
  • Move fine jewelry to a safe or bank safety deposit box.
  • Don’t leave house keys in an obvious place inside or outside the home.
  • Lower the volume or shut off the ringer on telephones so they can’t be heard outside.
  • Make sure fine art, expensive electronics and other valuables aren’t visible through windows.
  • Put fresh batteries in smoke detectors so they remain operable and don’t beep while homeowners are away.
  • Use a deadbolt to secure doors.

 

Minimize the potential for damage. When you’re away, problems that ordinarily can be easily averted or remedied are liable to spiral into calamities. Some steps you can take to avert potential disasters include:

  • Shutting off water lines.
  • Making sure a sump pump in the basement is working properly.
  • Making sure washing machines, dryers and dishwashers are turned off.
  • Unplugging small appliances and electronics to prevent damage from a power surge.

Ask a trusted neighbor to look in on things while you’re away, and to alert you— and the police — if there is anything suspicious. A house-sitting arrangement may be worth considering for a particularly long absence.

 

 

Adapted from Property Casualty 360.

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